George Floyd and America’s Failure to Provide Safety, Security, and Justice: A Statement from the Roosevelt Institute

June 1, 2020

It looks as if the system cannot reform itself,” said Dr. Cornel West this past Friday in discussing the public murder of George Floyd on May 25. In 5 minutes and 23 seconds, Dr. West delivers the powerful—and painful—truth: We are living in a moment of compounded systemic failures, at least those of us who are fortunate enough to still be alive. From a capitalistic economy that rewards the few and robs the many to an immoral and inequitable criminal “justice” system, true freedom is not a reality for most.

Dr. West tells us what protesters across the nation are showing: “We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment. [But] even in a moment in which we have a failed social experiment, we must fight.”

To fight injustice is to confront it; to confront it, we must reckon with the choices, both implicit and explicit, of our past and present. Inequality today—most notably being the loss, and too often the theft, of Black lives—is rooted in centuries of racial exclusion and disenfranchisement. And any effort to address the racial inequality embedded into our society must also account for the racial exclusion built into our economics, politics, and policymaking.

In “A Decade of Watching Black People Die,” NPR’s Code Switch reviewed some of the final moments Black people had before the police took their lives:

Eric Garner had just broken up a fight, according to witness testimony.
Ezell Ford was walking in his neighborhood.
Tamir Rice was playing in a park.
Walter Scott was going to an auto-parts store.
Philando Castile was driving home from dinner with his girlfriend.
Botham Jean was eating ice cream in his living room in Dallas.
Dominique Clayton was sleeping in her bed.
Breonna Taylor was also asleep in her bed.
And George Floyd was at the grocery store.

Sadly, of course, this list is far from exhaustive.

Black people are not safe—at work, at the store, even at home—they are not socially or economically secure, and the world we’ve built is not just. As the past week has shown, these vulnerabilities jeopardize our collective safety, security, and justice. And though we’ve seen progress in the good fight for racial equality, it is painfully clear that we have not gone far enough. We need a new approach, one that is built by and for the Black community. At the same time, people in power must make better choices, which includes dismantling the structural and institutional barriers that prevent Black people from gaining power for themselves. As Rashad Robinson notes, “There is no path forward that doesn’t include changing the rules and changing who is in power.”

We at Roosevelt stand in solidarity with everyone fighting for a better future.