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For George Floyd, For America: Two New Bridges

On May 31 2020, CNN published an editorial research piece listing three decades of “controversial police encounters that have prompted protests” beginning with the Rodney King case in 1991 and ending with the tragic killing of George Floyd.

I kept on re-reading the list because of my disbelief that no progress in race relations has been achieved in the last thirty years. I felt not just sadness and outrage but shame as I recalled the words of Zak Cheney-Rice:

“How, besides protesting, can we actually make sure no more black people are killed, beaten or tortured by the police? And how can we promote justice and equity in law enforcement more generally? There's a strong case that the problem with policing isn't actually the police, but us — the police are merely enforcing our democratic will.”

I fully agree with Zak Cheney-Rice that the police are “us” because of our social contract of interdependence and mutual responsibility.* But I also agree with Trevor Noah that it is time for white America to stop ignoring and start grasping what happens daily to the thousands of “George Floyds who don’t die” but experience injustice, discrimination and yes, “looting”.

To begin that journey, let’s consider a few stats on perception gaps between blacks and whites and between white Republicans and Democrats, taken from two Pew Surveys from 2016 and 2019.

  1. 84% of blacks versus 50% of whites say that blacks are treated less than fairly in dealing with the police; 75% of blacks versus 43% of whites say that blacks are treated less than fairly in the courts; and 64% of blacks versus 22% of whites say that blacks are treated less than fairly in the workplace.

  2. 40% of blacks versus 19% of whites say that discrimination against black people is built into laws and institutions (rather than linked only to individual prejudice).

  3. 70% of blacks versus 36% of whites say that discrimination is a major reason that blacks have a harder time getting ahead than whites.

  4. 78% of blacks versus 37% of whites say that our country hasn’t gone far enough in giving blacks equal rights with whites.

Now, let’s turn our attention to differences of opinion between white Democrats and Republicans.

  1. 59% of Republicans versus 21% of Democrats say too much attention is paid to race relations (and conversely, 11% of Republicans versus 49% of Democrats say too little attention is paid to race relations)

  2. 78% of Democrats versus 36% of Republicans say the country needs to continue making changes to achieve racial equality between whites and blacks

  3. 78% of Democrats versus 22% of Republicans say the bigger problem for the country is not seeing discrimination where it really does exist (and conversely, 22% of Democrats versus 77% of Republicans say the bigger problem for the country is seeing discrimination where it really does not exist).

  4. Finally, 55% of Democrats versus 5% of Republicans believe that President Obama made progress in improving race relations.

These facts require little commentary.

Let’s stop asking ourselves “what can white individuals like myself do to enhance progress in race relations?”

We must start without any delay to build two new and distinct bridges, one between races and another between white political partisans.* Since the work of Gordon Allport 70 years ago, social psychologists have taught that individuals have an important role in decreasing the harmful effects of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. **

So please, let’s do it for George Floyd, for his family, and for a self-healing America.


Source Notes:

* Rene H Levy: “Mending America’s Political Divide: People Over Partisan Politics,” 2020 (Chapter 11).

** S. Keene Journal of Law Enforcement/volume 1, number 3 (2010)

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