Some Thoughts on the Murder of George Floyd

by on June 1, 2020 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Watching Minneapolis burn and the country explode in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in the midst of a global pandemic and subsequent economic depression that have both disproportionately harmed black and brown working-class folks was one of those moments that makes America’s brutality painfully clear — yet again.

In the same week that one of the Trump administration’s economic advisors caused a minor uproar by dehumanizingly referring to his fellow Americans as “human capital stock”, we see the President of the United States race past his nanosecond of concern for the Floyd killing to threaten protesters with “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  Welcome to the United States of Disposable People.

Back in 2014 in the wake of the Michael Brown murder, I observed in this space that the dehumanization that makes racist police murders possible is linked to the economic system that reduces people to objects in the marketplace, and I quoted one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speeches that questioned our society as “an edifice which produces beggars”:

[Q]uestioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated . . . A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will “thingify” them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.

The objectification of people that Dr. King so clearly explicates here was what created the society that made the killing of Michael Brown inevitable.  As I wrote then:

To put it plainly, one can only justify the killing of Michael Brown if one is able to “thingify” him and so many others like him.

To follow King’s logic, it is this objectification of human beings that is the root of our history of racist violence, economic exploitation, and war.

One has to dehumanize people to ignore and/or tolerate a fundamentally racist prison-industrial complex that disproportionately ruins the lives of young men and women of color and allows police to operate in poor communities like an occupying army. In effect, those in prison and on the streets become disposable people.

You can only justify our historic level of economic inequality if you are able to dehumanize the losers in an unjust system that benefits the elite at the expense of the less fortunate. Those left behind are disposable people.

And here we are, six years later and in an even worse place, no lessons learned.  The George Floyd police murder amidst an ongoing pandemic is a lightening flash that illuminates our greater darkness.  We live in a society where the largely white American economic elite regard U.S. workers as “human capital stock” and are happy to excuse a disproportionate number of deaths of disposable people of color during the pandemic as “acceptable losses” in the service of America’s economic engine.

Why should we be surprised that a people who accept this produce police who feel free to publicly execute black people on the streets?  That’s what systemic racism looks like.

One of the most instructive lessons of contemporary historical scholarship is that the progress of American capitalism was not distinct from slavery but inextricably bound with it.  Indeed, Taylorism, the system of industrial management that created the gospel of efficiency that drove modern capitalism, was born out of the practices of slave management.  Hence, the objectification and exploitation of American workers, workers of color even more so both historically and at present, is part of the long legacy of profound dehumanization that comes out of a system that saw human beings as temporarily valuable but ultimately disposable commodities.

This is our original sin as a country.  It’s long past the time we got a new religion.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 1, 2020 at 4:23 pm

Aside from our terrible legacy of having started with slavery baked into the American system and our subsequent glacial progress in race relations, the truth is African-American George Floyd died at the hands of poorly-trained cops who are scandalously protected by their police union contracts. We don’t need a new religion, but we do need to change that unmentionable Elephant in the Room
in cities across this country. RIP George Floyd who was mercilessly deprived of breath and life in a public street for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.

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