The horrific events that unfolded on May 25th and ignited our nation and the world into an avalanche of protest, riots, and human outrage have traumatized humanity's collective conscience worldwide. George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police was an unspeakable horror. As a result, law enforcement nationally is under intense scrutiny due to this and repeated incidents earlier this year, where African Americans were senselessly killed either by overzealous police or, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, out-of-control and unjustified vigilante "justice".
This ongoing pattern confounds human reason and our overt sense of human decency and established moral norms when it comes to basic principles of morality, integrity, fairness, and healthy police-community relations. To the latter, we have regrettably moved into a moment of American history that can only be described as persistent and pathological dysfunction that has put our nation on edge much like what was witnessed during the explosive racial riots of the 1960's. But yet, there's a more sinister element to what we are witnessing today, one that has gained little to no attention but must be confronted head-on if we truly look to overcome this crisis.
Benjamin Crump, Civil Rights attorney and legal counsel for the Floyd family, has passionately referred to the George Floyd killing as evil and torture. As I listened to him during interviews and at the memorial services in New York and North Carolina, he used these terms over and over with stirring conviction. His countdown of the minutes, "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9", represents not only Floyd's prolonged suffering, but more-so the totality of evil and torture perpetrated on him by the Minneapolis Police.
Man has struggled with evil since the beginning of time, and this will continue until end-times prophecy is fulfilled. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote prolifically about the evils of Nazi Germany, a blood-thirsty regime that was responsible for launching the entire world into an epic struggle between the Axis and Allies during the second world war. Hitler and his National German Socialist Workers' Party, better known as Nazis, were obsessed with Aryanism and Germanic superiority. This movement, along with political, economic, and social forces, combined to unleash the horrors of The Holocaust which led to the death of approximately 6 million European Jews. Bonhoeffer confronted evil face-to-face while serving in the Resistance. Ultimately he was arrested, tried, and executed shortly before the War's end in April 1945. In no way do I seek to compare law enforcement with the atrocities committed by Hitler's Nazi Party. My family history has roots in law enforcement for which I am very proud, and I, for one, respect and value the presence of police in our communities. From my experiences, all my encounters have been positive, professional, and without conflict. The Nazi reference simply highlights humanity's profound struggles with evil within government and civil society, both individually and collectively. As I treat Bonhoeffer's influential writings and life of resistance below, the connection will become clear and more meaningful.
Ethics is one of Bonhoeffer's premier works, and though he is the author, he, tragically, was executed before it was completed. The problem of evil is discussed numerous times in Ethics as Bonhoeffer sought to reconcile the realities of human life and human institutions with Christian ethics. On the issue of evil, Bonhoeffer states the following:
What is worse than doing evil is being evil. It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than of a lover of truth to lie. It is worse when a misanthropist practices brotherly love than when a philanthropist gives way to hatred. Better than truth in the mouth of the liar is the lie. Better than the act of brother love on the part of the misanthrope is hatred....A falling away is of infinitely greater weight than a falling down.
Bonhoeffer's quote captures the paradox of evil that was frighteningly real for him and the vast majority of Europeans during World War II. Equally, for many African Americans today, fear often arises when there is an encounter with the police and then the images and stories of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others become haunting reminders of people whose lives were brutally and suddenly ended. These are cases with discomforting and unresolved questions that continue to haunt the African American community about the criminal justice system and the value of Black life versus that of its White counterparts. Herein, evil deceives then devours it's victims unawares and then fades into the backdrop of history, politics, race, class, and public debate, seemingly again and again. Through the veneer of goodness, trust is exploited and victims are destroyed. So was the case in Minneapolis with Derek Chauvin, whose smug and sinister stare ignored Floyd's constant moans and pleas for help for nine non-stop minutes while he was immobilized by human indifference, handcuffs, and a paralyzing knee to his neck that ultimately led to his demise.
We tend to trust law enforcement and for all the right reasons. Society's safety and stability rely on an effective, committed , and properly trained police force. These are people dedicated to their communities, and they take great pride in being the firewall between peace and civility versus lawlessness and disorder. Bonhoeffer brings to our attention the hazards that occur when truth and trust give way to evil that is callous and oblivious to human suffering. We become vulnerable, and in the case of Chauvin, when evil masquerades as good and becomes consumed with destruction, evil people destroy lives which, in turn, creates outrage, chaos, and catastrophic consequences.
Derek Chauvin showed no sympathy or regard for human suffering. As such, Chauvin is the embodiment of Bonhoeffer's evil person simply because he was someone society trusted to preserve life when in his custody and yet, when the public pleaded with him to stop, he became the Grim Reaper by shunning life-saving measures thus facilitating Floyd's death through unmitigated torture, silence, and evil indifference. I doubt this was his intention, but the denial of life was obvious and painfully watched by the world. Chauvin's actions are undeniably depraved, unthinkable, unacceptable, sociopathic, immoral, and criminal.
If evil is undeserved harm and if these people habitually cause undeserved harm, then the hard reaction prompts nus to regard as evil, not only their actions, but also the agents themselves, insofar as they are the causes of evil. -John Kekes, Facing Evil