Yesterday morning, I woke up and found a handful of “friends” on Facebook sharing this video of Candace Owens weighing in on the conversation surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Unsurprising, I’m sure, to anyone that is at least familiar with Owens and her ideological affiliations, she has proclaimed loud and proud that, “I DO NOT support George Floyd!”. For those of you lucky enough to not know who Owens is, to put it briefly, she is the conservative, right-wing’s best token black friend (since Kanye came out as a crisis actor), and she uses that position to regularly propagate their views, ESPECIALLY when it comes to issues of race relations in American society and politics. She is the vehicle in which conservatives can use to espouse unpopular, and many times just flat out wrong and misleading, views about race when they feel they would be attacked if said by them personally. And predictably, all of her views tend to be antithetical to those shared by most of the black community – she has been vocally pro-Trump since the inception of his campaign, continuously dismisses social outcry in the face of racial related cases such as the Ahmaud Arbery incident, and even went before congress to downplay the issue of white supremacy and nationalism in America. And despite the fact that it’s been proven that she is a fraud and bought out to espouse such things, she still has some sort of influence on right.
But this article is not really about Owens, or those that re-post her bullshit; this is more about the people that responded with vitriol at one friend in particular who shared it. A few people in the comments section let this person know they thought he was garbage for entertaining this and they were unfriending him, and his defense was “I’m just asking questions”. While I understand that feeling of unease you get when witnessing someone shamelessly feign willful ignorance, but now, more than ever, feels like the perfect time for constructive discourse.
Personally, I feel that many of us have gotten too comfortable with simply writing off those we disagree with. I think a big part of that comes from the social media landscape – it has become incredibly easy (even without intending to) for us to create an ‘echo chamber’ when it comes to our personal social media accounts. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically the idea that deleting or refusing to add or friend those we disagree with creates a bubble where only those that agree are welcome. This is even further exacerbated by the algorithms that many social media and even search engines use to curtail content to individual users.
So, what are some of the negative effects of this? For starters, the most obvious is that you will rarely, if ever, be presented with an alternative perspective. If everything and everyone around you caters to what you WANT to believe, you’ll never learn things you might NEED to know or simply consider. This, at its core, is the essence of critically thinking, and without it, you aren’t doing so. Addressing opposing views and understanding the opposition are essential to refining your own views. And yes, it can and probably will be uncomfortable at times, but the end result is something powerful, something the internet and the echo chambers it helps us create for ourselves, has allowed us as a society to take for granted.
So today we are going to talk about some of the arguments and reasoning that people like Owens are using in defense of why they don’t and shouldn’t give a shit about this incident, or any others that look like it (and I’m sure you know by now, there are many). If you haven’t already been exposed to it, there is an aggressive opposition on the rise and we must be prepared to combat it with knowledge, not violence or angry rhetoric. Racism and bigotry exists on a very wide spectrum, and simply trying to cancel everyone won’t cut it.
George Floyd’s Criminal Background
Now the obvious response to this is that it is irrelevant in regards to what happened to him – EVEN IF Floyd had the worst criminal background imaginable, he did not deserve to by murdered in broad daylight. And even if you are of the opinion that someone with a criminal past somehow deserves a death sentence, I’m sure you can recognize that it was not the officers’ decision to make; it is NEVER the right of an officer to play jury and executioner. But it is true that Floyd had an extensive criminal history stretching from 1998-2009.
According to the head of the Minneapolis Police Union, Floyd had a “violent criminal history” and the subsequent protests are led by a “terrorist movement”. Clearly he’s taking a page from the Trump handbook entitled ‘deflect and deny‘ – he has aggressively asserted that police brutality doesn’t exist, blamed ‘terrorists’ for the backlash that has been clearly felt by many facets of American society, and shamelessly stands with the officers on trial.
For those of you still playing catch up on the criminal reform fight that minorities in general have been calling for for years now, this is nothing new. In every case in which a black man or woman is unjustly killed by police, there is always the same series of arguably irrelevant questions asked – were they committing a crime? what were they wearing? did they have a weapon? were they high? And that brings us to our next point:
Was Floyd Intoxicated?
While Floyd’s death has been classified as a homicide, the medical examiner’s report also states that Floyd, “suffered from heart disease and hypertension, and listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.” A second report, commissioned by the family, had the same conclusion, also including, “the compression cut off blood to Floyd’s brain, and that the pressure of other officers’ knees on his back made it impossible for him to breathe.” It’s also important to note that the business that called the police on Floyd for allegedly using a fake $20 said that he appeared drunk.
