Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
We’re all imperfect. We all have our transgression. We all need mercy.
In Writer and Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” (2020), Michael B. Jordan plays real-life African American attorney Bryan Stevenson, who defends Walter McMillian, played by Jamie Foxx, who was convicted of murder, basically because he’s Black. Walter was sentenced to death row even before he was charged. This happened in 1991. Nearly 30 years ago. WTF.
Michael B. as Bryan tells the jury, “We all need grace. We all need mercy…” Bryan gets Walter acquitted of murder. Amen.
On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota 46-year-old George Floyd was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. The 6’ 6” Floyd was an unemployed club bouncer with heart disease.
Four police officers arrest Floyd for counterfeit use. Initially resisting the officers’ requests, they deemed him a threat. Handcuffed behind his back and face down on the pavement, Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. At that point, George was no physical threat, at all.
Floyd yelled, “I can’t breathe!” Chauvin kept his weight on his neck. Floyd went unconscious after about 6 minutes. Chauvin had a history of this kind of conduct, with 18 complaints filed against him.
Paramedics arrived at the scene. Floyd was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Was there mercy for George Floyd? Chauvin showed no mercy, no contrition for his actions, either.
Chauvin and the 3 other officers were immediately fired. Chauvin was charged with 3rd-degree murder. ESPN First Take co-host Stephen A. Smith interviewed Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. He asked whether Chauvin’s actions warranted a 2nd-degree murder charge. Keith said that he was just assigned the case and that the initial 3rd-degree charge was from his predecessor. Keith would do his best to bring appropriate charges for all 4 officers involved.
Since that conversation, Derek Chauvin has been indicted for 2nd-degree murder. The three other officers have been charged with 2nd-degree aiding and abetting felony murder and 2nd degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Meanwhile, protests and riots continue across the country and around the world in response to social injustice and racial prejudice in the murder of George Floyd. This occurs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine.
The African American Community outrage is understandable. The Black Community has been marginalized and oppressed by prejudice for centuries.
I’m neither Black nor am I white; I’m a Japanese American man, part of the Asian American community that has its own share of racial stereotypes and discrimination. I have compassion for the Black Community’s sense of marginalization and lacking a significant voice in the cause of social justice and equality.
Officer Chauvin showed no mercy for Floyd. His actions were repugnant, void of human empathy. I’ve trained in Aikido for over 30 years. I know what it is to take out someone, and I know what it is to be taken out. The latter is not a good thing, at all. I’m just saying.
That being said, I won’t take out anyone unless I or loved ones are physically threatened. A man handcuffed with his hands behind his back lying on his stomach on the ground is absolutely no threat, at all. Did Chauvin press his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, because he was Black? If so, he has no place in our society and needs to be convicted and punished to the extent of the law. Attorney General Keith Ellison needs to move thoroughly and expediently to bring Chauvin and the 3 other officers to trial and to justice.
So how do we prevent that kind of reprehensible behavior from happening going forward? That remains unclear. That’s a systemic problem that will take longer to address. I gather that will lie in education and training of the police force. I really don’t know.
Will that be enough to quell the protests and violent rioting? Unfortunately, even the best intentions can go awry. Perhaps, the darker side of humanity. Sometimes, we become what we most despise. Justice is not reprisal or revenge. Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
Right now, perhaps what we need most is mercy for all.
As a kid growing up at home, I felt oppressed. I felt bullied. My Dad terrified me as a boy. Years later, I got that as much as Dad was angry at me, he was more afraid that he didn’t know how to raise me. As bad as it was for me as a child, I got it was even worse for my Dad with his Dad. Still, I experienced no mercy. I suspect my dad experienced less.
Coming from an abusive childhood, I got, “I’m not strong enough.” I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to my Dad or protect my Mom. So for many years, I trained to become stronger, be it studying Aikido or weightlifting. I soon distinguished that stronger will never be strong enough. I discovered my measure of peace in accepting what I am and forgiving myself for what I’m not.
Mercy occurred in sharing my life with Dad on our annual fishing trips to Alaska. In Alaska, Dad was free to be his greater-than version. Not his version that frightened the hell out me when I was a kid. Dad’s favorite thing to do on Planet Earth was fishing for red salmon on the banks of the Kenai River. Dad had used his old fly fishing reel that kept falling apart for years. So I asked my dear friend and fishing guide, Ross, if he could help me find a new fly fishing reel for Dad. He said, “Sure.”
After some research Ross found one. It cost about $150. Not bad. I ordered the reel and had it shipped to the fishing lodge for our next trip.
That fishing reel was my Dad’s most prized possession. For him it was worth over $1 million. I got that was Dad having mercy for me. He loved that fly reel. He loved me, too.
There are no easy answers or quick solutions for what we experience now. Yet, the place to possibly start is to just have mercy. Just saying.
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