When George Floyd gasped out his last agonizing breath, choked by officers who were supposed to preserve and protect his life and our society, America lost a bit of its soul.
It has been ever thus, because injustices with fatal consequences have happened before. That so many victims have been black Americans cries out for changes at a fundamental level.
Every bit of outrage over these events is justified.
We stand with those who want to see an end to injustice.
The thousands marching in Louisiana’s cities speak for the vast majority of Americans. Sporadic incidents of lawlessness in some places cannot and should not erode the power of the overwhelming message of the American people: Black lives do matter, but too frequently in collisions with law enforcement it is young men of color who are the victims.
In some cases, like that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge in 2016, a fatal mistake by a law officer spawned within days the assassination of three peace officers and wounding of three others, by an outsider to the community.
A cycle of violence like that in Baton Rouge four years ago is what America needs to avoid in the midst of indignation and concern for the future.
The perfect storm of moral outrage and the economic and social strains on our people caused by the coronavirus outbreak makes today’s events particularly stressful.
As so often during the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana spoke firmly and directly to the issue of police malpractice. Coming from generations of law enforcement, he said the misconduct by Minneapolis officers was “egregious” and does not reflect the intentions and values of most officers.
The governor is certainly right, and we can only hope that continued protests — and, yes, they should continue — are focused on change, not political performance art. New Orleans police are now defending their use of tear gas when crowds blocked roadways, creating a danger to officers, marchers and drivers — not to mention access to the quarter of a million residents of the west bank.
We rely on leadership of goodwill not only from people in office or officials in uniforms, but from the mass of people united by George Floyd’s death to call for change.
That our America is not perfect is obvious to all. But the benefit of liberty and self-government is that we have a chance to make this nation better.
Abraham Lincoln saw liberty as a promise to the world, not just Americans, a “hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”
George Floyd didn’t, but our goal must be to do better.