This week, after widespread violence in the U.S., Gavin reflects on the fallout of the killing of George Floyd and the lessons that Ireland can learn in its wake.
It was the French Nobel Laureate Andre Gide who said ‘The colour of truth is grey.’ Seldom has that been more true than over the past few days, even when the issue dominating the headlines is literally one of black and white.
The manner of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, starved of oxygen by a callous police officer who in turn was watched on by his colleagues, is horrific and shocking. His alleged crime, remember, is to have used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Hardly worth the loss of a life.
When I first saw the video, I was sickened. But I come to this with the viewpoint of a white man from the West of Ireland. If I was black, and/or American, then I can only imagine that I would be incensed. So I absolutely understand why it sparked widespread protests and demonstrations, especially when America’s chequered record of race and police brutality is taken into account.
But in a different way, I’m also appalled by the violence which has come about as a result of those demonstrations. Looting a sporting goods store does not advance the cause of equality. Equally, indiscriminate violence by police against peaceful protestors or journalists only reinforces the view that police are causing the problems, rather than trying to fix them.
In the absence of real political leadership, efforts to calm tensions have been lacking. It has now led to a combustible situation where passions and emotions, already on edge, have been inflamed, with deadly results. The facts are:
- If you believe the police are simply brutes, there’s evidence to support that.
- If you believe the police are being maligned, and that most are doing a good job, there’s evidence to support that.
- If you back the view of the protestors, there’s evidence to show they have behaved well and looked to quell violence.
- If you believe people are taking advantage of lawlessness to simply break into shops and cause wanton destruction, there’s evidence to support that.
With evidence, all of those viewpoints have a semblance of validity. While the killing of George Floyd represents the brutal killing of an unarmed man being killed, and a life wasted, there is no crystal clear right and wrong on the wider issues. There is no black and white. There is only grey.
Except, increasingly, on social media.
I have friends and followers who say one side, or the other, are to blame for the riots of the past few nights. Their minds are made up. In the main, they follow and like people with similar viewpoints so their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are largely echo chambers which reinforce those opinions. Even before social media, this problem has always been there, and it comes when people associate with those who are like them. But when the ‘others’ (whoever they are) are always said to be wrong, or to blame, then the middle ground, the area of compromise and understanding, is left empty.
I am increasingly of the view that social media’s supposed benefits are outweighed, by far, by its negative impact on our society. And I say that as someone who is on all the social media websites, and in the full knowledge that this article will be promoted on social media, by my employer and I. We don’t understand, as of yet, the impact of being ‘always connected’, but it sometimes feels like we are the lab rats in a giant, global experiment. This is a Pandora’s Box that will never be closed and, ironically, while social media is designed to bring us closer together, it is actually driving groups further apart.
Regarding the current situation in the US, it makes me sad. I’ve always had a soft spot for America, but not this America. This is a tinder box of anger and violence. Streets that I know and have walked, in some of the most vibrant cities in the world, have been destroyed. And while I lack the direct experience to truly assess what is happening, I have come to the following conclusions:
- The killing of George Floyd by police, like sfleadershipo many that have gone before, is abhorrent and wrong. Those responsible should be charged and his family deserve justice.
- While the ensuing protests are understandable, much of I have seen on TV has been opportunistic criminality. That, too, shouldn’t be forgiven. ‘Protestors’ who have taken away from the legitimate cause and members of the police, and other arms of the US State, who have let their power go to their heads are doing a disservice to the majority who are doing their best in an exceptionally difficult set of circumstances.
- It’s simply shameful that there has been no effort so far from The White House to appease matters. The American voters will have their say on that come November, and no doubt some will support their President’s stance. That’s their right. But no matter what Donald Trump says, or does, this is much bigger than any one administration. There is obviously something very wrong in a country when three people are killed, on average, by police each day, while two cops are killed while on duty each week. Massive societal issues have built up over decades, and they will take even longer to solve.
Finally, while this may be happening on the other side of the Atlantic, it does matter here in Ireland. On Wednesday’s Morning Focus, I was impressed with the openness and honesty of two of our guests, Abi Ladigbolu and Victoria Olukitibi, who spoke openly about the racism they have experienced in Clare. While, thankfully, we have not seen incidents like the killing of George Floyd here, their arguments of an institutional and systemic racism in Ireland is difficult to counteract. That may be overcome in time, but if we want a just and truly equal society, then that change can only come from the ground up.