So, let’s say definitively that he was under the influence of something. Does that warrant a death sentence? Absolutely not. But like every argument that seems to come from the right for why he deserved what he had coming to him, this further implicates him as a criminal. And the worse the drug, the better. Review just about every case that is similar to Floyd’s, most notably the Rodney King incident of the 90’s, and undoubtedly this question is brought up and used someway, somehow to justify what happened.
It also helps push the idea that Officer Derek Chauvin is not actually to blame for his death, but instead poor health, drug use and, most recently a supposed covid-19 diagnosis are the real culprits. Without these factors, Chauvin pressing his knee on his neck for nearly 9 minutes shouldn’t even be a topic for discussion, right? Yeah, what the fuck ever.
Floyd & the Pregnant Woman Story
In 2009 Floyd was sentenced to 5 years in prison for an assault and robbery that allegedly involved him and several others breaking into the home of a pregnant woman. According to police records, he “pointed a gun at her stomach and searched the home for drugs and money.” This is the story that many will point to as a crime so obscene, that he may very well have deserved whatever ‘justice’ was served to him.
There are a select few that have asserted that ‘if you don’t break the law, the cops wont bother you’ (yeah, tell that to Brionna Taylor), but for some, the pregnant woman story is just too heinous of a crime to look past, or simply feel sympathy for Floyd. But what Owens and others fail to mention is that Floyd served the time sentenced to him, that was deemed adequate by our justice system. It’s been reported that he came out of jail, found religion, and was attempting to live a better life – a story that encapsulates the American Dream and feeds the religious reform narrative, but these don’t seem to apply to black men, or, I would argue, minorities in general.
I get it – it’s extremely difficult to sit through arguments that seem to only want to feed a bias instead of have an open discourse about what is in reality a very complex situation. I’m sure many of you agree that anyone that can watch the video beginning to end, of Floyd pinned to the concrete, pleading for his life, with Officer Shithead grinning like a lunatic, and still say “…. but wait, he had to do SOMETHING to deserve it” might be too far gone. Many of us feel this isn’t some sort of Liberal vs. Conservative issue, but a civil rights in America issue. It can be incredibly difficult entertaining some people that have clear biases and double standards, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that societies can change and evolve.
Again, now then ever, DISCOURSE IS ESSENTIAL. You racist uncle is not listening to Dr. Cornel West or Nina Turner and probably doesn’t know any people of color to hear their stories, BUT he might listen to you. You may very well be HIS only access to an alternative perspective. You may even find out that he might be yours too.
So I want to provide a few tips on what I think effective discourse looks like and how you can be prepared when it happens:
- Stay calm – There is something about someone who resists the need to insult and degrade the opposition and instead remain calm during a debate that is extremely effective. Their thoughts and feelings tend to come off a lot more calculated and it’s easier to digest, and those that lose their minds tend to look ridiculous in comparison. I remember I learned this first hand the first time I saw this video of Marilyn Manson on Bill Maher’s old show Politically Incorrect – while his fellow panel members are almost leaping out of their seats to berate Manson, he remains cool, calm and collected. He allows them to speak even when interrupted. He doesn’t raise his voice or become angry. It literally makes everyone else look like a fool while he simply looks like some sort of zen master.
- Stay informed – Knowledge is power! Before engaging with someone, be confident that you know everything you possibly can on the subject. If you’ve ever seen two people go at it, the one that gets mad and storms off usually has been confronted with pitfalls in their positions.
- It’s ok to be wrong – Be open to the fact that no matter how hard you try, you can’t know everything. A lot of people (*cough cough* our president *cough*) seem to think that admitting to being wrong or not having all the facts is some kind of weakness. I happen to think the opposite – it takes great strength and wisdom to recognize your own flaws, weaknesses and mistakes. That is the first step to correcting these things, and you’ll grow stronger for it.
- Destroy your echo chamber – I follow Trump, Fox News, and others that I don’t agree (or find credible) with on Facebook. Now one downside to this is that in today’s day and digital age, a like or a follow is some form of supporting these entities. BUT it is imperative for you to SEEK OUT the opposition, not just wait for it to find you. Learning what the opposition is saying, and the arguments they are building will force you to consider them and build your defense. Otherwise, you will be unprepared for battle.
And on that final note, I will leave you with this quote from a text I think everyone should read:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War