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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Tackling ‘the system’ of racism and inequity

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When did the recorded killing of a Black man become something so casually done?

I, like hundreds of millions of people across the globe, have watched the horrifying video of George Floyd’s murder. Shocked by the brutality, I was at first struck by how easily I as a Black man could imagine the faces of friends, family members or myself in George Floyd’s place.

But something else about that video stabs at me even more.

More than the anguish on George Floyd’s face, what truly haunts me is the evident calm on the face of Derek Chauvin. As George Floyd lay dying beneath him, Chauvin’s face betrayed neither the snarling hate we associate with racism nor the guilt of someone trying to cover up an act they know is wrong.

Completely aware he was being recorded, Chauvin’s face is casual — as though he’s being filmed for one of those “Live P.D.” reality shows. His is the face of a man who fears no consequence, because he expects none. He seems to expect his actions will be received in the same casual way he committed them.

That he was wrong vindicates some small corner of my belief in human decency. That he and his three fellow officers have now all been fired and charged with crimes does the same.

The calls for police reforms in so many communities are understandable. But laying the upheaval of the past week completely at the feet of our nation’s police, I believe, misses the more important point.

Law enforcement officers are not a species unto themselves. Like the rest of us, they live and work in a system that accepts a certain amount of racism as normal. Their ability to use force with relative impunity is a problem that must be addressed — but exclusively blaming the police for the state we’re in now lets our larger community off the hook a little too easily.

It’s painful to acknowledge that any of us could be a George Floyd. It’s even more painful and complicated to admit that many of us could be a Derek Chauvin, too. Much as we’d like to consider him an outlier, the calm on his face holds a mirror to our own, to the way that so many of us have come to accept a kind of casual, garden variety racism as the norm. We talk about “systemic racism” as though “the system” isn’t made up of us: everyday people who may hate things as they are, but struggle to believe they have the strength to change them.

There is strength in numbers, however. There is strength in shared action and common cause. That’s why I and other councilors supported and stood with those peacefully protesting on Monument Circle this past weekend: not only to register our own outrage at George Floyd’s death, but to help build the strength we need to confront the inequities that have become our status quo.

While I do not condone the violence or looting that took place afterward, I don’t want to waste the moment to which that outrage has delivered us: A moment when we collectively tackle racism and inequity. When no amount of racism is tolerated, when every racist word or act is confronted. 

Vop Osili is president of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council.

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