On Thursday night a video surfaced of an elderly white man in Buffalo, New York being pushed to the ground by two Buffalo police officers. The video, which can be seen here, shows the man falling backward landing headfirst on the sidewalk. Blood pools on the ground instantly, the hand that was holding his cellphone goes limp, and several police officers walk by without stopping to help the reportedly 75-year-old man bleeding out in front of them. NBC reports that the man is in “serious but stable” condition at a local hospital. Two officers have been suspended without pay following the incident and the police commissioner has launched an investigation.
For years, the conversation around police violence has been the same, ruled predominantly by white and non-black political pundits who are separated enough from reality to have a calm conversation about violence on national television. Not all cops are bad. Police are just doing their job. What did that person do to cause the police to react that way? Cops only go after criminals. Instances of police violence are overblown by the media.
On and on in an endless swirl of the public apologizing for police officers and pretending that with just one more sensitivity training, one more diversity initiative, one more something and the institution will change. Statistics show that police officers killed 1099 people in America in 2019. Between 2013 and 2019 over 300 unarmed black people were killed by some form of police violence, ranging from shootings to excessive force. During this same period of time, “99% of killings by police officers did not result in criminal charges,” according to the research team Mapping Police Violence.
The problem isn’t just two police officers in Buffalo or four police officers in Minneapolis, it’s a system full of people who have long refused to see the truth, even when it’s placed right in front of them. It’s a system deeply entrenched in its own origin as the enforcers of chattel slavery, one that is now having its violence broadcast in daily cell phone videos shot across the country. The 75-year-old in Buffalo was unarmed exercising his constitutional right to assemble. The delivery worker in New York City was doing his job, a job that just a few weeks ago was labeled essential. Justin Howell was peacefully protesting when police shot him in the head with a bean bag round. Members of the press are reporting their own arrests live on air. In a dark irony that in an effort to question police violence, those participating in the American tradition of protest are being met with an even older American tradition of state-sanctioned violence.
George Floyd was reported to the police for allegedly committing a non-violent crime. Breonna Taylor was asleep. Tony McDade fit a description. Peaceful protestors, rightfully angry about police violence, are being gassed, beaten, and shot with rubber bullets. How many more videos of the sky being blue do people need before they finally see its color?
Update 6/8/20: According to a report by Vox, the two Buffalo officers who allegedly shoved the protester, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, have been charged with second-degree assault. The officers have pleaded not guilty and were released without bail.