While most of America was still mourning the 19 children slain in the Texas school massacre this week, former President Barack Obama made an unusual political misstep. Whatever people make of his policies, the former President is usually known for his adept timing. And that made his Tweet this week all the more strange.
“As we grieve the children of Uvalde today,” the former president wrote, “we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.”
Whatever the circumstances, it is odd to crowbar in a reference to another killing when talking about the appalling carnage in Texas. Why do we need to take time to remember something that happened two years ago in the immediate aftermath of a worse loss of life? Why not take time and pause over something that has just happened?
The reason is that many politicians, including Barack Obama, still seem intent on pushing a particular narrative about the death of George Floyd. That is the narrative that BLM and other groups pushed from the very moment that footage of Floyd´s death emerged from Minneapolis two years ago.
This was the claim that the appalling footage did not simply show the appalling, inept and inhumane detention of one man, but showed a racist killing by a policeman of a defenseless black man. Of course what I am about to say is enormously unpopular, but it is nevertheless true.
There was never any evidence that Derek Chauvin killed Floyd because he was black. There was never any evidence that the appalling events were a racist killing. If there had been then the prosecution would have used that evidence in the trial of Derek Chauvin last year. But they never did. Because there was no such evidence. If Floyd had not been black and the appalling interaction had not been caught on camera we would long ago have forgotten about the case. How do we know that? Because a very similar case happened four years earlier, in Texas as it happened.
Tony Timpa was detained by police in Dallas in August 2016. Like Floyd he had a poor health history. Like Timpa, the arresting officers ended up arresting him and suffocating him. Timpa was begging the police not to kill him and mocked him repeatedly. Unlike Floyd, the arrest and killing of Timpa was not caught on camera by the public. It took years of perseverance by a local paper to release the police bodycam footage of Timpa´s killing. Equally horrific, this did not lead to any repercussions. There were no riots, no calls for justice, and not even any punishment of the arresting officers. One of the policemen who killed Timpa has since retired, but the others are all still at work in the force.
What is the difference between these killings? Only that Timpa was white while Floyd was black. So America leapt on the killing of Floyd as a racist killing and dismissed the killing of Timpa as just another police interaction.
That disparity is bad enough. But what happened next with Floyd’s case made things infinitely worse. For activists and others immediately took up the killing of George Floyd not simply as a racist killing. They used it as the lens through which to look at all interactions between the police and black Americans. Suddenly it was claimed that Derek Chauvin was not the exception, but a glimpse into the true racist nature of policing in America. I have interviewed serving police officers, including black police officers, who cannot believe the speed with which their whole profession was turned into the guilty party.
And the activists did not stop there. They kept going — as they always do. They insisted that the killing of Floyd was in fact a glimpse into the true heart of America. In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, corporations, government bodies and others all stampeded into the trap of agreeing to the insistences of the radicals. They agreed that America has a problem with “white supremacy.” They said that the country today is “institutionally racist.” That Americans who are white must “do the work” and “educate themselves” and “accept responsibility.”
In fact police interactions as appalling as these are unbelievable rare. Poll data shows that large numbers of Americans now believe that thousands of unarmed black men are killed by the police every year. Because wild, completely insane claims have been made totally mainstream.
What does the actions of one rogue, wicked, cop have to do with all Americans? Why should George Floyd be seen to be the emblematic figure of modern America?
Only because it suits some people for him to become so. Look at the strange reaction of Nancy Pelosi when Chauvin was convicted last year. Emerging from an event with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi looked up at the skies. “Thank you, George Floyd” she said, as though she was communing with him in heaven. Thank you, she said, “for sacrificing your life for justice. Your name will always be synonymous with justice.” Pelosi made it sound as though Floyd went to the grocery store that day hoping to do something big for his country.
But this is how politicians in this country are now forced to talk of Floyd. As though he was a great civil rights hero, on the same scale as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. And as though his killing was somehow a moment when America had the opportunity to see its true self.
People fear saying anything else. But they shouldn’t. The killing of George Floyd has been used maliciously against this country for two years now. What happened to him was an outrage. As was what happened to Tony Timpa. But it is not the sole lens through which we should be expected to view modern America. We have plenty of problems to address in this country, as events this week should remind us. But getting our foundational stories right is a part of that.
Those who want to make Floyd such a foundational story are deceiving the public. But they are also diminishing and defaming a great country.