Institutional racism enabled the treeless lynching of George Floyd

Revolting, inhumane, brazen. The video of George Floyd’s last minutes shows unmistakably that he was publicly murdered by an officer of the law whose job it was to protect him. George Floyd is never seen resisting, and Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck and face for nearly three minutes after Floyd was unresponsive.

Floyd is described as the antithesis of a troublemaker — “real easygoing,” “never a fighter” or rude, a “gentle giant,” and a former high school football star who never received so much as a penalty and attended community college on a scholarship. At the time of his killing, he was out of work because the restaurant where he was a bouncer was closed to inside dining, a casualty of the coronavirus. George Floyd’s killing is a treeless lynching in our own time that requires abhorrence and lays bare the depravity of the institution of racism in this country. Perhaps had George Floyd been born white, he would be a college football coach today. He certainly would be alive.

His treatment as an expendable subhuman demand that each and every one of us decry his killing and of other black men and black women, and look for the institutional racism within our own heart. As a city, we have the power to use the momentum of his death to ensure that Idaho Falls provides equal protection for people of color. Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson said this week: “It was blatant and obvious that what Derek Chauvin did is not how you want to police. I echo the condemnation that has been universal. including by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.”

Johnson said if Floyd had to be restrained, he should have been rolled on his side, and other restraint techniques should have been used to ensure his airway was never compromised. He noted that IFPD officers are trained to have the mindset of seeing people as individuals. “As soon as we see people as just part of a group, we lose our ability to interact with them.”

According to Johnson, arrest demographics show that blacks are not being arrested in Idaho Falls disproportionately to their population percentage. But the diversity of the force needs to improve, Johnson said. Hispanics, women and Native Americans are underrepresented, and only one officer of the 88 member force is black, though that number aligns with the population percentage. The department has an ongoing relationship with the local African American Alliance, Johnson added, and officers met proactively with the group this week.

Mayor Casper’s Connecting Us Sustaining Progress Inclusion Committee established late last year is tasked with addressing issues, such as institutional racism. Progress. But the Idaho Falls City Council and Bonneville County should resolve to review the patterns and practices of all departments, with law enforcement as the priority, for embedded institutional racism.

While nothing can compensate for the killing of black men and women, aggressively addressing institutional racism is something we can do to make Idaho Falls more just for people of color and, thereby, for all of us.