By BEN R. WILLIAMS
I’m writing this column on the evening of Tuesday, April 20, just a few hours after former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts regarding the murder of George Floyd.
By the time this column runs, there will be countless opinion pieces about the verdict. There will be columns about what this verdict means, what work remains to be done, and how people felt when they learned Chauvin had been found guilty of 2nd degree murder, 3rd degree murder, and 2nd degree manslaughter.
I’m not interested in writing a column like that. No matter how I feel about Chauvin, I’ll never feel the same way many of my friends feel, people who look at the iconic photo of George Floyd and see in his stoic expression a reflection of themselves, or their child, or their loved one. Their experiences are not mine to write about.
Instead, I wish to share an observation I made while I was watching the coverage of the trial on Tuesday afternoon.
A local network affiliate was streaming the live coverage on their Facebook page. I figured that was as good a place to watch it as any.
The thing about watching a live video feed on Facebook, if you’ve never had the displeasure of doing so, is that anyone can comment at any time. The comments slowly scroll up the screen right beneath the video so that you’re always looking at the four or five most recent comments, like closed captioning provided by America’s subconscious.
Some comments were fairly positive and middle-of-the-road, just people voicing their desire that justice be done and everyone return home safely. Some were a bit more pointed, hoping that Chauvin would get what was coming to him.
But a lot of the comments — and I mean a lot — were searingly racist.
Obviously, I’m not going to claim that I was shocked by this development. My monocle did not fly off causing me to spill my cup of Earl Grey. But there was something else that struck me.
Over the course of my life, I’ve heard my fair share of racist comments, most often from people I don’t know well who mistakenly assume I’m on their side.
But up until fairly recently, there seemed to be something covert about the racism I would overhear. This racism was whispered, or couched in fudged statistics and logical fallacies to make it seem as though it wasn’t hate speech, but a reasonable observation any right-thinking person would make. Call it David Duke racism; it was hateful, sure, but it wore a three-piece suit and could string a sentence together.
What I saw on that Facebook feed on Tuesday afternoon wasn’t subtle or whispered; it was loud and proud. What struck me, and not for the first time, was the sheer number of people who were not only voicing abhorrent opinions that have no place in this century, but doing so in a public forum in a text box right next to their name. If you wanted, you could click on that name and see their photo, learn all about them. They presumably do not care.
Obviously, I’m not saying that the covert racism of the recent past is better than the vocal racism of the present. They’re both awful. But it seemed to me that there used to be a sense of shame, a sense that hate needed to be whispered because decent society wouldn’t tolerate it.
Maybe it’s a good thing that the racism is more vocal now; at least it makes it easier to know who to avoid. Or maybe, as actor and comedian Chris Rock once observed, the ramped-up hatred is one last outburst before it fades away to nothing, just like how toddlers are at their wildest right before they fall asleep.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: the nationwide outpouring of grief, anger, and horror that followed Floyd’s death at the hands of Chauvin should have never been a surprise. To understand those feelings, you don’t have to watch the video of Floyd’s murder; you only need to read the comments written below it.