Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

Marching against racism is too easy

[Getty Images]

When I first saw the footage of George Floyd being asphyxiated by a policeman’s knee on his throat, my reaction was pretty standard. My eyes bugged. I stood up. I exclaimed something like: ‘Bloody hell!’ We’ve all seen the video dozens of times now, but it’s worth clinging to that initial shock, the better to appreciate that America’s spontaneous collective revulsion in response to such grotesque abuse of power was genuinely commendable.

Yet the nationwide marches a fortnight ago had a clear goal: the culprit’s arrest. If late in the day — had a civilian choked a policeman to death, he’d have been handcuffed faster than it takes to say ‘black lives matter’ — Derek Chauvin was charged. Then protestors clamoured that his three accomplices should also be arrested. They were arrested. Doubtless in response to activist pressure, the original murder charge was upgraded from third to second degree — which could prove a dubious decision. The more severe the charge, the higher the likelihood of failing to get a conviction. Imagine the Rodney-King-to-the-tenth frenzy on the streets if this guy gets off.

To begin with, then, these hearteningly multiracial crowds were demanding something tangible. But the worst thing you can do with any movement is to give it what it claims to want. As the daily marches have continued, their agenda has advanced to ending ‘structural racism’ — which, being ill-defined, is also insoluble. Ergo, these convocations can carry on indefinitely.

Finally there is something to do, a means to meet one’s friends, and a locus of vigour amid the stasis

Especially because the marches deliver a get-out-of-lockdown-free card. I’m not the first to observe a certain U-turn of convenience, since the same contingent that has turned out for Floyd in such profusion were the very Democrats campaigning for longer, more stringent shutdowns and reporting the unreconstructed for minor infringements, the better to ‘save lives’.

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