Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The killing of George Floyd has be to a moment of change

Jun 02, 2020

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to what I hope will be a therapeutic discussion. Speaking for myself, I could use some therapy. We were assaulted for months by the covid-19 pandemic, traumatized and beaten down, and now this. I am so very tired of having to write the same column after the unjustified police killing of a black man or woman. No more. The killing of George Floyd has to be an inflection point, a moment of change. The outpouring of protest across the nation is heartening -- demonstrations in all 50 states, in more than a hundred cities. But it has to be a beginning, not an end. No more. Let's get started.

We want to help somehow but we do not feel empowered to do anything constructive about the rioting and abusive police, so other than making known our hopes at the ballot box what can we do?

Talk with your neighbors. Let your elected officials know how you feel. And yes, please vote.

What can people of good will, regardless of their race, do to make this stop? Please suggest some specific first steps. This feels like it's eating me from the inside.

One thing that has heartened me is the diversity of the protest crowds around the nation. It's not just African Americans who are taking peacefully to the streets. The crowds are rainbow crowds, and that's one reason I believe this moment is different.

Why does the president take credit for things he didn't do? He did not send the N'tional Guard to Minneapolis. He hasn't helped black communities by "lowering" the unemployment rate; black wages lag behind white's. Work on the 1st Step Act began long before he got involved. Does he think blacks are stupid?

He thinks everybody is stupid. He thinks Americans are suckers and he can con us all. He thinks his most loyal supporters are the stupidest of all.

There must be some sort of dual lens as to how some law enforcement officers view men of color. I can’t think of no other place but here in our country where a civilian volunteers to let a police officer know that he has a license firearm in his possession not concealing that fact yet officer Jeronimo Yanez felt that information given to him made him feel threatened and that Phiando Castile, or African American men, would risk a shoot out in a parked care with a 4 year old in the car. Dylan Roof shoots 9 people in an AME Church gets captured in South Carolina with .45 caliber pistol which they found in his vehicle when he was apprehended 245 miles away from the massacre. I’m sure he didn’t volunteer that information but he was arrested without incident. If people of color are not perceived as human beings they will forever feel anxiety, fear with a Pavlovian response whenever a police squad car pulls them over.

All true. Now that we all understand the problem, let's work to solve it. Reforming police departments is hard, but it can be done. We need leadership on the federal level -- but of course we won't get it as long as President Trump is in office.

Dear Mr. Robinson -- Been following you for years. You've been a beacon and a light to me. Thanks for your hard work and dedication. Your words are part of our national treasure. I teach "Ethics, Education and Change" to undergrads, and truth spoken like yours causes their lightbulbs to go off. All of them. I try not to sugar coat anything and stay on the high side of legality. BUT here's a question that's being evaded as everyone tries not to advocate violence in the name of change: When has significant change of mind (not necessarily heart) ever come without a violent demonstration of respectability? Folks who discount others generally area afraid that they'll reap the rewards of their disrespect and that others will rise to claim their justice and proper treatment. In today's Post, Trump is getting criticized for not taking on racism -- things are so raw now that it's a bubble that white folks need to burst so that fairness and equity in treatment, with attendant respect, need to be attained. Perhaps South Africa is a model -- uprising followed by fear and recognition and EFFECTIVE peacemaking and reconciliation processes. The America we see today has largely been stolen from African Americans' labor and suffering and the persecution and extermination of Native Americans. The picture is clear. Perhaps the current bull in our china shop will have had an ultimately useful effect on things. How do you come down on this? How would you move us ahead?

I suppose you could say that Trump intensifies and thus clarifies the problem, but I don't believe it's always necessary for things to be made worse before they can be made better. We already know about our society's inequalities and injustices. We just need to address them.

Your most recent column was so honest and so heart-breaking! Racism that kills is just the deadly tip of an enormous Iceberg—most of which is prevalent and ingrained in our culture. Racism is exhausting and depressing on a daily basis even if you’ve never experienced it’s violence in the physical sense. The BIG question is: What can “the little guy” do to effectively confront the “small” day-to-day racism in the workplace, in the classroom, in the boardroom, etc etc? Can someone at The Post please create an anti-racism guide and toolkit for “everyday Racism” situations? Including what are the legal implications and recourses of the mostly-mundane racist experiences so many of us face daily. Instead of just talking and writing about Racism, please help your readers confront Racism successfully by creating (and maintaining) an anti-racist toolkit.

A full answer to your question would fill a book or two. Short version: begin at home and work your way outwards. Start with yourself, questioning assumptions and prejudices (we all have them). Read American history. Talk with your family. Talk with your neighbors. When you see a symbol like the Confederate flag, imagine what it looks like to African Americans. Advocate for police reform. Make the change you have it in your power to make.

In conservative logic voter ID laws and other restrictions are necessary because any possibility of a fraudulent vote warrants it. Isn't it possible if not probable that many people of color are arrested, charged and convicted of crimes they didn't commit for the purpose of voter disenfranchisement. The best way to remove this incentive is to let felons vote. The GOP in Florida has been trying to keep felons from voting even after a constitutional amendment was passed to restore those rights.

This was a tried-and-true method used by Jim Crow segregationists in the South to disenfranchise African Americans -- contrive some way to make sure they have criminal records, then use that fact to deny them the right to vote. It is outrageous and infuriating that the Republican Party -- once, the Party of Lincoln -- is so determined to keep this racist practice alive.

I've been wondering whether we should expect Joe Biden to emerge from his basement isolation anytime soon. It seems to me that hearing his thoughts, encouragement and hopes for our nation would be good for our collective soul right now. Should we expect to hear from him soon? I don't think that it's essential for him to address Trump's actions (or inaction) directly, but his thoughts for the future of our nation would be welcomed.

