I cannot yet bring myself to watch video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd.
On the one hand, I feel an obligation to bear witness, as a citizen, as a scientist, as a person. How can I hold a political stance without viewing what millions of Americans have seen? How can I claim to have knowledge while declining the opportunity to review hard visual and auditory evidence? How can I fully empathize with my fellow human beings and embrace solidarity with them without observing, even from a fully safe distance, the pain and and death and mourning and frustration that they experience first-hand every day?
Because I have not watched the video, I don’t know how often or how much Floyd gasped to breathe. I haven’t heard the outcries of the bystanders telling Chauvin to stop. I don’t know if Chauvin displayed rage or the cool calmness of the entitled. I don’t know what his fellow police officers were doing for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
8 minutes and 46 seconds.
And yet I do not feel obligated to watch the video.
Because we have seen it all before.
We have witnessed systemic racism and violent acts against black people for years. For my entire life I have witnessed police brutality in the headlines, overt racism in our communities, and more subtle and insidious derogatory remarks in the stores where we shop and the places where we work.
We have seen racism before and it grows everywhere. Like a weed? No, not like a weed, like a subdivision of perfectly manicured lawns, smothering the ground in their uniformed uniformity, poison sprayed on anything that had the audacity to look distinctive, a mocking display of monocultural perfection masking the demons of intolerance and indifference.
I do not want to say that people who mind their yards are racist! This is a metaphor. I am observing that racism in America is deeply embedded in our history and our contemporary way of life. We had might as well ask people who have lawns to give up their lawns.
Or ask people who are breathing not to breathe.