It’s been a very difficult couple of weeks for me, and I can’t imagine how much more so the same is true for a lot of other people. For me, it began with the White woman in Central Park who weaponized her privilege against a Black man on camera. His crime? Asking her to leash her dog according to park rules. Watching that video or reading about it in an article, so many of us were reminded once again that the law treats us like we are separate and unequal, as though it is a criminal offense to simply be Black and exist.
And then came the death of George Floyd, murdered on camera by a police officer despite his pleas of being unable to breathe. They say that there are five stages of grief, but I have only felt two for the past two weeks: anger and depression. I will never get to the acceptance stage because to do that is to imply that there is a crime I or any other could commit as a Black person that would be worthy of expedient punishment in the form of death or assault at the hands of civilians or police.
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Even more disappointing than the commentary about hearing “other sides of the story” and how “he committed a crime!” is witnessing non-Black family and friends express indifference and sadness. I don’t need you to say how sad you are. I need you to be angry that in 2020, things like these can still happen.
I don’t need you to say how sad you are. I need you to be angry that in 2020, things like these can still happen.
I need you to be angry about the fact that Black parents have to speak to their kids about how they have to behave outside of their homes, and then wait with bated breath for them to return safely.
I need you to be angry about the fact that six police officers pulled their guns on a young Black man for a traffic violation, and the probable reason for him being alive today was because his elderly grandmother placed herself between him and the police to keep him safe.
I need you to be angry that the police burst into Breonna Taylor’s home and murdered her and that her murderers have yet to be arrested.
I need you to understand that no matter what crime George Floyd might have committed, he did not deserve to die at the hands of Derek Chauvin. To ask for the other side of the story is to justify his death.
Be angry and scared for those of us who are your friends, lovers, and family instead of coasting by on the contentment that you are at least not racist. Your privilege does not insulate us the way it does you.
Be angry and scared for us instead of coasting by on the contentment that you are at least not racist. Your privilege does not insulate us the way it does you.
And if your answer is to claim that these deaths weren’t motivated by racism, ask yourself whether by virtue of racial/economic privilege or otherwise, you have managed to live a life removed from this reality, and if maybe it isn’t your place to tell Black people what is and isn’t racist, and how they should feel. I don’t understand why the reaction to being told to confront racism is to attempt to deflect by centering oneself as being unjustly accused rather than caring about the past and continued actions that have brought us to this point. If you’re tired of hearing it, guess what? We’re tired of living it. Help us make things right instead of standing on the sidelines muttering about the inconvenience of having to see broken Black bodies on display and your neighborhood Target on fire.
The world keeps telling us that there is no safe way to be Black. Not young, not old, not driving to work, or walking away in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, not in our own homes, not at a gas station, not while we try to go get help after getting into an accident, not at school. I’m exhausted, and I can’t imagine how it must feel for those who have this colossal tragedy written into their personal histories, hearing stories of oppression passed down from their parents and grandparents. This commentary by activist Kimberly Jones perfectly encapsulates the history of violence and inequality against Black people in America and explains why you can’t explain away looting as some kind of deviant activity that negates the message of the movement.
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Protests and riots have erupted across the country, and these actions are the reason why George Floyd’s killers were finally taken into custody and charged. It is a sad state of affairs that it would take these actions to get the government to consider meting out justice to the perpetrators of his death and those of others. We’ve heard all sorts of excuses as time has gone by, claims of police officers being scared for their lives or alleged assailants being armed and reaching for their weapons. But how come White terrorists like Dylann Roof and James Holmes are taken into custody without being harmed even though they committed indisputable crimes on a much larger scale?
What we can do
Don’t check in on your Black friends and family just to absolve yourself of whatever guilt you may be feeling. When you speak to us, hold back from remarking on current events in a manner that makes the conversation about you and your feelings rather than the state-sanctioned murder of human beings. This is the time to show up; now and after the riots and protests peter out, and here’s how you can do it.
Bail funds are one way you can support the movement for racial justice. Protestors and activists are arrested every day, and you can help by donating to get them out of police detainment. There are also memorial funds like the one for George Floyd, GoFundMes to help families like Breonna Taylor’s, and emergency funds for the LGBTQ community because Black Queer lives matter too. No one is free until we are all free.
Write your legislators!
Call them! Bombard them with birthday cards on the birthdays of each victim to remind them that their prejudice and incompetence is the reason why these people are not around to mark another year. We need the law to change, for police who use unnecessary force and civilians who use said police as their attack dogs to suffer consequences when they do wrong. If things don’t change on a legislative level, we could still be here weeks, months, years from now, still enraged and heartbroken and wondering if justice will prevail in our lifetimes. If your city has town hall meetings, virtual or in-person, show up and use your voice.
Confront everyday racism and microaggressions.
Now is not the time to be soft and yielding or let things slide. Hold people accountable for racist jokes, speak out against profiling actions, stereotyping, discriminatory practices, etc. Constantly meeting problematic people in the middle doesn’t move them any closer to an enlightened worldview. It just makes you indifferent and ultimately complicit.
Address your privilege and do the work instead of placing that burden on your Black friends and family who are already so traumatized from seeing racial injustice being treated as though it’s the norm.
If you’re protesting, be an ally to your fellow protesters who are Black or people of color.
Sometimes that means becoming a physical barrier between them and the police, and other times it means documenting police brutality or calling it out. Don’t loot, vandalize, or do anything that could endanger the lives of Black protesters.
Support your Black businesses and Black creators.
Challenge the brands you support to show you how they pledge to make a difference moving forward. Have they made a statement about what they stand for? Are they donating to any Black causes?
Share accurate information to counter media bias that aims to steer the conversation away from racial injustice or paint protesters as unruly opportunists committing senseless anarchy.
People like our parents and their peers rely on news outlets for their news and do not understand the full scope of the unfolding events (like undercover police inciting violence, white supremacists causing damage to place the blame on BLM and other groups, etc.). So if you have access to it, show it to them.
Here’s a handy spreadsheet full of information about initiatives to donate to, educational resources, protest safety and so much more. Shout out to @botanicaldyke for taking the time to compile it all.
There are so many more names on the list of people who have been murdered without receiving justice, and I can only hope that as time goes by, we will not only reopen their cases and get justice for them but end instances of police and private citizens abusing their privilege and power.