America is Guilty as Sin

America is Guilty as Sin April 20, 2021

There’s been so much horror going on in my hometown lately that I haven’t had time to comment on horror going on elsewhere.

Among other things, there’s the trial of Derek Chauvin, who squeezed the life out of George Floyd while the whole country watched last summer.  We’re all waiting for the verdict to come back right now. And I have so many things different things about that that I want to say, but hardly know how to phrase them.

I don’t know how to say that it’s murder to deliberately kneel on somebody’s neck for more than nine minutes until they suffocate. I don’t know how to explain that to someone who doesn’t already know. You’re not supposed to obstruct people’s breathing in any way. The correct amount of time to suffocate a person is no time. It’s something that you are not supposed to do. Not if the person you’re choking is resisting arrest. Not if he passed a bad twenty. Not if he’s on drugs. You’re never supposed to crush a neck like that. That ought to be obvious, but somehow it’s not because the man doing the suffocating was a white policeman and the man under his knee was a Black man who may or may not have taken some drugs.

I also don’t know how to explain to people who aren’t here in America, that Derek Chauvin might not be convicted. I think he will be, but maybe not. Because our whole system is set up to let police kill with impunity, and doubly so if their victim isn’t white.

I further don’t know how to explain that, if Chauvin is convicted, that won’t fundamentally change anything. People will claim it’s going to, but it won’t. The police will still be the police. They will still kill with impunity. Sometimes they will get filmed while killing, and perhaps that will mean another killer gets caught and tried and convicted so that we can look like we learned a lesson, but we haven’t.

Sixty-four people were killed by American law enforcement since the Chauvin trial began. Oh, the officers had plenty of excuse to kill, at least a lot of those sixty-four times. The victims were said to be dangerous and their job is to keep us safe, isn’t it? Thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo died with his hands up and the officers just claimed he’d had a gun in hand when they killed him. Daunte Wright was shot at a traffic stop and he wasn’t armed. But surely some of those people were dangerous.

But this kind of death toll from the police doesn’t happen in other places. It doesn’t happen anywhere in Europe or Australia. It doesn’t happen in Canada, Taiwan or Japan, just here. This horrendous death toll is supposed to keep the rest of us safe from other sorts of violence, but it doesn’t.

We’re not safer in America. The gun violence archive reports that there have been 156 mass shootings in 2021, 91 children shot dead, hundreds of teenagers shot dead, thousands of homicides, thousands of suicides. Americans risk getting murdered every time they go to the mall, to work, to the beauty shop, to Sunday church, and of course to school. We’re especially famous for our school shootings. We have been since I was a teenager, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve students and a teacher before killing themselves. The police on the scene during that mass shooting stood outside the building and did nothing to help except fire back when fired on, not even when students put signs in the window that a teacher was bleeding to death.

I don’t know how to express that these are serious problems. We ought to all feel that they are, but so many treat them like a reasonable cost for living in America. I don’t know how to insist that we have to change, drastically. I don’t know how to explain why we probably won’t.

I’m at a loss to tell you why I was overwhelmed with frustration when one of the recent mass shootings, I think the one in Texas, was described as an “isolated incident.” It’s not an isolated incident. None of these killings are isolated incidents. These events– the constant mass shootings, the constant police violence, the police murdering innocent people and especially people of color, and us being no safer for it– they’re not flukes. They’re America. They’re not bugs but features of our culture. We are a racist, violent, murderous culture, a white supremacist culture, a culture obsessed with guns. We are a culture that professes freedom and individualism while idolizing a certain type of bloodthirsty authoritarian as long as he has a uniform and a badge. This is what we choose to be, and then we act surprised at every consequence.

As I wait here for news of the verdict, I don’t know if Derek Chauvin will be found guilty.

I know that America is as guilty as sin.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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