Where's George?

Anyone in the United States who hasn't been living in a cabin in the woods knows about the death last month of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands (or more accurately, the knee) of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, as well as the subsequent protests and riots that followed.

Without delving into the data, it does seem like an awful lot of blacks, adults as well as adolescents, die in encounters with the police that appear to happen for very stupid reasons.  Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant, was shot multiple times in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building at night because an undercover police unit driving by deemed he looked suspicious.  When they approached him, he reached for his wallet, causing the officers to assume he was reaching for a gun, and they opened fire on him.  The catalyst for the incident that led to Michael Brown getting shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri was because he mouthed off to a police officer who had reprimanded Brown and his friend for walking in the middle of the street as the officer drove past them in his squad car.  Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes on a street corner on Staten Island and died after being placed in a chokehold after being uncooperative with the officers who had responded to a complaint about him.  Sandra Bland was found dead hanging in her jail cell three days after being arrested from an altercation she had with an officer who pulled her over for failing to signal when changing lanes.  12-year old Tamir Rice was shot to death with very little warning for holding a gun that turned out to be a toy.  And the police encounter that lead to the death of George Floyd came about because a shop owner believed that Floyd had knowingly passed along a counterfeit twenty dollar bill.  These people, among many others, were either doing nothing wrong or at worst committed a rather petty offense that no white person would ever expect to lose his or her life over.

The death of George Floyd and the response it has generated reminded me of an incident I had witnessed some years ago in which a black person found herself seemingly out of nowhere and for no good reason subdued and arrested by the police.

I don't remember the specific date, or even the year for that matter, but I was in Penn Station in Manhattan as I was on many an evening waiting for a train to go home.  At some point, I took note of a white man who I guess was in his thirties, and a black woman who looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties, walking together.  Sometimes when I am standing in a public place with nothing much to do, I will take note of the people around me, especially if something about them draws my attention.  I don't know what the extent of their relationship was, whether they were friends or if they had met in a bar or got high together earlier in the day and had never even known each other before that.  At some, I saw the white man separate from her and he went into the pizzeria.  I was standing outside of the pizzeria in the promenade, about twenty or thirty feet from the entrance.  Rather than ordering a pizza, I noticed the white man walk further into the pizzeria, looking back to see if the black woman could see her, a rather mischievous look on his face, until he walked out of an exit at the other end of the pizzeria.  Moments later, the black woman, who realized the man was gone, started calling out for him and looking for him.  She sounded like she was high, judging by the affect of her voice.  I recall it almost being childish, like a kid looking for a missing pet, but not yet at the point of frustration.  "George, where are you?" she called out.  She walked into the pizzeria, looking around, asking rhetorically, "Where's George?"

I was watching this play out with a bemused fascination when one of the pizzeria employees, who deemed that she was starting to become a nuisance to the customers, began yelling at her to get out.  The black woman then became argumentative in response and they got into a heated exchange.  I don't remember if someone specifically called the police, or if the officers who approached the woman just happened to be nearby, as Penn Station has a very visible police presence, but it didn't seem to take long for them to arrive on the scene.  The black woman, who I presume was not in a sound frame of mind due to being high, was uncooperative with the police, and the incident quickly escalated out of control, with the officers wrestling her to the ground and handcuffing her.  I distinctly remember a young black man witnessing the incident plead "Come on, this isn't necessary!"

As for myself, I was shocked at how quickly what seemed to be an amusing episode I observed while waiting for my train turned into a police incident that resulted in a woman, who only moments before struck me as peaceful and harmless, being arrested.  I was angry with George, whose ghosting of this woman caused her to become so distressed in the first place.  I even felt angry at myself, as I was contemplating approaching her in the pizzeria to help her find George, as I saw he had slipped out the other end of the pizzeria.  Maybe if I had, the altercation with the police would not have happened and she would not have been wrestled to the floor and handcuffed.   Even if George couldn't be found, maybe I could have helped her in some way, maybe convince her to go home.  I don't know. 

While the woman was black and I believe the several officers involved were white, I don't think it was a matter of white police officers being overly harsh with a black person.  I can easily imagine a white person high on drugs and belligerent and resisting the police being treated the same way.  But regardless of the race of the people involved in the incident, it struck me as sad to see how something can so needlessly and quickly spin out of control like it did.  Who can say how many times incidents like this happen in America every day? 

Where's George?