I can’t help but weep when I hear the outcry from George Floyd calling for his “mama” as he took his last breaths while a police officer held him down at the neck with his knees and other officers kneeling on the rest of his body.
Pinned to the cement for nine minutes, three of which he was silent and still and dying. The world heard him cry for help, beg for mercy and call to his mother.
He was not my child obviously but he was a mother’s child. His call to the person who gave him life in a hope she could somehow save his life, even in death. She’d undoubtedly had done it before when she was alive.
I have wept dozens of times watching that horrifying video. I am crying now as I attempt to write this column. And even though when I see that video and know its lethal conclusion for a man described as a gentle giant, and know the outcome and eventual murder charge given to the officer that had multiple previous complains against him, the momma bear in me can’t help but feel the need to take a stand and do something and to make a plan.
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” – Ella Baker, 1967.
People of color have been oppressed in North America for over 400 years. Even when slavery was abolished, segregation kept the energy of injustice and maltreatment of other humans, alive. And perhaps for those of us privileged enough to not have to endure racial injustices, by being treated a certain way because of the way we look or had to talk to our children about how to have no eye contact with a police officer, to say yes ma’am, no sir, to get on the ground fast when they tell you, or any of the above just to keep alive even if you have done nothing wrong, well perhaps even we need a plan.
We as humans need a plan. This isn’t black people against white people. This is an outcry from our fellow beings for mistreatment and murder that has been endured, and peacefully protested and discussed over and over with little change. This needs to be everyone against racisms.
And while we sit safety in our homes as the riots and protests continue and have spread to all across the world, remember the vast majority of them are peaceful, with a small group being destructive. This is the collective pain of many that feel unsafe, unheard and unvalued as citizens of this world, and it is palpable.
People are at the end of their rope. They are afraid. They angry. They are hurt. They are tired. There is understandable mistrust in the justice system to which they feel no justice. They have gone far too long without their voices heard.
“If you are neutral in the situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu.
When leadership in any situation can not navigate the strength and love for all humans, for all citizens, we must find it within ourselves.
Over the past week, the President of the United States took his stance on social media platforms calling the protesters and rioters thugs suggesting more violence, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” as well as threatening retaliation violence.
While many of us might think that indeed the riots were out of hand and the fires and property destruction was unneeded, we may have racial blinders and be unaware of these racially charged words of the leader of these people, and yes, he is supposed to be the leader of all people in the country.
In 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reference to crackdowns on black men in the Florida city, invoking angry reactions from civil rights leaders according to a news report at the time. “He had a long history of bigotry against the black community,” said professor Clarence Lusane of Howard University.
Segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace also used the phrase during the 1968 campaign.
And in 2020, the President of the USA, once again uses the exact same phrase.
The next day, after claiming he didn’t know it was a racial charged motto, he took to his Twitter stating he would ‘sic the most vicious dog attacks on them.’
“I’m not sure to what degree Trump even knows the history about this. I doubt that he knows that much,” said Tyler D. Parry, assistant professor of African American studies at the University of Nevada, “but you don’t even have to be an expert to know that threatening protesters with vicious dogs evokes a very heinous chapter in American history.”
In fact, many chapters, stretching centuries back, dogs were employed as instruments of terror against black people long before the civil rights movement, beginning with their use aboard slave ships, and are still used disproportionately by police against African Americans today. The fright instilled by slave-catching canines was known in the trade as “Negro dogs” during slavery.
As recently as 2013, research by the Police Assessment Resource Center showed a troublingly high number of African American and Latino residents of Los Angeles had been bitten by police dogs.
Anti-racism activist and educator, Jane Elliot speaks to white citizens on receiving the same treatment as black citizens.
“I want every white person in this room, who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens. If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand! You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand! Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.” – Jane Elliot.
So, what do we do? What is our plan? How can each of us take it upon ourselves to create change in this world in regard to racism?
1. It is not a person of color’s problem alone. We must admit there is white privilege. This doesn’t mean that white people don’t have hardships. It means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder.
2. Acknowledge systemic racism. Did you know that 90% of wealth is white people? Black graduates are 2x likely to be unemployed. Black Americans are 30% more likely to get pulled over by police. Black students are 3x more likely to get suspended in school. Black women are 4x more likely to die during childbirth. Police brutality is a fact. Systemic racism is a fact. Racial disparity is a fact and therefore white people gain privileges. Acknowledge the truth, so we can move from that place.
3. Quit saying “but all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter.” Of course, all lives matter. It is like saying the fire department should come spray all the houses in your neighborhood with water even though only one is on fire… because all houses matter. Yes, your house matters too, but your house is not on fire right now.
4. Talk and teach peacefully with people, the barriers of success and safety that people of color might have. White people, hold our community accountable.
5. Promise to listen and amplify the voice of the oppressed. Validate and hear them… really hear them.
6. Let go of judgments that you have made. Literally we have no idea, unless we are a person of color, what it would be like.
7. Be more than “not racist.” Be actively anti-racist.
8. Confront racial injustices, even when it is uncomfortable.
9. Acknowledge the oppression, racism and injustice is a problem for all people, not just the ones experiencing it.
10. This is not an American problem. These injustices happen right here in our country. They happen all over the world. In the last four years, hate crime is higher. Me must do better.
11. Support and aim to understand in order to validate all human beings.
What’s your plan?