A lot has been written about the way George Floyd was killed. I think most of what I’ve read gets the story wrong. People have called it a deliberate murder. They’ve said it was a result of racial animus. They’ve described it as a hate crime.
I don’t think that’s entirely correct. I think it was something even worse. I think it was an act of casual indifference.
I don’t know what motivated Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. How could I? But from watching the video, my sense is that Chauvin wasn’t angry. He wasn’t scared. He didn’t feel threatened. He wasn’t nervous or alarmed or even annoyed. Chauvin, to me, seemed unconcerned, not just about what was he was doing, but also to what was taking place around him. He seemed unmoved by it all.
That’s what I saw in the video. Chauvin just didn’t care. He was unmoved by Floyd’s pleas for help. He had no concern about Floyd’s well-being. Floyd simply didn’t matter; not as a suspect in a crime, not as a citizen of Minneapolis, not as a member of the public Chauvin was sworn to protect, not even as a fellow human being. Chauvin just didn’t care.
I’ve heard folks use the phrase ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ when talking about this killing. I’m not seeing that. I’m not convinced Chauvin saw Floyd as a fellow human being, as a person with the same thoughts and passions and feelings and dreams and concerns shared by every other human being.
Elie Wiesel, a Romanian Jew who survived the Nazi Holocaust — who survived being interned in the Máramarossziget ghetto, who survived both the Auschwitz concentration camp and the death camp at Buchenwald — had this to say:
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.
Would Chauvin have done the same thing to a white person? I don’t know; maybe. Possibly. Probably, depending on the social status of the person. But it’s hard to imagine racism not playing a role in the killing. Certainly, racism was involved in the police response to the inevitable protest afterwards. We didn’t see any tear gas or rubber bullets used against any of the lockdown protesters, did we.
In the end, it comes down to callous disregard for George Floyd. Floyd just didn’t matter. His suffering didn’t matter. His pleas for help didn’t matter. His civil rights didn’t matter. His life didn’t matter. Nor do the lives of his family and friends and, in an ever expanding circle, the lives of people of color in Minneapolis, in Minnesota, in the United States.
It’s not just George Floyd who didn’t matter. Of the 100,000 American deaths from Covid-19 over the last four months, 56.5% have been non-white. Only 28% of the US population is non-white. This is no coincidence. Apply that same metric to incarceration, to wealth, to general health care, to arrest rates, to infant mortality, to employment, to just about any social criterion in the United States.
Indifference is the key to inhumanity. George Floyd was killed by indifference. He simply didn’t matter.