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a black man raises his fist to the sky during a protest
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Most people have seen the eight-minute video of George Floyd lying on his stomach in the street, handcuffed, with the weight of a police officer’s knee pressing down on his neck, while all four officers on the scene ignore Floyd’s cries for breath.

Year after year, we relive the same old nightmare— only the participants are different. In 2014, it was Eric Garner and a cop named Daniel Pantaleo; six years later, it is George Floyd pleading for his life to Officer Derek Chauvin. “I can’t breathe!” plead Garner and Floyd.

In recent weeks, we’ve watched the horrifying video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the shooting of Breonna Taylor by a Louisville police officer, and the killing of Tony McDade, a black transgender man, by police officers in Tallahassee. In these cases, like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many others before them, victims’ pleas for life are ignored, and the cops are indifferent until the public outcry forces those in power to pay attention.

Each time an unarmed or innocent black man dies at the hands of the police, it is déjà vu all over again. The police proffer lame excuses, the officers are placed on paid leave, district attorneys promise thorough investigations and possible charges. The public cries out in protest and demands justice. Then, we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . for an arrest, any arrest. Rarely is an arrest made; it is even more unlikely the officer involved will be charged with murder.

Anger and frustration spill into the streets, and citizens mourn, usually in peaceful protest. Social media is deluged with opinions from all sides of the debate. Protestors seek simple justice for the latest victim and an end to the repetitive, senseless violence. They demand, over and over, that the police be held accountable. Then, they lament what they perceive as a double standard; a perpetual ‘get out of jail free card’ for criminal cops.

Those in authority, at local, state, and federal levels, initially talk a good game and then become unresponsive to the need for change and equal justice. Rabble-rousing outsiders may infiltrate the peaceful protest process, and instigate violence, arson, and destruction of property. The police respond, upping the ante, firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd.  Demonstrators respond in kind, with rocks, firecrackers, water bottles, anything they can get their hands on. The president points a finger at the peaceful protestors, calls them “thugs” and says:

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

This is the same phrase used by bigoted white authority figures during the civil rights marches of the 1960s. And this is the same president, who, when white protestors, armed with guns and rifles, made threats against the governor of Michigan, over sensible and lawful stay-at-home orders, said this:

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

The president’s position and his double standard are clear: There are different rules for different races. White citizens’ property rights are more important to the President of the United States than black citizens’ safety or right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

While many of us oppose and fail to understand the violence that has erupted during the protests, we must also understand that we live in a society where human life is always at risk or under threat, simply because that life is black. We must understand that these human beings live in a cloud of potential violence every single day. Mothers and fathers begin to worry the minute their black child walks out the door for a jog or to run a simple errand. They are terrified if their child is running late. Law-abiding grown men of color worry every time they are approached by a police officer or a white citizen driving behind them, next to them, or walking toward them. Can we white people appreciate what it is like to constantly live in fear? Even when you go to the store, the gym, to work, to school, to the park? Aren’t black men entitled to live in peace, to do these routine things without fear?

The George Floyd protestors are sick and tired of waiting for change. They are tired of living in a system that denies what it is supposed to stand for – equal justice for all.  They’ve grown weary of the failures of our government to protect them and of our law enforcement community’s double standard. They are tired of racism.

Here are some things we can do, not just in the aftermath of a tragedy, but every day:

  • Speak up about what is right. Spark dialogue and proactive resolution.
  • Educate yourself about the many manifestations of racism.
  • Donate to anti-racist causes and/or to needy families of victims.
  • Use your own platform or privilege to actively denounce racist behavior.
  • Instigate conversations with friends, family, and neighbors about inherent racial biases.
  • Write your state and local representatives, sign petitions. If you see something, say something— make direct complaints to police departments.
  • Encourage state and local representatives to pass legislation to make it easier to prosecute police misconduct.
  • Use the court system or the media to effectuate change—do not take the law into your own hands.

Which are you more concerned about, Officer Chauvin’s cavalier, 8-minute murder of George Floyd, or the civil unrest that is happening across the country, perhaps in your own community? If you are more concerned about the latter, you are part of the problem. Your focus needs to be redirected toward the problem of systemic violence perpetrated by the police community against people of color. Remember the 60’s? Rodney King? This has been going for decades. Black lives will only begin to matter when we put an end to bigotry, discrimination, and systemic racism. Rodney King said it best, all those years ago:

“Can’t we all get along?”

 

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