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We Hear You, and We Are Listening

By Sen. John Thune

June 5, 2020

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. This senseless death left Americans reeling, most of all because there have been too many George Floyds. And Breonna Taylors. And Ahmaud Arberys. As a nation, we need to work to ensure that what happened that day in Minneapolis never happens again, and that the perpetrators of crimes like this one are held accountable and brought to justice. We also need to acknowledge how deeply many of our fellow citizens are suffering in the wake of George Floyd’s senseless death.

A lot of our fellow Americans are afraid right now, shaken by another death and worried that that could easily have been their son, or husband, or brother. Too many Americans feel unsafe in their own communities. We need to listen to them with humility. To listen to those whose experience of America has often been very different from many of ours.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Americans took to the streets in cities across the country to express their outrage. They joined a powerful tradition, and exercised a cherished right. Peaceful protest is an American institution, and, as the Civil Rights movement demonstrated, a powerful agent for change. And these protests aren’t relegated to big cities. We’re seeing them in towns across South Dakota and in many other places in the United States.

Unfortunately, though, there has also been counterproductive and unnecessary violence. Arson, looting, and destruction of property have happened in cities around the country, and communities have suffered damage that will be felt for years. Community spaces and community buildings have been damaged. Local businesses have seen their shops defaced and their aisles ransacked, and innocent bystanders have been injured. This is not a solution to the problems highlighted by George Floyd’s death, and this violence needs to end. Putting other lives in danger cannot be an acceptable response to an unjust death.

Around our country, our law enforcement officers have been called out to respond to these riots. It was a police officer who caused George Floyd’s death, and around our country, other police officers are sickened by that officer’s actions and the tragic result. Most of our nation’s police are like Houston’s police chief, who went out and marched in solidarity with protesters. Or like Norfolk, Virginia’s police chief, who did the same. Or like the police officers in Camden, New Jersey, who joined locals to march, led by their police chief. 

There are certainly exceptions – sadly, too many exceptions – but the vast majority of our nation’s police officers are men and women of character who care deeply about protecting everyone in their communities and who strive to do their jobs with justice and integrity.

The promise of the Declaration – that all men are created equal – was denied to many. Even in our own day, with both slavery and segregation now mercifully in our past, the effects of these great national sins still make themselves felt. We must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the promise of liberty and justice for all is realized for every American. It will take work, but I have faith in our country and in my fellow Americans, and I believe that we can get there.

My prayers today are with George Floyd’s family and with all those who are suffering because of his unjust death. “And what does the Lord require of you?” the book of Micah asks. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” May we all seek justice and mercy and walk humbly in the days that are ahead.