Marble Falls How is this possible? The death of George Floyd was a watershed event in American life with an impact that was felt to be enduring and even universal. Not only was their clear footage, thanks to the bravery and nimbleness of a bystander, of unquestionable police brutality, but there have also now been court trials with incontestable results, rendering guilty verdicts and prison sentences for the police participating in Floyd’s murder. Black Lives Matter became a clarion call for the country, demanding that the nation not avert its eyes, but take a hard look at the enduring impact of racism in our society and its cancer that had metastasized everywhere. How many at every level of private and public life claimed to have learned indelible lessons from the George Floyd murder? The answer would seem to be countless.
Current events make all of these claims a lie. Seemingly, police forces, both large and small, seem to have learned little to nothing. As I sit here on a snowy ridge in the Ozark Mountains, I find it unbelievable that I am reading about horrors in Mulberry, Arkansas, not all that far as the crow flies, and Memphis, Tennessee, a city I know well, only few hours to the east on the Arkansas border.
In the Arkansas episode, Levi White and Zach King, two sheriff deputies in Crawford County, Arkansas, “… were fired from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office back in October after several investigations were opened after the violent arrest was filmed on video, seen by thousands across the nation. In the video, King and White along with Mulberry Police Officer Thell Riddle are seen on top of Randal Worcester at a convenience store on Sunday, Aug. 21, and the two deputies seem to be hitting and kicking Worcester while he is on the ground. Officer Riddle is still on administrative leave from the Mulberry Police Department. In the video, he is only seen holding Worcester down.” The FBI has now arrested two of them for infringing on Worcester’s civil rights. Once again, a bystander caught the video, and the police only seem to have stopped beating the man when they notice they were being filmed as the young woman can be heard on TikTok saying, “we better get out of here,” clearly afraid for their own lives. More than a million, not thousands, have seen the video.
The Memphis situation is even worse where five police officers were arrested for murder. The video is coming, and those who have seen it describe it as “worse than Rodney King”, the beating that triggered the Los Angeles riots. It is also clearly worse than the Arkansas beating, because it resulted in the death of 29-year-old, Tyre Nichols. All of this was triggered “after a traffic stop that escalated into what the authorities have described as a display of staggering brutality.” This horror was captured by body cams worn by the police, which was part of the wave of reforms in the wake of the Floyd murder.
How can we avoid the question: What did the police around the country learn? How can anyone accept that the answer is “Nothing.” Holding someone down for other to administer the beating was found to be criminal activity in Minneapolis? Why not Arkansas? Cellphones are ubiquitous and young people know how to use them and put the video on TikTok, even in rural Arkansas, how do police not realize this and modify their behavior, if not out of common decency and humanity, then for fear of being caught? What level of impunity infects police who are wearing body cams and know that their behavior will be seen, and then still inflict deadly beatings on a man? What level of hate inspires such men to hurt and kill over something in front of a convenience store or the triviality of a traffic stop?
These men can’t be seen as bad apples in the barrel. Police chiefs and sheriffs have to be held responsible for not radically changing the culture of their departments to guarantee the safety of their citizens from their own police. The whole political system, as well as the criminal justice and public safety regimes, bear culpability here. The lessons of Rodney King, George Floyd and countless others have not been learned. These are systemic issues, not individual aberrations. America has to repeat this course, because we have tragically failed again.