George Floyd’s Toxicology Report Causes Toxic Stigma and Prejudice

How drugs are used to excuse the inexcusable.

Posted Jun 02, 2020

My blood boils when I read comments about the Hennepin County medical examiner’s report that toxicology results from the autopsy of George Floyd found fentanyl and amphetamine.

I hear the drumbeat of stigma and prejudice—stigma cast upon all drug users and prejudice against all black men. Mixed together, they demonstrate something much deeper than systemic/institutional racism. They lay bare cultural and psychological hatred and racism that are America’s deepest flaws.

Some of the comments already online include: “Fentanyl and meth in his system, while trying to by [sic] cigs with counter fit [sic] money sounds like he was just another good boy.” And, “George Floyd died as a direct result of the drugs he ingested.”

These comments are taken directly from the playbook that blames the victim, laying total responsibility for any abuse suffered on whatever flaws the victim may possess. The motivation behind such comments is domination, born out of a fear of being too weak to be comfortable dealing with others on equal footing.

But the simple bottom line is that it does not matter that George Floyd had drugs in his system. The only reason he could not breathe that night was because the breath was squeezed out of him by men in uniform who had more than enough time and training to know the reality of what they were doing. That is murder.

Now people identified with 400 years of dominating blacks invoke a brew of stigma and prejudice to muddy the waters. They rely on a long history of denigrating anyone tainted by accusations of drug use. Any rumor of drugs diminishes their view of an arrested person’s value and reduces his or her claim to civil rights and equal protection under the law.

I am beyond tired of the stigma of drug use that is so easy for people to cast onto others. People who use alcohol and other drugs are human beings. Alcoholics are human. Drug addicts are human. Stigmatizing them because of an illness or choices different from yours is pure prejudice.

Either you believe that we are all endowed with inalienable rights, or you don’t. Either you believe every human is a child of God, or you don’t. There is no middle ground. It is time to act according to our beliefs, and to act consistently, boldly, and in concert with others who hold the Declaration of Independence to be as close to a sacred document as our government possesses. 

Stigma is a prejudice that destroys the security of everyone in the recovering community. It is a prejudice that blinds people to the humanity in alcoholics and addicts and makes it harder for people in recovery to own and exercise their humanity. And it is a prejudice that eats away at the integrity of those who dearly hold it.

George Floyd’s ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved in abject poverty to work on forced labor camps to build America’s wealth for their “owners." Prejudice believes people deserve to be dominated because they have always been dominated. Then, when we see that efforts to dominate have failed and the spirit of a people can never be broken, reactionaries call for increasing force to dominate further in a scared effort to return to their idea of “normal."

Stigma is weak people’s way of shoring up their own self-image. Stigma puts others down in order to feel superior. Stigmatizing others robs us of the truth about ourselves, which is, at our human core, we are all the same.

What are we going to do? What can be done? 

We need to be proactive within ourselves to slice through tendencies lurking in the shadows of our hearts to put others beneath us. We need to recognize that stigmatizing anyone for being different in any of a multitude of ways is evidence of the smallness of our own mind. When we ferret out the tendency to stigmatize, we are free to face ourselves as we really are, just one more human among many, each with the same claim to inherent value.

Do not pay any attention to those who disparage George Floyd for using fentanyl and amphetamine. He was flawed, as are all of us. He is a human who was murdered by police officers whose duty is to protect the public. George Floyd was a member of that public they were duty bound to protect. They stigmatized him and put themselves above him, literally. Because they stigmatized him for being a black man, in the process they destroyed themselves as well.

Work within yourself to end stigma. Make the world safer for blacks, browns, whites, immigrants, refugees, strangers, Muslims, Jews. Christians, old people, children, disabled people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, straights, northerners, southerners, easterners, westerners, cowboys, Indians, poor, rich, criminals, addicts, people in recovery, and everyone else you secretly diminish to inflate your own ego and self-worth.

Have the courage not to fear humility. If you can only feel tall by making others short, you are smaller than you think.

George Floyd had drugs in his blood. Do not let this matter to you. Find empathy for his pain and struggles. He was human and no more deserved being murdered than you do. Free yourself from any who would use stigma to persuade you to value him less than you value yourself.