I’m originally from Yorkshire, in northern England. My family was poor, and I had never travelled further south than the Midlands. That was, until a friend took me to London for the first time when I was twenty.
Although I will always remember my visit to Westminster Abbey, the Tower and Hyde Park, it was the London Zoo that left the greatest impression. We’d visited grazing animals such as giraffes, entered the Reptile House to see snakes, and followed the “Dangerous Animals” signpost leading to the big cats. I loved the penguins, the sloths, the zebras and the hippos. For someone who’d never visited Britain’s capital before, it was an overwhelming experience.
Before we left, however, Roy pointed to another signpost. “I want you to see this,” he said. The sign read “The Most Dangerous Animal On Earth.” I looked beyond the arrow to the wooden back of an open-air cage. It was about 20 feet long by 15 feet wide, and we had to walk over and around to see in.
As we did, I saw other people facing the bars and peering in with smiles on their faces. I quickly turned to see what was inside and found myself staring at a huge mirror covering the entire back wall. All of us stood there, facing ourselves: the most dangerous animals in the world.
I got it, of course; we all did. But I think on that initial view, most of us only understood the message on a superficial level. Over the many years since, I have revisited that searing image many times. Sometimes, it has been after watching documentaries about war. Other times, after hearing about a teenager’s suicide due to cyber bullying.
This past week of May 2020, that image returned to mind as I watched the horror befalling George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis. Many of us have now seen the footage: a white police officer kneeling for nine minutes on a black man’s neck. Mr. Floyd had not been fighting the four officers, and was in fact handcuffed. Handcuffed! So why would kneeling with one’s full weight be necessary? He called out that he couldn’t breathe, but it made no difference. And now he’d dead, at the hands of those trusted to protect and serve.
I’m asking myself – as I have many times during reports of police brutality – why are forces allowed to hire officers without requiring them to have independent psychological evaluations, in order to weed out homophobes, racists, misogynists and those prone to any form of criminal behavior? Is there any wonder why there is systemic corruption and a culture of killings, beatings, sexual attacks, all perpetrated in the name of justice.
Only some human beings are the most dangerous animals on Earth. Others are kind, honest and supportive to be around. But because no one knows which are which, we remain vulnerable. Those recruiting for law enforcement, the military, hospitals and other governmental agencies, must do better. Otherwise, too many dangerous animals will continue to go unchecked.
The link below is to Michelle Obama’s recent comments regarding the tragedy in Minneapolis.