Canadians rallied in support of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and efforts to combat racism at weekend marches in Toronto and Montreal, in a June 2, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadians rallied in support of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and efforts to combat racism at weekend marches in Toronto and Montreal, in a June 2, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

OPINION: It’s not a few bad apples, it’s a rotten tree

“It would be tragic to be distracted from the moral grievance being lodged here”

Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald

After George Floyd became the latest unarmed African American killed by police.

After cars were overturned and cities were burned.

After armies of angry people filled our streets with raw screams.

After all that, a white man with an impressive title went on CNN to explain things. “I don’t think there is systemic racism,” opined national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien. “I think 99.9% of our law-enforcement officers are great Americans.”

So why do these great Americans seem to have such trouble not killing unarmed black people? There are, said O’Brien just “a few bad apples that have given law enforcement a bad name.”

One did not know whether to laugh or cry.

RELATED: ‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Not that there’s anything new here. O’Brien comes from a school of thought common among those who are unable to face the ugly truth of this country. For them, racism is a character flaw, not unlike having a bad temper. It’s something a person ought to work on, yes, but it has no larger resonance.

If, however, racism were just a rare, individual flaw, surely one of the three other officers who was on the scene when Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin applied his knee to George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes would have intervened before the tragedy occurred. African Americans would now be able to rest easy in the assurance that justice will be done. It would not have taken 74 days and national pressure to effect the arrest of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while black. And the killers of dozens of other African Americans would not be running around free.

But they didn’t, they can’t, it did and they are. So it is past time O’Brien and others like him mustered the guts and humanity to face facts. There is no major institution in this country —medical, cultural, commercial, religious, journalistic, law enforcement or otherwise —that is not corroded to its bones by racism. Were that not the case, statistics would not unfailingly show African Americans at or near the bottom by every measure of success.

No one can condone the burning and looting that has wracked our nation’s largest cities. And let us duly note eyewitness reports suggesting that at least some of the carnage we’ve seen was orchestrated, not by people heartbroken at another act of police violence upon another black body, but by agitators and opportunists operating under wholly different agendas.

That said, it would be tragic to be distracted by violence, vandalism or the criminal appropriation of black people’s hurt and anger, from the moral grievance being lodged here. It is a grievance people like O’Brien never seem to hear.

They did not hear it when Langston Hughes wrote it in a poem.

They did not hear it when Martin Luther King Jr. thundered it from a mountaintop.

They did not hear it when Marvin Gaye sang it in a song.

They did not hear it when Colin Kaepernick said it with a gesture.

They do not hear it now in the wail of sirens and the crackle of flames.

There are no words for the frustration of that, for saying it every which way you know, as emphatically as you can, only to have someone like O’Brien give you gibberish in reply. How many more poems and songs, how many more speeches and burning cars do they need? After George Floyd, after Breonna Taylor, after Philando Castile, after more names and more pain than we have space to recount, the truth should be glaringly obvious.

We don’t have “a few bad apples.”

No, we have a rotten tree.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Just Posted

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

Terry Fong embraces his best friend Princeton at Incinerator Rock, which became the travelling companions’ favourite spot during five years of exploring. (Cam Shaw photo)
Tofino played key role in inspirational dog’s journey

Terry Fong explains his recently published book, ‘Princeton - A Love Story’

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests: Greater Victoria teacher union

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Myla Bui holds up one of the paper cranes she made which have raised $31,031 for the Help Fill A Dream Foundation. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Cut out for this: sister of Leila Bui helps sick kids with 1,001 cranes each

Young Saanich philanthropist raises $31,031 for sick kids, folds thousands of paper cranes

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: Island man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

A fire sparked at an encampment between the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue early Thursday morning. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Residents of Pat Bay Highway encampment to be relocated after early morning fire, site secured for clean up

Eviction notice issued in 2020, not enforced to allow BC Housing to connect with campers

Victoria’s Canoe Brewpub will soon be the eighth Craft Beer Market location in Canada. (Google Maps)
Craft Beer Market buys Victoria’s Canoe Brewpub

Craft Beer Market operates nine locations across Canada

The Neighbourhood Market at Saanich Baptist Church is one of 10 that provide fresh produce to people in need across Greater Victoria. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Daily free food markets offer fresh produce to Greater Victorians in need

Ten Neighbourhood Markets operate across the region

AnimalKind, the BC SPCA’s animal welfare accreditation and referral program, has granted accreditation to Courtenay’s K9 Kind Dog Training & Behaviour Consulting, owned and operated by Carrie Lumsden. Photo supplied
Comox Valley dog trainer joins select club

Carrie Lumsden receives special BC SPCA accreditation

Victoria artist Noah Layne is conducting online workshops on portrait drawing as part of the Metchosin ArtPod’s About Face portrait show. (Photo courtesy of Noah Layne)
Metchosin Art Pod doing an about-face

Renowned artist Noah Layne hosting online classes in portrait drawing

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Most Read