Conor Thomas: When Blacks are killed by police, Americans have short memories

People soon forgot the murder of George Floyd.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Faces from a series of murals depicting people killed by police, near 800 South and 300 West in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Top row from left, Bobby Duckworth, Cindreia Europe, Cody Belgard, Allen Nelson, Darrien Hunt, and Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. Middle row from left, James Barker, Siale Angilau, George Floyd, Joey Tucker, and Dillon Taylor. Bottom row from left, Bryan Pena Valencia, Zane James Patrick Harmon, Danielle Willard, Chad Breinholt, and Michael Glad,

Seven months ago, America was horrified by the murder of George Floyd. Millions took to the streets to demand justice for his death.

Many White Americans became open to learning and unlearning things they thought they knew about racism in America. Knowledge spread through anti-racist books, Instagram posts, Tweets and genuine conversation. News coverage of the story was constant. There was hope that America would not view this as an isolated incident, but as evidence of a racist pattern in our policing system.

Despite what happened last June, we begin 2021 with police brutality far from the American zeitgeist. Many have forgotten the things they were eager to learn in the summer. Further still, many have changed their minds about how they felt.

A study by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project showed that almost half of Americans believe the protests were meant to incite violence, despite 93% of them being peaceful. Approval ratings for Black Lives Matter, which skyrocketed in June, have returned to the same position they were before Floyd was killed. What The New York Times suggested was the largest social movement in history has been largely forgotten by White Americans.

This is evidence of another pattern. White Americans have a high profile case of police brutality brought to their attention at least once every few years. But these cases are consistently given the same dismissive reaction.

Take Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was murdered by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, in 2012. In response to this, the nation began protesting. The feeling was that a teenager who posed no legitimate threat should not be killed. This perception did not divide along party lines, rather, there was a general consensus that an injustice occurred.

This didn’t last long. The murder became politicized, and news outlets began digging up anything Treyvon had posted online that was unbecoming. Various unbecoming posts they found turned out to be fabrications. Politicians began denouncing the protests. Zimmerman began collecting online donations to pay for the best legal defense possible. He got more donations than he needed. Months later, Trayvon’s murder was seldom talked about.

If you paid attention last June, this sounds very familiar. After the initial unified calls for justice, the familiar reaction ensued. Much work went into making known the worst mistakes George Floyd ever made, as if to justify his murder. Vitriol from elected officials, including President Trump, increased the divisiveness of the incident.

At least one of the officers involved in Floyd’s death used online contributions to post bail. News outlets focused more on violence in the protests, rather than the reasons why there were protests in the first place. Many White Americans seemed to move on to the next issue within months.

This is the predictable reaction to police violence against Black people. We have collectively come to dismiss Floyd’s murder in the same way we dismissed Trayvon’s. Not only them, but America exhibited a similar pattern of behavior for Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice to name a few. We need to recognize that this pattern serves to delegitimize claims for racial justice. The pattern’s success means that Black people will continue to be disproportionately brutalized and murdered by the police. This is unacceptable.

I often wonder when the next time a blatant injustice will come across my phone screen triggering this same cycle. I also wonder when we will decide to recognize it and break it.

We are all a part of the societal obligation to make the country a safer place to live in. So, let’s make 2021 the year we recognize these patterns and change them for the better.

Conor Thomas

Conor Thomas, Provo, is a senior studying philosophy at Brigham Young University.

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