How Much More Violence Can We Take?

Thinking behind the tweets

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I thought that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin would be the focus of today’s post. But the last few days of violence and replaying of that violence ad nauseum have shifted my thinking. This is not simply tiring; it’s sickening, nauseating, soul-killing. And it’s got me wondering, once again, if we’re ever going to put an end to this parade of horrors.

The killing of Daunte Wright by Kimberly Potter, another Minneapolis area police officer and a 26-year veteran of the force, has been portrayed as “an accident.” In this telling, she thought she was reaching for her taser, but instead shot and killed the 20-year-old Black man at point-blank range with her service pistol. Before this horrific event, we can see her on video aim her weapon and hear her shout, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” Then, after firing, cry, “Holy shit, I shot him.”

We have been told this young Black man was stopped because he had expired license plates. It escalated from there. It escalated to the point that another young Black man’s baby will now grow up without a father.

On Tuesday, after a previous night of angry protest, both Officer Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon resigned, possibly just before the local Brooklyn Center mayor would have fired Potter. Mayor Mike Elliott said he hoped the resignation would “bring some calm to the community.”

But as the Derek Chauvin murder trial continues just 10 miles from the scene of this killing, it’s hard to see how anyone (who is paying attention) will feel anything approximating calm. The daily detailing in the courtroom of George Floyd’s murder—and the replaying of video from multiple perspectives—now includes a terrible, tragic echo. Another police shooting of a Black man by a white officer after a minor infraction quickly escalates. Another case where there’s video to be seen and heard. Another reason for caring people to watch what happened and every viewer to absorb more violence. Sickening. Nauseating. Soul-killing.

Each of us has to make a judgement: How much of this can we take? How much more can we consume? My tweet was meant to raise the question of whether we risk becoming accustomed to this—whether it can lead to indifference for some and sick pleasure in the viewing by others.

That’s why I realized it was necessary to add this clarification to the previous tweet. Would Derek Chauvin be on trial for murder if there wasn’t video? Would Officer Potter have so quickly resigned and likely face charges if there wasn’t video?

And would the Virginia police officer who pepper sprayed and assaulted Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario have been fired if there wasn’t video released publicly? The fact is Officer Joe Guttierez was only fired now, more than four months after the encounter, because the video was made public.

So the deployment of body-cam and car-cam videos around the country has made visible some of these dangerous and deadly confrontations. They have provided concrete evidence, indeed a human face, on the reality that Blacks are more than twice as likely to be shot by police than whites. They have accelerated public protests demanding police reform.

I don’t have an answer for how much violence each of us can absorb before it corrodes our capacity to stay sane. But I do know that the cumulation of these recent violent events—including the Jan. 6 insurrection and the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder—risks boiling over. Which brings me to my growing worry:

The prosecution of Derek Chauvin has rested. The defense team is now mounting its case. As I’ve written before, watching the video makes acquittal seem nigh impossible—except when considered in the larger context of racial injustice, past and present. May justice be served and the prospect of a nation further inflamed be quieted.

Tuesday began for me watching the ceremony in the Capitol rotunda as Officer Billy Evans laid in state, his coffin draped in an American flag, his wife struggling to hold back tears, his two small children overwhelmed by the scale of what was happening.

President Biden offered some minutes of support—words from a man who’s known more tragedy and loss than most of us ever will—and his humanity made the last days just a tiny bit easier.

“Losing a son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, dad—it’s like losing a piece of your soul,” he said, talking directly to the family that lost its husband, father and son. He promised that over time, it will get better. And he ended like this: “My prayer for you is that moment when a smile comes before the tear, quicker than longer.”

In the dark and violent days, oh, how it matters to have a President who possesses empathy.


Tomorrow at 5PM ET, I will be in conversation with Rosie O’Donnell for our first live “Citizen Talks” event. I hope you’ll join the Zoom by becoming a paid subscriber and registering here. I welcome your questions for Rosie.