Would George Floyd Have Been Killed Over A Harriet Tubman $20 Bill?
How do you murder a man while he’s holding his freedom in the palm of his hand?
The root cause of George Floyd’s murder was not racism. The root cause of George Floyd’s murder was his attempt at using a counterfeit $20 bill for a purchase. Yes, falsifying currency is illegal and punishable by law. But the level of punishment should always equate to the scope of the crime.
Sadly, in this case, in America, a man being kneeled upon to death, instead of facing two decades in prison and a fine, is the preferred manner to deal with this level of criminality.
The metaphor upon which the case for death as justice is good and fair calls into question America’s fundamental ill that must be hastily repaired.
When you stop and realize that the face on the $20 bill that George Floyd used was that of the slave-owning advocate of Native American removal polices — and our seventh United States President — Andrew Jackson, this metaphorical plot thickens, and a heartbreakingly bittersweet reality emerges.
A white man murdered a Black man for attempting to falsify a problematic emblem of how our nation has chosen to preserve, protect, and venerate its most harrowing legacy.
Counterfeiting money is illegal. Metaphorically counterfeiting racism — and thus invalidating its grip controlling America’s inability to accept the realities of social evolution in the modern era — is a crime worthy of being gangland-style brutalized past your dying breath by a person entrusted by legal code to enforce both law and order. Thus, in the United States, the $20 bill is valid. The man attempting to counterfeit a $20 bill was invalid.
Even deeper, this means that the austere face of a man who employed Black slaves at the White House and forced Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians to walk the Trail of Tears deserves one of our nation’s ultimate honors. Comparatively, the face of a father whose daughter believed he could change the whole world deserves to be crushed into pavement whilst screaming for salvation and fighting for its breath.
Complicating matters even further is that for the past decade, the United States Treasury has been tasked with attempting to remove Andrew Jackson’s face from the $20 bill and replace it with that of Harriet Tubman. As many are aware, she’s the African-American female abolitionist who escaped slavery, then subsequently made 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
In 2013, Barack Obama’s administration announced that the Treasury Department would redesign the $20 bill by 2020. However, upon Donald Trump assuming office, his April 2016 statement in a TODAY Show interview proved prophetic. In May 2019, Treasury Department Secretary Steve Mnuchin postponed the final decision on a redesign until 2026, with new bills coming out no earlier than 2028.
In 2016, Trump noted the following:
“Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. [He] had a tremendous history of success for the country. I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic. I would love to leave Andrew Jackson [on the $20 bill], but maybe come up with another denomination [on which to place Tubman’s face]. Maybe we [put Tubman’s face on] the $2 bill. [Asking for Tubman to replace Jackson] is pure political correctness.”
In response to Mnuchin’s statement regarding the Trump Administration’s decision, Ayanna Pressley, an African-American member of the US House of Representatives from Massachusetts, plainly stated, “The American people understood the importance of representation on the banknotes of the world’s most powerful economy — representation that acknowledged our history and all those who have contributed.”
Related to these differently profound points, the extinguished life of George Floyd, and the point at which America currently resides regarding issues of race, the metaphor upon which this editorial is built is joined by a mathematical analogy.
In 1787, while fractiously separated on the issue of slavery, Northern and Southern delegates to the convention for ratifying the United Stated Constitution — when attempting to discern how the government would count the nation’s slave population for determining direct taxation and representation in the House of Representatives — agreed that individual slaves should be counted as three-fifths of a person.
232 years later, when asked, again, about the perceived worth of Black Americans, Donald Trump — when pressed on the matter — felt that Harriet Tubman deserved to be honored on a currency note one-tenth as valuable as that of Andrew Jackson.
Four years after that proclamation, for using a counterfeit version of a $20 bill bearing Andrew Jackson’s face, a Black person — devalued, perception-wise, some 50% in 200 years, and 90% over 400 years — was murdered. When understood via this lens, the harrowing state of America’s race relations becomes apparent. For as much as the presidential election of Barack Obama once led many Americans to believe that our nation had solved racism, that’s now been proven as unequivocally untrue.
One can only imagine what would have been different had George Floyd and Derek Chauvin has seen Harriet Tubman’s face on that $20 bill. Is the representation of your freedom — even if counterfeit — worth spending for a cup of coffee? Rather, do you ask a clerk to frame it on their wall, then break it for two photos of Alexander Hamilton, four photos of Abraham Lincoln, or 20 photos of George Washington? Or, even heavier to consider, if you’re Derek Chauvin, what would drive you to kill a man while he’s holding his freedom in the palm of his hand?
Retroactive reparational justice resolves for developing accountability to the letters of our laws. It does not solve for a particular group of Americans resolving to change the content of their character.
Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill is long overdue. But you know what’s more necessary than that? Finally putting American freedom in Black people’s hands.