Just 10 days ago, on May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was killed after pleading for breath. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneed Floyd’s neck causing asphyxiation — the deprivation of oxygen to his brain.
By now, images that depict an utter disregard for human life have reverberated around the globe, sparking protests throughout America and in cities around the world. Mass protests have been seen in Minneapolis, New York City, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Austin, Houston — in all, more than one hundred cities across America.
Respect for human life, and its preservation, are core Jewish values. As Jews, whether we are devout or secular, we are taught that Life must be cherished, respected and honored. George Floyd, like each of us, was created in the Divine image.
How is it possible to reconcile the values of American Justice with the images in the eight minutes and 46 seconds of videotape that capture the utter horror of George Floyd’s final moments of life?
The simple answer to this gnawing question is that no rational explanation is satisfactory. The rank disregard for Floyd’s life is an affront to the soul of America, and strikes at our common humanity.
What were the immediate circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s arrest? A deli employee in Minneapolis accused Floyd of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, and called 911. No proof has established Floyd’s fault. Can deadly force ever be justified in such circumstances? Of course not.
News accounts have reported that though Floyd initially resisted arrest. He was held at gunpoint by Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, and complied with police instructions after being handcuffed. In addition to Chauvin, Lane and Officer J. Alexander Kueng were assisted at the scene by Officer Tou Thao.
Especially troubling is the fact that Chauvin worked off duty security at a Minneapolis club, El Nuevo Rodeo, where Floyd also worked security. Chauvin worked outside the club and Floyd worked inside, Maya Santamaria told Cox Media Group. The extent of their prior relationship is unknown.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter; the three other police officers are under investigation but have not been charged.
Jews across America and around the world have promptly condemned the brutality of Floyd’s death.
“We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL.
He added that “As an organization committed to fighting all forms of hate, we (the ADL) know that this brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the U.S. As an agency that has stood for justice and fair treatment to all since our founding in 1913, we know that this has occurred at a time when communities of color have been reeling from the disproportionate health impacts and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Here in Dallas, our citizens have gathered and protested the slow-motion execution of Floyd, who grew up in Houston’s Third Ward and attended Yates High School. Protests at Dallas City Hall and through the streets of downtown Dallas have continued for days, some ending in violence and multiple arrests.
Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, told the Houston Chronicle that Floyd “was a gentle giant.” She added that “People mistake him because he was so big that they thought he was always a fighting person but he was a loving person…and he loved his daughter.”
Her words have reverberated across the globe. Not only in Dallas has George Floyd been mourned but from the streets of Berlin, to Vancouver, and in the citadels of power in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Beijing a cacophony of reproach has echoed amid shouts of protest over a baseless killing.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey promptly condemned the brutality of Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers who were at the scene of Floyd’s death. Frey is active in Minneapolis’ Jewish community.
While Frey and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz have wrestled with the angry aftermath and a series of violent outbursts in Minneapolis, they have steadfastly promised swift justice, and noted the importance of a fair judicial process for Chauvin and the three other police officers.
Former President Barack Obama said last week that Floyd’s death “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal’ if we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”
Judaism teaches that we all have a duty to practice tikkun olam to engage in repairing the world. The horror of Floyd’s death provides each of us opportunities for tikkun olam — to treat others with decency and respect and to confront racism in our daily lives.
Rededication to Justice is a fitting memorial to George Floyd’s death. As written in Amos 5:24, “Let Justice rise up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream.” And may we aspire to do Justice, love Mercy and walk humbly with God.