A Word In Edgewise: Justice, Drop by Drop

Violence solves nothing. Perhaps. But a tea bale tossed into Boston harbor, a brick thrown outside Stonewall Inn, a video captured outside a corner store in Minneapolis; each may mark a turning point in time.

The extent and intensity of outrage concerning George Floyd’s death reminds me of my high school chemistry class titration demonstration. The instructor added drops of clear liquid from a pipette to a flask of equally clear liquid–until a final drop turned the flask’s contents bright pink.

Why have at least thirteen countries worldwide held protests and vigils in George Floyd’s name? In Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, Syria, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, and Australia, thousands have made signs, spoken his name aloud, lit candles, prayed, and protested?

One answer may be as simple as the video capabilities of our ubiquitous cell phones. While those present cried for mercy and were ignored, and were prevented from intervening to save the prone, manacled Floyd as he gasped that he couldn’t breathe, a cellphone camera’s eye recorded the entire eight minutes and 46 seconds. The gruesome extinction of a human life that would be difficult to watch acted in a movie theater, was about to be seen as one man’s reality by millions of viewers.

Seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazier filmed the incident, later reporting on Facebook that she is being harassed for not interfering, when neither the other three attending officers nor any other adult present moved to intervene. As it is, Frazier may have done more than she could have imagined by capturing for the world what actually happened that day.

Consider the power of an image: A video of a child with a terminal illness asking for birthday cards will prompt a deluge of cards and stuffed teddy bears. It’s human nature to be able to grasp the suffering of an individual but be overwhelmed by the misery of a faceless crowd. A second or third-hand text news story may raise too many questions, offer too many contradictory explanations. Watching an officer, hands in his pockets, grinding his knee into an immobilized victim’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds can’t be gainsaid.

Floyd’s death has further resonated with the danger and fear many others in disparate societies face in their own daily lives. People’s tolerance, like the acid/base balance in the chemistry demonstration, can be saturated. Pushed to a tipping point, something will change; never achieving a total solution, but shifting the balance, tipping the sheer inertia forward, nudging the status quo towards change.

Frazier, fearing retaliation, nevertheless stated, “If it wasn’t for me, 4 cops would’ve still had their jobs causing other problems. The police most certainly would’ve swept it under the rug with a cover up story. Instead of bashing me, THANK ME! Because that could have been one of your loved ones and you would want to see the truth as well.”

Justice does not always roll like a mighty stream; sometimes it must gather momentum drop by drop.

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