There is a dreadful familiarity about the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by white police officers in Minneapolis.

Floyd’s final moments were videoed from a bystander’s phone. He repeatedly pleads for mercy. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for violent protests that have since shaken cities across America.

The widespread fury this killing has aroused is, tragically, not unprecedented. Similar eruptions followed high-profile police killings of black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York City; and nearly 30 years ago, a police near-death beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.

Clearly, to understand the mayhem on display in Minneapolis and other cities is not to condone it. It goes beyond the death of one man who pleaded for his life as an officer’s knee was pressed against his neck for more than eight minutes.

It is about a cavalcade of other times when unarmed African-American men have been killed at the hands of police. It is about a history of justice that has proved so maddeningly elusive, time after time, as the egregious incidents captured on video have made so shockingly plain. It is about the reality that some Americans still remain vulnerable and unprotected as they go about their daily lives, and the shocking truth that they are treated differently on the basis of the color of their skin, decades after the civil rights movement brought laws designed to cleanse the discrimination that has haunted our nation’s history.

The fact that we have been here before does not lessen the horror of this crime nor mitigate brutal police actions. Quite the opposite. It’s right that all four officers involved have been sacked. One, who kept his knee pressed on the handcuffed Floyd’s windpipe for several minutes even though he plainly did not pose a threat, has been charged with third-degree murder.

All the same, this latest incident feels dangerously different, for three reasons.

One is the sense that increasingly militarized U.S. police forces, which often appear remote from and antagonistic to the communities they serve, have not learned the lessons of the past.

This is a multiracial protest movement representing what is best in America against what is akin to a modern-day lynching. African-Americans comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population. But according to data over the past five years, they accounted for 26.4 percent of those killed by police in all circumstances.

Put another way, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, who form 61 percent of the population. While this is not a new problem, the repeated, systemic failure to fix it has become critical.

A second exacerbating factor is Donald Trump and the unvanquished white supremacist thinking he personifies. When Trump tweets menacingly about “looting and shooting,” as he did last week, or mocks “shithole countries” in Africa; expresses a preference for migrants from Norway; or describes professed Charlottesville neo-Nazis as “very fine people,” he echoes an ingrained, bigoted belief among some people that black lives really do not matter.

The reaction from President Trump has been predictably irresponsible and inflammatory. While mayors from Minneapolis to Atlanta and Portland struggled to maintain order, rightly shaming those who used the Floyd tragedy to indulge in theft and arson, Trump’s main concern was to look tough in front of his unreflecting base. The protests will eventually, in time, cease. But injustice, bigotry and social malaise will not — not until all Americans want it to.

The true question, the profound issue, is what we do next, and the best answer to be found is that we look for leadership. We look for people who know that we have a hurtful residual of bigotry and racism in our communities.

We reach out for leaders who have the courage and circumspection to admit our problems and address true solutions.

Let’s start with this simple manifest policy that whenever any police unit has subdued a suspect of a crime, it must not employ life-threatening force against any person who can no longer physically resist. First, when a suspect is subdued and in physical custody, it isn’t necessary. Secondly, it removes the possibility that the result of taking control custody might become a video of brutality.

We should know that telephone videography is a fact of life. So, when we are in control, why don’t we act as though our actions will be viewed on this evening’s news? Actually, shouldn’t we do that in everything we do?

Let’s all act openly on the stage of life. Let’s assume that the world is watching — and be proud of what they see.

(15) comments

Mark Hayes

Mr Tortorice... It was only about nine years ago that Kelly Thomas was beaten to death in Fullerton, California. There were no protest of racial injustice, no one made issue of the fact that the two officers were Hispanic and Kelly Thomas was White. I don't remember the incident becoming political. Looking back, I now understand that there was a stark difference, Kelly Thomas was a homeless White man, one of those lost in our society, without advocacy groups to support them, just another poor White guy that offers no political benefits to those who use these incidents as political fodder, just as you have with this column. The perpetrators of the Thomas slaying were all found not guilty, look at the photos and see if you would agree with that verdict ?

Keith Miller

Why ?? The auditorium was named after a former superintendent of Moore County schools !!

Jim Tomashoff

Whose name just to be Robert E. Lee? Even if said superintendent was named after the infamous Robert E. Lee, the auditorium would still be referencing the Confederate general.

