Murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin--Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

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Killer cop Chauvin was finally arrested and charged. Photo ABC7 screen capture.     

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” were the immortal words of the fearless fighter for freedom, the passionate and courageous advocate of civil and human rights, the late Fannie Lou Hamer. She made the powerful statement while appearing before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964.

Her torture at the hands of her jailers in the South left her with a  limp and  impaired vision from a clot in her eyes as a result of beating meted out to her by those who were sworn to “protect” and “serve.” The brutality did not in any way diminish her indomitable spirit that egged her on to continue the good fight. The Convention at the time was dominated by segregationist Dixiecrats. Here we are more than a half a century later still getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Much of the world is shocked by the depraved inhumanity shown by Derek Chauvin who seemed to relish causing the slow agonizing execution of George Floyd, who was unarmed, handcuffed, and held down by two other police officers. Chauvin brought the full weight of his body by pressing his knees on Floyd’s windpipe, totally oblivious to his plea “please, I can’t breathe, please.” According to the authorities the pressure from the knee on the neck lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; 2 minutes and 46 seconds after Floyd was already unresponsive. The killer cop had his hands in his pocket throughout the course of the heinous crime.

This was lynching by any other name. The Tuskegee Institute had documented more than 4,700 cases of lynching between 1882 and 1968. The lynching of African American men has continued unabated since then, except now it is done more efficiently with the pull of the trigger. Unlike the lynching by an ignorant racist mob as in the past, the majority of the crimes are now committed by official badge-wearing agents of a city or state apparatus, thus making these killings legally sanctioned by local governments which makes them complicit.

What makes the killing of Floyd, and Eric Garner before him in 2014, so revolting is the pleasure some of these racist criminals seem to derive from watching a Black man’s slow agonizing death. This is similar to the spectacle of torture and death by the noose that once provided pleasure to racist lynchmobs.

“We are shocked and horrified” is the usual reaction of elected officials anytime a Black man’s life is wasted; “a thorough investigation will be conducted, our hearts go out to the family,” follows the customary platitude. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, to his credit seemed to speak from the heart and wondered out loud “why the man who killed George is not in jail.” That eventually happened, Friday, four days after Floyd’s murder when Chauvin was arrested and charged with third degree murder, only after the city had erupted in uprisings that led to the torching of several buildings.

This is not the time for the mayor, the governor or the state Attorney General Keith Ellison to equivocate. They need to show principled leadership in this matter. They may change the course of history by confronting the White supremacist evil that permeates our society dead on.

The leaders of so-called “liberal” New York failed us miserably in the wake of the murder of Eric Garner. A grand jury declined to indict his murderer, New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, and he walked free. The mayor who had it in his power to fire the murderer in his police department kept him on the force for five more years. He was finally terminated after a departmental proceeding after the judge recommended his dismissal. Even then, he sued to get his job back.

In Minneapolis, the four police officers involved in the death of Floyd were all quickly fired. In addition to the murder charge against Chauvin, the authorities say investigations continue and that the three officers could also face charges.

The nation should ordinarily look for the president to offer guidance in times of crisis and console the bereaved family and appeal for calm. President Trump has been AWOL. When he surfaced, it was to condemn “the thugs,” referring to protestors. Never missing an opportunity to play to his White supremacist base, he used this tragedy to tweet “when the looting starts, shooting will start.”

One has to go back to 1967 to find where that phrase originated. It was the bigoted Miami Police Chief, Walter Headley, who uttered those words and who added “We will go after the young hoodlums in the slums age 15-21” and he added “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” The segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace used the phrase in 1968. That phrase, an incitement to racist violence, has been resurrected in the era of Twitter in 2020 by this president, the racist-in-chief.

Yes, I too am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Fannie Lou Hamer had continued a tradition of women being at the forefront of the struggle. Anti-lynching campaigns date back to the late 1900s and through much of the 20th century. African American women have been at the forefront of these campaigns. Ida B Wells, Mary Burnett Talbert, Angelina Grimke, were among the leaders calling for anti-lynching federal laws to be enacted.

There were some 200 bills in a span of over a century that failed to make it through Congress. The latest attempt is the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act (HR35) which was passed by a wide margin in the House earlier this year.

I am also sick and tired of having to quote again the timeless French aphorism— “Plus ca change plus c’set la meme chose”; “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

Here we are in the 21st century fighting battles that should have already been won since the emancipation proclamation act, the civil rights act, the voting rights act, and the list goes on and on.

These laws have not made a dent in the persistent devaluation of Black lives in these United States. A series of battles spanning centuries have had to be fought by generations of African Americans in a protracted 400 year old evil racist war on people of color.

Yes Fannie Lou Hamer, I too, as are millions of African Americans, am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

A Luta continua. 

 

Mohammed Nurhussein, MD, a retired physician, is formerly professor of Medicine at Downstate Medical Center. 

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