My Thoughts on the Killing of George Floyd and Racism in America

The horrific killing of George Floyd has been just the most recent example of violence against people of color in our country. The brutality captured on video is vivid evidence that the disease of racism that has infected our country is enduring and structural. Unlike the current virus we are all contending with, this disease has infected our nation for hundreds of years. We have at times seen some signs of hope that racism and bigotry are subsiding, but those signs have either been short-lived or purely symbolic. The subsequent protests and unfortunate violence that has spread across the country and indeed the world represents a collective revulsion against racism and police abuse. While I am encouraged that many people have spoken out against this disgusting act of brutality and that some steps are being taken to bring the perpetrators to justice, we have been here before and nothing seems to change.

And I am angry. I am angry that black men, women and other people of color have to live in fear that police officers may be the perpetrators of violence against them rather than their protectors.

I am angry that racist comments by some leaders who should be beacons of hope and comfort instead stoke bigotry and violence.

I am angry that not enough of us have joined hands in solidarity with people of color to stamp out racism, violence and injustice.

I am angry that it is rare that bad actors in law enforcement are appropriately held accountable for their behavior even when there is clear evidence that they exceeded any reasonable basis for the use of force.

I know that the majority of law enforcement officials are not bad actors. They are noble, ethical, hardworking – putting their lives on the line for us each and every day. And I have had the pleasure of knowing so many of them. But these horrific examples of wanton violence, that are all too common, undermine our confidence in law enforcement. It has to stop. Those who stoke the hate and violence and support the injustice, actively or passively, as a way of protecting their position, influence and power are co-conspirators in this oppression.

I am angry that, like so many parents of children of color, I have to worry about the safety of my two biracial grandchildren as they grow up and go out into the world full of wonder and anticipation. And I am angry that their bright future might be destroyed by an encounter with the wrong police officer or someone who only sees them for the color of their skin.

I am angry. Angry that the America I always believed was on the road to perfecting democracy and promoting justice for all has forsaken its historic role as a model of democracy. We will always have an unfinished democracy, but we should never stop trying to perfect it.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. H ’65 said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Make no mistake about it: we are on a slippery slope and the only way to stop the slide into the abyss is for all Americans to come together and reject racism, hate, injustice and violence.

Though I am angry I have hope. Here at Saint Peter’s University, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, we have educated generations of students in the Jesuit tradition to “excel intellectually, serve compassionately and promote justice.” That is who we are. Let each of us be the beacon of hope that lights the path to a better future. While violence is never condoned there are many ways to ignite change. Let us reach outside our comfort zone and engage in conversations. Let us turn our anger into constructive, political action. It will take work, but we are up to the challenge.

Sincerely,

Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D.

The views expressed here are my own and are not representative of the views or the opinions of Saint Peter’s University.