*Approximate Read Time: 8 minutes 46 seconds
I have seriously written this over and over like eight times. I have gone from angry, to sad, to hopeless to angry again to now just plain tired, yet hopeful.
Sadly, Will Smith may have said it best:
“Racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed.”
The murder of George Floyd was tragic. The video of his death is gut-wrenching. And yet it is just another reminder that for Black people in America the criminal justice system is not safe, and in more cases, than I care to count, is deadly.
For Americans, particularly White Americans there always seems to be a foggy haze of uncertainty at the legitimacy of these claims, as media outlets and instilled, systemic biases blur right and wrong. The murder of George Floyd my have just lifted that fog and unblurred the lines enough that we may finally get substantial change in society.
Perhaps the Rev. Al Sharpton was right when preaching from the pulpit of George Floyd's memorial service, "You changed the world, George!" Maybe this is finally the Cher in "Moonstruck" moment in which the universe smacks White Americans in the face and yells, "SNAP OUT OF IT!"
Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis after mentioning he had a gun and accompanying gun license, while his girlfriend broadcast the incident on Facebook Live. The tape of Eric Garner saying to an officer choking him to death, "I can't breathe!" was an anthem even before George Floyd repeated those fateful words before his death. Walter Scott, shot in the back in the middle of an open field, a weapon planted on him while someone recorded. These and thousands more, have all been tragic events especially for the Black community but did not seem to have the sustained power that George Floyd has had. This one has resonated sparking rallies around the world, but why?
Is it the dead stare and lack of humanity on the officer's face as he presses his knee into the back of George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds? Could it be his hand so casually placed in his pocket as George Floyd tells him, "I can't breathe"? Is it the other police officers standing around doing nothing as they watch a man being murdered? Or it is George Floyd calling for his dead mother as he gasps his last bits of air. Whatever it is, this has finally broken the string of what has sadly been written off in America as standard operating procedure.
The murder of unarmed Black people at the hands of White police officers is not new and has unfortunately become an accepted, justified tactic of policing. Justified and encouraged by a broken criminal justice system that allows this type of brutality against Black people. A broken system that allows police officers to kill Black people with little or no recourse. It is so commonplace that we have almost unknowingly created a template as to how things usually play out.
The normal order of events is as follows:
- Police kill a Black person
- Black people protest in that city
- Media shows up to cover marches
- Speeches are made
- Fox News vilifies the victim
- An over militarized police force is mobilized against protesters
- Possible looting and damage
- It all goes on a couple of days
- Another shiny object diverts everyone’s attention
- We all then examine the new shiny object and get happy or angry over it
- The shiny object then becomes the big story
- The original incident fades into the ether until the police officer(s) is exonerated.
- Wash and repeat
- No change is made
- As a collective we move on
Black folks know this will happen again. White allies hope it will never happen again. And a third group (that is larger than I ever thought) is satisfied to know (like NWA said in their seminal song Straight Out Of Compton) there's “just another Nigga dead.”
THIS IS NOT NORMAL!
George Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Brianna Taylor, Jamar Clark, Botham Jean cannot be replaced. (Please note, these are just the names off the top of my head, with hardly any thought which should say something about the situation.) These were living breathing human beings and they are dead. Killed because of the color of their skin. It is not normal.
The police who do this are not normal. They are thugs. They are monsters. They are criminals. They make real policing hard for the men and women who wake up every day to uphold their oath “to serve and protect.” They are evil.
Sometimes protests attract "an element." That "element" trades in destruction and chaos. There have been lots of speculation this time as to who is doing it but we must remember, in any case, a building is brick and mortar. It can and will be rebuilt. While is is not normal to loot or tear up property, businesses have insurance that will make them whole. This moment is bigger. As a symbol of the importance of the moment, a restaurant owner in Minneapolis whose restaurant was burned down in the riots was quoted as saying:
"Let my building burn, Justice needs to be served..." - Gandhi Mahal Restaurant Owner, Ruhel Islam
At the core of all of this is the fact that our modern criminal justice system was built on a faulty foundation. A foundation that was built on racism and that targets some while turning blind eyes to others. It's system that does not work for ALL of us. It is unjust, feckless, and surprisingly arbitrary. Cases like the ones mentioned above and thousands before them prove the system is crumbling and must be demolished and reimagined. We must implore the politicians in our government "of the people, by the people, for the people" to do this now. This is our moment.
*Quick Fact: The Civil Rights Bill of 1968 was signed 7 days after the assassination of MLK.
Now is finally the time in which we must stop normalizing a system in which 67% of those incarcerated are black or Hispanic while being only 37% of the population; or where Black men face longer sentences than their White counterparts; or where a Black man has a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by a police officer which equates to being one of leading causes of death for young Black males.
The time has come to rebuild this system and make it work for all Americans but it's an "all hands on deck" situation. We need everyone to get this done, but we need White Americans to use your privilege no matter how little you think you have in earnest. Use that privilege to influence the influenceable while you get educated, ask questions, and listen. Join us as we change this country, and the world, for the better.
WE MUST STOP NORMALIZING POLICE BRUTALITY.
WE MUST RECOGNIZE BLACK LIVES DO, IN FACT, MATTER.
WE MUST SEIZE OUR MOMENT.
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
America, its long over due, but the time has finally come to, "SNAP OUT OF IT!"
George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis which was the hometown of my favorite musician of all time, Prince. (I actually published this on what would be his 62nd birthday.) I think it is apropos to link to a song he wrote in 2015 about the police murder of Freddy Gray in Baltimore and police brutality. Please enjoy "Baltimore" by Prince.