What Have We Americans Learned Since May 25, 2020?

I want to share with our global network some reflections on the past year since the death of George Floyd here in Minneapolis while in police custody. His death triggered both protests, some peaceful, some not, demands for restricting formal policing in cities, a remarkable increase in crime and murders in those same cities, a rise in divisive resentments between many in elite sectors and those less fortunate with respect to education and wealth and accusations of a kind of fundamental criminality in American culture – white racism.

The distemper among many Americans contributed, in my judgment, both to the surge in support for Donald Trump in the 2020 election and an opposing turnout for Joe Biden.

Institutions have pivoted to prioritize “inclusion, diversity and equity” in an effort to seek atonement for something for which they may or may not be personally responsible. Many schools have affirmed critical race theory to rejuvenate racist thinking in American culture, only this time, making “whites” the objects of racial denigration.

A year later, one cannot say that there has been any genuine rapprochement between “whites” and “BIPOC” individuals.

There is no convincing evidence that American police are “racist,” as charged. Even the prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the police officer convicted of callously letting George Floyd die, could not accuse him of being a racist. Appropriately, as far as I could tell, since he had married a Hmong wife.

It has just been made public that in the Floyd case, the local medical examiner, under pressure, changed his conclusion as to the causes of Floyd’s death, adding to his original written report the words “compression” of Floyd’s neck from Chauvin’s knee restraint, directly implicating Chauvin in the death. Evidence of this change was not presented to the jury in Chauvin’s trial.

The immediate and impressive rise in the killing of African Americans in their neighborhoods after accusations of systemic police racism and calls to “defund” the police is most depressing. Here in Minneapolis, a couple weeks ago, three little black girls were shot as random collateral damage inflicted by what is believed to be young men with guns. One died. There were no protests over the death, no rallies formed to “say their names.”

In my city of St. Paul, last week, two young men were shot to death in a new, very well built and equipped neighborhood recreation center. The center was built to provide an alternative to policing in turning young men away from guns and violence through new opportunities for friendly sport competition. But rather than have the center change the neighborhood’s culture of violence, the culture took over the center.

There are important lessons to be learned from all this. But really, there is nothing new to learn here. The ancient learning about human nature and how to promote the moral sense in each of us still applies.

Educational achievement for African American students in our public schools has not improved, given the impact of lockdowns and the need for distance learning. If there is in America anything that I see as actually, year-in and year-out, systemically preventing many African Americans from growing up ready to participate in what the country can offer in income and wealth accumulation, it is our inner-city public schools. But we have not drawn the correct lessons from this manifest truth, which is so obvious and all around us.

We have learned that our major media companies, like the New York Times and Washington Post, can no longer be trusted to provide factual reporting and dispassionate judgments. A preference for personal narrative and storytelling without ethical restraint has replaced the professional standards once honored by journalists. Thus, Americans have become unnerved, not knowing what is true or whom they can trust.

We have accordingly retreated back into our own subjective “truths” and closed our doors to dialogue with those who think differently. We do not have even the courage of our own selfish convictions to engage openly and fully with others across our many divides.

We have learned that political divisions have deepened and that reconciliation will not be achieved anytime soon. Accusations of unacceptable ignorance, lying, being toxic, having mean intent, lacking good faith and not deserving of freedom of thought and speech are multiplying. We are experiencing elite failure across the board, but have no frames of thought by which to talk about such collapse. It is unprecedented in our lifetimes.

As was written long ago in the Book of Ecclesiastes:

“What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”