“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” These were the last words of 46-year-old George Floyd. This heinous act occurred in front of witnesses and cameras. George Floyd’s death, and the death of so many other black Americans has sparked a powerful civil rights movement against racism, police brutality and unacceptable discrimination with the powerful message that Black Lives Matter.
The death of George Floyd has brought to the surface, yet again, hundreds of years of systemic racism in the United States. All the accompanying pain, suffering, injustice, and anger that is part and parcel of the experiences of black Americans growing up in the US has come to a head. In addressing the nation following the verdict, President Joe Biden said, “nothing can ever bring their brother or their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America. But this is not enough. We cannot stop here. To deliver real change and reform we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this won’t ever happen or occur again.” Biden called systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul” and that there has been a collective realization about the reality of systemic racism that has occurred since George Floyd’s death.
So, what can we do to help this country heal? Following George Floyd’s death, structural changes across society have been proposed and these begin with police reform. Vice President Kamala Harris voiced her views that lawmakers must now take up legislation that will fundamentally reform policing in America. There is a collective recognition, broadly across the aisle, that much more needs to be done in this regard. Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), a longtime policing reform advocate, introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which passed the House by a 236-181 vote. Included in the bill is a ban on chokeholds, the ending of “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers and the creation of national standards for police training. Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), the sole black Republican Senator, put forward a counter proposal which included provisions for making falsified police reports a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. While these bills are a start in holding people, both the police and wider public, accountable for their actions, there is a need for far greater urgency, not just in tackling police reform but tackling the wider systemic racism which exists in the United States today.
Tackling the problem of systemic racism through structural reform is one element of the process but ensuring a real change in society will require a focus on education. In order to end this stain on our democracy we must teach that it is wrong, teach that we are all equal and teach the dangers of dehumanization. When I speak about education, yes I am speaking about our children starting from preschool but I am also speaking about all of us. Education is key. For this to work, to actually root out systemic racism, we all have a role to play and we all need to be educated on how we can play that role. We need to start now. We need to teach forgiveness, we need to teach healing and we need to teach reconciliation. There needs to be broad understanding of values such as respect for human rights and principles of equality, responsibility, and unity. When we can build a platform of knowledge for all citizens, we are building a more peaceful society.
How does this fit into a political forgiveness process? When we think of political forgiveness as an interactive process that involves the healing of individuals, the reconstruction of communal relationships, and the pursuit of a just political order it becomes obvious how important education and structural reform is in the healing of individuals and society. Police reform and child education are an important part of this process but it is not the only aspect that needs to be included in a political forgiveness process. All structures that support systemic racism need to be reformed, including unjust laws. Much work needs to be done. It will take all of us coming together and committing to one another if we want to create a better, stronger and more equal society where we can live in peace with one another. It can be done. The question is do we want a brighter future for everyone?