Keith Miller

Mr Tomashoff...ever consider your thought presentation on the name of the Pinecrest HS Auditorium could be wrong ? Could it be that that Mr Lee's (said superintendent) parents named him after themselves, used their names, as many parents do ? Could it be possible that Mr Lee's Dad's first name was Bob (Robert) and the Mother's maiden last name was Edwards and she happened to marry Bob and his last name was Lee ?? And if that scenario is possible would it be alright with you to allow the Auditorium to keep his name ?

Jim Tomashoff

Hypothetical scenario or fact? You tell us.

Jim Tomashoff

Maybe it's time to rename Pinecrest High School's Robert E. Lee Auditorium?

Jim Tomashoff

Found this on Google: "The auditorium is named after former Moore County Schools Superintendent Robert E. Lee, who served from 1959 to 1985, and oversaw the racial integration of the schools throughout the 1960s as well as the consolidation and merger of several schools resulting in the opening of Pinecrest High School in 1969." So, my bad. You are right, I was wrong.

Peyton Cook

If every citizen of the United States was not outraged by the killing of George Floyd, then they have no feelings. But this does warrant tarring all members of police departments as bad. The vast majority are dedicated to serving to protect the citizens of their municipalities. Many have lost their lives by senseless shootings, also. It also does not warrant the violent protests which drowned out those which were peaceful . The violent have to be rooted out and prosecuted. Even Floyd’s brother pleaded for peaceful protests. And the gratuitous blame of the President was also unwarranted. He accurately described what would happen. Several police officers were shot and some died. Those Governors and Mayors who acted promptly to quell the violence are to be applauded. Those like the Governor of New York and Mayor of New York City should be ashamed. The deployment of State National Guardsmen provided security of businesses while the police arrested those violent thugs.

Kent Misegades

It is rhetoric like this that causes racial unrest : race baiting. The real facts tell a much different story. “African-Americans comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population. But according to data over the past five years, they accounted for 26.4 percent of those killed by police in all circumstances.” According to FBI statistics, Blacks accounted for 27% of arrests for all crimes in 2017. But they accounted for 53% of all arrests for murders in America in the same year. It follows that a violent criminal has a greater chance of being killed when arrested than someone shop lifting or for other minor offenses. To conflate this one occurrence in Minneapolis to be proof of the myth of white supremacy does nothing but encourage violence in the street. Where are all those white supremacists, anyway? This is a creation of the modern Democrat party to split the population, and keep their voters mad at the Bogeyman that doesn’t exist. Right out of Mein Kampf.

Kathy Wright

What about your rhetoric causing the same thing? But, of course, you wouldn't admit what you write causes so much harm. I truly feel that you do not believe anything you write about, you just don't have anything else better to do and you love to spout off about nothing.

Jim Tomashoff

Kathy, I'm sorry but I have to disagree. Kent truly believes everything he writes. He's a radical Libertarian, religious fundamentalist, and almost certainly in his heart of hearts, a white supremacist. I agree that what he writes is quite dangerous, and like the President he so loves, he's also a pathological liar, or at least he gets all his "facts" from far-right sources, the only sources he reads.

Peyton Cook

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, 3 June, by Heather McDonald entitled “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism”. You might look at it.

Kent Misegades

Ma’am, I don’t know you and you clearly know nothing about me or my past. I run two private-sector businesses that keep me quite busy. This columnist presents a scenario that simply does not exist, in his typical far-left knee-jerk attempt to slander our President and basically accuse every American born with a white skin to be a racist, bigot, supremicist, whatever. I present facts from the FBI and you claim I would attempt to foment racial unrest? The problem with our nation is that one side deals with the truth, the residents of literal-ville like me, and the others live in a la-la Land based on feelings and political agendas. Here’s another fact for those who can handle the truth: the pro-abortion Gutmacher Institute reports “This much is true: In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. ”. Abortion is the number one killer of black lives in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abortion kills more black people than HIV, homicide, diabetes, accident, cancer, and heart disease … combined. So why aren’t the protesters outside of Planned Parenthood clinics, opposing true systematic killing of African-Americans, no it’s genocide. Look up the history of Democrat Josephus Daniels and his newspaper, the Raleigh N&O, for an example of a white supremicist in the late 19th century. Then trace his descendants.

Dan Roman

Kent is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect and probably believes the misinformation he spews. He worships a 10 carat gold plated king wannabe, calls the Civil War "The War of Northern Oppression", think removing Confederate statues is a sin, likes the display of the Confederate battle flag, has never been able to get over the fact that Obama was elected to the presidency twice and wonders why he comes across as the racist he is?

Kathy Wright

Oooh, you can dish it out, but you certainly can't take it! I seriously doubt you run anything.

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