Racism in the United States is an insidious sickness, a stain baked into some corners of society that has defied decades of efforts to scrub clean. The death of George Floyd is a sickening and inexplicable example.
Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby shop. Video clearly shows a police officer kneeling on his neck while Floyd, lying on the street, repeatedly complains that he cannot breathe. Finally, he goes limp, but the officer continues to kneel on his neck until paramedics arrive.
In a separate incident last week, a widely circulated video shows a white woman in Central Park who calls police to report being threatened by a man who was asking her to leash her dog, repeatedly telling police her assailant is an African American man. The man, a birdwatcher equipped with binoculars, can be heard speaking calmly as he records her reaction.
The nation has seen far too many similar examples in its history, and especially at a time when more enlightened attitudes ought to prevail. Smartphones and social media are today bringing to light things that one day might have been dismissed as hearsay or unreliable testimony.
The videos are shocking and difficult to watch but, for the sake of the nation, they must lead to change.
The United States needs a concerted effort, from the top echelons of statehouses and the White House to boardrooms, pulpits and, ultimately, kitchen tables, to finally come to grips with this sickness that has been the root of so many of our nation’s troubles.
To do so, Americans must separate this issue from the riots that have besieged cities from coast to coast, including Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Peaceful protests are a cherished part of America’s trust in freedom and self-government. In this case, even angry protest is understandable as a response to injustice and brutality.
But vandalism — the torching of cars and buildings, the victimization of innocent people and the desecration of the symbols of government by the people, such as the Utah state Capitol — is not. Injustice is a poor weapon against injustice.
Utahns who were stunned by what happened Saturday afternoon and evening should take heart by what happened Sunday, as groups of volunteers began flowing into the city to pick up trash and scrub away spray paint.
Allyson Gamble, executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board, told the Deseret News of professional cleaners who told her they couldn’t sleep after watching the destruction on television. They told her “they just wanted to come here and help because we’re Utahns and we band together.”
Whether consciously or not, these people exemplify the attitude all Americans must have as they deal with these and related issues.
Yes, Utahns have a history of banding together. Americans as a whole band together against common enemies.
But what the United States needs now is for all people to feel the same urgency to end racism, in all its forms, that the Utah volunteers felt when they rushed to Salt Lake City to clean what vandals left behind. What we all need is an understanding that these evils are the moral equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Constitution and all our cherished values.
What we need is a compulsion to clean our collective hearts.