Statement on the Death of George Floyd
Dr. William R. Harvey
The current state of affairs in our nation today saddens and enrages me. Equal justice under the law is a cornerstone of liberty, but this was not the case with Mr. George Floyd. He was brutally murdered by a white Minneapolis policeman who put his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck until he died. The policeman in question and those who stood around and watched this crime being committed have now been arrested, but should have been arrested immediately. It is my hope that they will all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
As president of Hampton University and one who witnessed and participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, I am pleased to see those who have initiated peaceful protests expressing their concerns about police brutality, particularly towards African Americans. During the late 1950’s and 1960’s, I participated in marches and other peaceful protests that were led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was also the vice-president of a statewide student Civil Rights organization.
My father was a building contractor and Civil Rights leader. Therefore, our household was one of those homes that was a meeting place for the local organizations. It also served as a rest stop for out of town national, regional, and state civil rights leaders who could not use public accommodations because of the racism of the time. For those travelers, most of these visits occurred on the weekends and might include a meal, a glass of tea or lemonade, a nap on the living room sofa, or an overnight stay. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited several times although I do not recall him spending the night. His brother Rev. A. D. King was a frequent visitor and overnight guest. Their visits always included interesting conversations. I shall forever be indebted to my father for allowing me to sit in on some of those meetings. He gave me permission to be present with the proviso that I could not ask a question, venture an opinion, or otherwise speak. As he would say, “You are to listen and learn.”
In these meetings, there were conversations about successes, failures, problems, promises, and plans for progress in the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the attendees urged the abandonment of peaceful demonstrations and encouraged violent responses that matched the batons, bullets, hoses, and dogs used by police against us. Dr. King spoke out strongly against the use of these tactics. He felt that it would hurt our cause, and he was proven right. In that same vein, I think that our cause is hurt today when we focus more on retaliation and less on seeking police reform and justice.
While peaceful protestors rally to make their voices heard, the violence, looting, and destruction of property are not the solution. These acts hinder the cause of justice that so many are seeking. Peaceful demonstration is a part of African American history, but engaging in the above-mentioned acts hurts our cause. To be sure, there will be criticism for those of us who believe in peaceful protest to achieve desired goals and objectives.
I do not have all of the answers, but three specific thoughts come to mind. First, now is the time for us to again come together in our homes and churches to have conversations about how we can move forward as a people and as a nation to end police brutality against African Americans. Secondly, every municipality in the country should establish a colloquium board to facilitate dialogue between representatives of the police and the African American community to include ministers, educators, organizational leaders, and other citizens of good-will. Thirdly, every state and local police academy as well as other providers of law enforcement officers should establish a mandatory class on policing in the African American community.
While I cannot claim to know all of the answers to these problems nor the timeline for resolution, I do know that nothing can be accomplished unless we work together for the betterment of ourselves, our communities, and our nation. Until this happens, justice will not be served. All of us must understand the immorality of racism as we support the victims of racial discrimination.