On May 25, George Floyd spent the last nine minutes of his life lying face down on the pavement while Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, fatally restricting his airway and killing him. He died in handcuffs, unarmed, in pain and afraid. Floyd, who’d been arrested for reportedly using a counterfeit $20 bill, was just forty-six years old.
The incident, captured in its entirety thanks to a combination of security camera footage and cell phone recordings from nearby civilians, sparked a massive wave of protests across the nation, giving new life to the anti-racist, anti-police brutality movement known as Black Lives Matter.
On May 27, the University of Minnesota announced plans to sever ties with the Minneapolis Police Department in light of Chauvin’s actions. Addressing students and faculty, University president Joan Gabel wrote, “I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger, and I know that many in our community share those feelings but also fear for their own safety.”
With protests now in Baton Rouge, LSU recently released its own statement addressing the current social climate.
The letter, signed by Interim President Tom Galligan as well as a number of other University officials, extends a by-the-numbers import of diversity and general togetherness, concluding on a genuinely baffling callback to the 2019 SEC Championship victory and a go-to quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It was a perfectly predictable, perfectly sterile response to the situation. Unfortunately for the administration, no amount of copy-pasted MLK truisms can make up for the absolute lack of substance contained in this insincere scorecard of clichés.
Though the letter does initially acknowledge a “racial divide” in America, it goes to great lengths to avoid speaking directly on the issue of systemic racism, using passive turns of phrase like “The tragic events that have transpired” and “what was witnessed in Minneapolis last week” to divert attention; suggesting the existence of a problem without ever risking to identify or challenge it outright.
But a problem as deadly as police brutality demands our full attention and likely won't go away soon without more of an effort from public institutions like LSU. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed, according to Mapping Police Violence. They also accounted for a quarter of the 1,098 people killed by police in the U.S. last year despite only making up 13% of the population.
The letter does not mention the protests, the police or the Black Lives Matter movement. It doesn’t say George Floyd’s name or how he died or that anyone died at all. Even the term “racial divide” feels evasive, transmuted — an incomplete picture of the truth. After all, what good does it do to point to a racial divide without making any attempt to define it in context?
What’s left is something so intensely impersonal and detached from reality it may as well have been written by an algorithm.
I imagine University officials issued this statement out of a perceived obligation to the general public, no doubt having seen the amount of national praise the University of Minnesota received for its own stance on the matter; and yet, given the administration’s clear unwillingness to take a concrete stand and therefore open itself up to criticism, perhaps it would have been better for them not to have said anything at all.
Because this is not a statement, not a stand, but only the illusion of one; a framework just vague enough to be read from any angle so that any individual reader with any outlook on the matter could reasonably interpret it to apply to his or her own predisposed beliefs. An illusion, yes, like a kaleidoscope or Magic Eye image; stare long enough and you might trick yourself into seeing hints of meaning, specters of intent — but there's really nothing there.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, Louisiana.