“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him fromlynchingme, and I think that’s pretty important.”―Martin Luther KingJr.
Terrorism. American terrorism. That’s what it was. Straight, no chaser: A lynching.
That white cop stared unflinchingly right into the camera with his knee pressed hard on that black man’s neck with the ease of a hand in his pocket. And he dug in.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, he held his death lock. He knelt — evil incarnate — unfazed by any witnesses, or even George Floyd’s own plea for mercy and his soul-wrenching cry to his dead mama.
That white cop clamped down, stone-faced and devoid of any semblance of humanity, until every single ounce of life had seeped from that black man’s body. And he held his knee there with deafening defiance.
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His lynch mob, dressed in police blues, either knelt atop the victim or stood idly in complicity. And that handcuffed black man’s lifeless body lay essentially in the town square— by technology — for millions to see: George Floyd, lynched at 46 for the sin of being born black in the USA.
It is the latest episode of American lynching indelibly singed into the consciousness of black folk. It is nothing short of another portrait in the horrific historic gallery of “strange fruit” that once dangled from poplar trees, of which Billie Holiday once sang with haunting cadence that still makes my soul cry.
Lynching American style. Long before car bombs and mass school shootings, long before the hijacking of planes, before mail bombs or even the flying of commercial jets into towers to strike fear in the heart of a people with this unlawful use of violence and intimidation, lynching was the terrorism meant to subjugate black folks.
“Historians broadly agree that lynchings were a method of social and racial control meant to terrorize black Americans into submission, and into an inferior racial caste position,” Jamiles Lartey and Sam Morris write inThe Guardianin an April 2018 story titled, “How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people.”
In fact,the Tuskegee Institute inAlabamarecorded 3,446 lynchings of blacks from 1882 to 1968, although the numbers are believed by some historians to have been dramatically higher.
While that period may in some ways represent a bygone era, the stain, impact and continuation of the death of African Americans at the hands of vigilantes — as in the case of Trayvon Martin and more recently, Ahmaud Arbery — or at the hands of white cops, is proof of its lasting legacy in the 21stcentury.
For African Americans, these are nothing short of modern-day lynchings with intended wider social reverberations to “stay in your place.” And every “I can’t breathe”; every unarmed black person shot, brutalized or choked to death; every racial injustice inflicted is a warning of what could happen to you, to your sons or daughters — no matter who you think you are, regardless of status, fortune or fame.
That was the message inherent in the steely glare of Derek Chauvin, the former cop now charged with murder in Floyd’s death along with three other ex-officers.
I have seen it before. In the eyes emblazoned in “Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America.” In the smiling faces or smug glares of white men, women and children, posing in front of lynched black folk dangling from nooses, or standing amid the charred remains of “the barbecue we had last night,” as one inscription on a postcard reads.
Indeed, the lynching of George Floydwill forever be seared into our consciousness as African Americans.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of crying.
The question is: What are we as Americans going to do about it? American terrorism or equal American justice?
Email John Fountain at Author@johnwfountain.com