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OP-ED: Inflicting pain on black Americans is not justice

Harry McNeal Jr.
Glen Rock
Milynn Saxon, 5, of York City, as about 100 people gather in Continental Square in peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd, to remember others who have died and to celebrate the communication experienced throughout the week between community members and officials in York City, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saxon was at the rally with her mother, Natalie Saxon, her sister, Abby Fisher, and her nephew Athen Fisher, 7, both of West York.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

Philosopher, civil rights activist and professor, Cornell West reportedly observed: “The capacity to produce social chaos is the last resort of desperate people.”

The current wave of disorder is a manifestation of the truth of West’s pronouncement.

Folks with darker skin are protesting the too frequent willingness of too many white police officers to use deadly force against their number — force that is not authorized by the law and which would not be used against white folks.

They have been subjected to the gratuitous imposition of pain. Unjustified by the needs of law enforcement, it seems to be an end in itself.

What kind of person is one who either is unable or unwillimng to understand that the innate human capacity to feel pain of African-Americans is as acute as their white brothers? Or who assumes that it is OK to hurt them? Or fail to recognize that within their breasts beats hearts as capable of the dearest sentiments as any other descendant of Adam and Eve.

Depravity is probably not too severe a charactization for knowingly and without just cause inflicting suffering on a segment of the human family. Not widely condemned by the white society in which this was taking place, perhaps some of us can redeem ourselves by participating in the current demonstartions and speaking out.

Some who read this will likely dismissively say: “There they go again” or “What’s the big deal?” That’s the problem. Years of crying out have not been heard or heard but ignored.

In fairness to the police, one prominent characteristic of their work should be noted. They are the ‘point of the spear’ for society. We assign them the dirty job of cleaning up our messes. Frequently, this puts them in stressful situations where it can appear that their own personal safety is threatened, where they must make split-second decisions, sometimes with incomplete knowledge. By the nature of things, human beings will often react in a manner that has disasterous consequences to third parties, which when later viewed in the more relaxed atmosphere of a court room will be seen to be wrong.

If we are to be able to find persons willing to enforce the law, such actors must be cut some slack where their actions were not unreasonable under the circumstances.

But, importantly, the killing of George Floyd and many others are not the result of these sort of stressful split-second decisions. Tragically, the knee was held on Floyd’s necks cooly and dispationatally, even despite the pleas of passer-bys.

Having said all that, it seems likely that a genuine change of heart on the part of American society, whereby the broad-based inequalities — education, jobs, housing, etc. — are erased will provide the best opportunity for accomplishing the desired police reform.

McNeal is a resident of Glen Rock.