The protests over police brutality and “systemic racism” appear to be dying down. It is worth asking what the protests were about — they were about George Floyd’s death, yes, but the protesters themselves say that their demonstrations are about more than George Floyd.
Floyd’s death is not really controversial inasmuch as there is broad public agreement that his death was terrible and that the offending officers should be held accountable. Neither is there much controversy around proposals to reform police protocols, or implement deescalation training. Even on a more meta level, few would dispute the existence of tension between the police and minority communities, and even fewer would dispute that the country’s treatment of black Americans is a lasting stain on its history.
But those reforms and concessions are not enough. It is not just Floyd’s death that animates the protesters’ variously destructive demonstrations, but instead a call to end “systemic racism” — a term that they cannot quite define, but nevertheless use to advance a political revolt beneath the language of racial reconciliation. The rioters and their apologists demand the total reorientation of a society that they believe to be systemically and irredeemably racist and beyond hope of conversion — at least, within the confines of its traditions and existing institutions.
Hence Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey’s remark that “America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.” The agitators and their enablers do not want a few changes at the margins — not just reforms in the police force, not just accountability for Derek Chauvin, not just reforms of the criminal-justice system. They want to change everything.
Their intellectual leaders tell us that capitalism is white supremacy. That immigration enforcement and patriotism are racist, and tax cuts reify racial inequality. They effectively protest that the entire Republican agenda is a species of racism, and if you dare mention that fact, you’re said to be insufficiently moved by George Floyd’s death, or callous to some racial incident that happened in the antebellum South.
You have to accept that a nation which contorts itself in knots on questions of race — with an immovable affirmative-action regime, endless conversations about “white privilege,” and a Pulitzer Prize-winning project dedicated to “reframe the country’s history” in terms of its past and present bigotry — remains thoroughly and systemically enthralled by racism.
You should be able to mourn George Floyd’s death without ceding all of your political priors, calling yourself “complicit” in the sins of your ancestors, or assuming an imputed race guilt for which there is no expiation. You should, in other words, be able to condemn Derek Chauvin without condemning the United States of America.