Answering uncomfortable questions on racism in wake of George Floyd’s death

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lying face down in the street gasping for air for eight minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd pleaded with four Minneapolis Police officers to let him breathe.

In the video that has now become the vision of a movement, you see former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until his body goes limp.

“To just sit there with him on the ground— whether you had your knee on his neck or just holding him down for that period of time— that’s not necessary.” Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins said.

As for Phillip L. Pointer, the senior pastor at St. Mark Baptist Church, he said “To see such casual and arrogant disregard for human life was incredibly enraging.”

RELATED: Live updates: Protests in Little Rock continue for 5th day in a row

Floyd died on Monday, May 25. By Saturday, May 30, Little Rock would see its first organized demonstration. 

And two days later— one week after Floyd’s death— Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. joined protesters as they marched downtown demanding justice and accountability from police and lawmakers. 

“I prayed about it and I made a decision to go out there,” Scott said. “There are peaceful protesters out there really doing the hard work and we have to sit back and listen. There are too many voices in our city and our nation that are left on deaf ears.”

But agitators using violence have tried to silence the message.

Frustrated protesters and local leaders have condemned the destructiveness. 

Mayor Scott even re-instituted an 8 p.m. curfew for the city of Little Rock— before it had been 10 p.m.

“The curfew diffuses those who want to just go out there to get a Facebook like or retweet,” he said.

Most protests have been peaceful in the capital city, yet the peaceful demonstrations have still been critiqued. 

“It is extremely hypocritical for individuals to tell folks who peacefully protest that they do not have the right to do that,” Tamika Edwards, the executive director of Philander Smith College’s Social Justice Institute said.

RELATED: 79 people arrested after 4th day of protests in Little Rock

“When someone kneels, they don’t have the right to do that. When someone writes a Facebook post, they don’t have the right to do that,” Edwards said, referencing ways those in the black community have peacefully protested in the past.

“And what it all boils down to, is that in this country, black people don’t have the right to do anything, oftentimes.” 

The suffering of George Floyd’s death has been an epiphany for a lot of people in our country. But for many African Americans, outrage has been built on the backs of people who have repeatedly been mistreated and unheard. 

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue… this is a justice issue and we need to look at how we’re treating people in our community and are we holding people accountable?” Sheriff Higgins said.

Local leaders addressed the systemic injustice during a roundtable discussion in an effort to find out how it can change.

Edwards pointed out that while the black community continues to heal from centuries of oppression, it’s hard to hear others call on the community to “go heal.” 

“I would say to the country, ‘go change.’ Change the laws that create the attitudes that push these outcomes,” Edwards said.

Within one day of the deadly arrest on Memorial Day, the Minneapolis police chief fired all four officers involved. Murder charges have been filed against the man seen kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, and now, three other officers involved face charges.

One encompassing theme within the outcries from the nation’s protests is accountability for the police officers that can resort to racially-fueled aggression and violence.

Sheriff Higgins said a step to turning the tide is prosecution.

RELATED: Barack Obama addresses George Floyd’s death as nation confronts crises

“There’s a close relationship between police and the prosecutors. I believe we need to work on separating that.”

There’s no doubt this horrific video has brought to light the historical brutalities that minorities have faced for decades. But it’s also raised questions, like what people who don’t look like Floyd can do to help.

Pastor Phillip Pointer explains that it’s going to require more than hashtags. 

He said white people must begin by grasping their privilege. 

“Though you might not personally be a racist, you benefit from racists systems and that’s hard because you’re not guilty. You didn’t do it. It’s not your fault, but you are a beneficiary.”

“That means that as a person who has benefited from oppression, you need to listen to those who have been hurt by it. And not just listen to their stories and say, ‘oh that’s terrible’, but listen and then vote,” Pastor Pointer said. 

While the nation grapples with making sense of it all, some are finding comfort in knowing that rushing to a place of healing won’t do us any good. 

RELATED: Chauvin charges elevated to 2nd-degree murder in Floyd’s death, 3 other officers charged

It’s up to all of us to change the world we live in. Because we are responsible for what happens next. 

“It’s not enough to give me your empathy, I need your partnership. I need your active participation in dismantling the system that has affected the generations of my family since we were brought to these shores against our will.”  

Tameka Edwards’s advice for those who aren’t within the black community and want to help but don’t know how, is this: individuals should do what their courage allows and enables them to do.

What does your courage say about you?