Joe Biden has been speaking out -- he did two public events yesterday and gave a major speech about the George Floyd killing today. Perhaps you should be asking why his words and actions are not getting more prominent coverage. I'd like to know, myself.

Fighting for the right to run for a 10th term, but faces four challengers in today's Iowa Republican primary. Would be a positive sign to see him booted today. (Not that his challengers are that great either, given the current Rep. party makeup.)

I confess I haven't followed this primary contest closely, but it's hard to imagine that any of the alternatives would actually be worse than Steve King. So I'm for [anybody else].

Whatever happened to Ahmaud Arbery? Since the Floyd murder the Arbery story has dropped out of the news. We forget these stories almost immediately. It's no wonder nothing ever changes.

Well, we know what happened to Ahmaud Arbery -- he was stalked and killed by vigilantes as he jogged through a Brunswick, Ga., neighborhood. Three men have been arrested and charged with murder. Let's see if justice is done.

If there's a doubt in anyone's mind at this point that Trump simply isn't mentally, emotionally, intelligently equipped to deal with this or pretty much any other major issue this should be the final nail. It's unfortunate that it's take a pandemic, a collapsing economy, and massive civil unrest to make people realize how incompetent and uninterested this president is in running the country. Hopefully people take this into consideration come November and vote him out.

From your lips to God's ear.

That's all I have to say

There are moments when I do, too. But then I reject that thought, because we can't afford the luxury of wallowing in despair. We need to work to limit the damage Trump is wreaking, to defeat him and his quisling enablers in November, and to repair the broken nation he will leave behind. No time for despair.

Is there any chance at all McConnell and the other Republicans will do anything to try to rein in this monster they have unleashed? Or are they just going to continue with their plans to cheat him into reelection so they can have their tax cuts and anti-abortion judges, the rest of the country be damned?

Pretty clear that they're going with option number two.

Hi Gene -- thanks for chatting today and for your most recent and as usual incisive column. I don't have my pulse on things to the extent that you do, but I'm not seeing much praise this morning from Republicans for Trump's bizarre stroll to the church yesterday nor, on the other side of it, the rightful condemnation that it deserves. So it's business as usual, it seems, and once again there is no bottom, is there? I guess as always I'm trying to understand the Republican psyche which, like the president's stunt yesterday, is a fool's errand.

I saw one righteous GOP reaction -- a strong statement of condemnation by Sen. Ben Sasse. Otherwise, crickets. And I would be shocked if Sasse ever backed up his words with any sort of concrete action. 

I'm 70 years old. I remember very clearly the demonstrations, riots, and rage of '68 and after. The comments and images I'm seeing now -- on both "sides" -- are exactly the same I saw then. I'd hoped we'd be a better, more empathetic country by now. I guess I was wrong. But the thing is, this feels so much worse than what I saw earlier. The demonstrations and violence are taking place against a backdrop of a pandemic, the economy is in terrible shape and millions are without jobs, the country is deeply polarized, and the President of the United States is an arsonist who cloaks his depravity in patriotic cliches and tough words. Your colleague, George Will, rightly says we've got to vote Trump and his GOP enablers out of office, but I don't see that happening, not in the country we've got today. How do we survive this?

I guess my perspective is a little different. I, too, remember 1968 and its aftermath. The rioting we saw following Dr. King's assassination was on a far bigger scale -- entire neighborhoods and business districts were burned to an extent that it took decades for them to recover. The protests that we've seen over the past week have been much more widespread -- involving hundreds of cities, in all 50 states -- but much less damaging. And the crowds this time are much more diverse. The biggest problem right now is that we have a president determined to make things worse, not better. But we must survive this moment. We have no choice.

This is the crux of the problem. Trump and his supporters believe it's just a few bad cops causing all of the problems, not systemic racism. Even if that were true, which I don't believe it is, Chris Rock had something very funny, yet apt to say about that: "Here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I know it’s hard being a cop. I know it’s hard. I know that sh__'ts dangerous. I know it is, ok? But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Ok? Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like… pilots. -You know? American Airlines can’t be like, “Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples… that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.”

He speaks truth.

I think there may be a lot of old white ladies such as myself who have been sheltering in place and are wanting to be out in the streets protesting. But preventing the spread of covid is also an ethical responsibility. Is protesting just a young person's activity in the age of covid, or should we accept the same risks that black people of all ages take on and be out there? How can older white Americans best stand up for anti-racism?

When I was heading off to become the Post's correspondent in South America, legendary editor Ben Bradlee called me into his office and told me, "Take care of yourself, kid. You're no good to us if you're dead." I think it would be counterproductive, to say the least, to put your health in jeopardy. If you can protest safely, go ahead. But if you can't, please stay home. The kids have got your back.

One of the things that struck me about the video, was that the cop kneeling on Mr. Floyd's neck had his hands in his pockets. It was such a casual thing to do. Like non-verbal bragging that he was in complete control. That do this was easy for him. Killing a man for no reason makes you a murderer. Doing it with the casual body posture that most people would use for a walk in the park makes you a monster. I desperately hope that this will allow the prosecutors to demonstrate that he had no fear for his life or safety whatever other excuses might be brought forth for using this illegal method of body control over a person being arrested. Please. The fact that there were four of them should be more than enough to prevent that from being even put forward as an excuse, but not even keeping your hands out has to destroy it, doesn't it?

I completely agree with your analysis and share your hope that Derek Chauvin's posture will be taken into account by the jury. I also hope this tragedy makes the nation aware of the need for uniform, reasonable standards for the use of force by police officers. The way George Floyd was manhandled should shock the conscience -- and spark genuine change. It must.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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