I watched that video. We all did. Most of us had the same reaction: Utter horror. Of course there are some fellow white people who didn’t bat an eyelash, but I’ll get to them in a minute. However, most of us were appalled and disturbed. A white police officer knelt on an African American man’s throat until the life of that man, George Floyd, was gone. And that officer’s three partners not only failed to intervene, they helped commit the heinous crime.
You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to find the symbolism with the knee of the white man on the throat of the African American man, restraining him, and killing him. And while that alone would have warranted mass protests, it was not just the act. It was the perpetrating police officers doing so without a hint of caring for the life of the man they were murdering. Further, it was the perpetrating police officers’ murdering an African American man in broad daylight because they felt secure in the fact that it was acceptable and that they could get away with it.
There is no reason to ask why the protests are going on. It’s self-evident. The needless murder of an African American man by white police officers was broadcast worldwide for everyone to see. But that’s part of the problem. Something that we as white people see only when someone with a cell phone happens to catch it is the very thing that African Americans live and experience every day of their lives. I’m not making this up. This isn’t hyperbole. Look at these charts. The only thing left to wonder is why the protests did not come sooner.
Discrimination, violence, and murder perpetrated by white police officers against African Americans is not a novel problem. It is a problem that goes back generations. So why do we care only when we see it on video? Why do we as white people feel fine ignoring the problem the other 364 days a year? Answer that question and maybe you’ll start to realize the pain that the African American community is going through.
I could go on about the murder of George Floyd but I wanted to instead address the protests, rioting, and looting that we have seen in the past week since Mr. Floyd‘s death. First, let us look at the protests in their totality. The vast majority of them are and have been peaceful. In fact, when some of them have gotten out of hand, we’ve seen African American protesters pleading with the rioters to stop. We’ve also seen African Americans hugging policemen and protecting policemen.
When we are talking about rioting and looting it is important to remember that we are talking about the minority of the people out on the streets in the last week. But let us talk about them. Some of the violence is being committed by people coming into the protests from other states simply to commit the acts of rioting and looting. There are accounts of white supremacists committing the violent acts and then there are President Trump and his cult opining that far-left radical groups are perpetrating the acts. Blaming the protestors for all of the rioting and looting is lazy and factually inaccurate.
Speaking of President Trump, his hands are not remotely clean with regard to the racism in this nation. We have seen him advocate for the violent mistreatment of those being arrested. Moreover, we have seen, on countless occasions, President Trump utilizing that dog whistle to gain the support of those white supremacists. To say that President Trump is a racist is no longer a political statement but rather a statement of fact. President Trump and his racist ways have given cover to other racists in our country. And that’s a huge problem.
What has become crystal clear is that President Trump isn’t just speaking for himself, he’s speaking for the millions of white people who think just like him. It’s not merely a few bad apples out there. It’s the white orchards that go on for as far as the eye can see. While President Trump is not to blame for this particular protest per se, it is coming in the Age of Trump, an age in which racism is not only accepted, it is lauded by the most powerful person in our country, if not the world.
So, with that as the backdrop, what do I think about protests? What do I think about getting in a police officer’s face and shouting at him with every ounce of energy I can muster? What do I think about throwing bottles at police officers? What do I think about rioting and looting? I have my opinions, but who really cares about what I think? Nobody has racially profiled me throughout my life. Nobody has pulled me over and put me in handcuffs for “fitting the description.” Nobody has beaten me for “resisting.” Nobody has killed me in cold blood.
The moral of the story is this: My opinion on the protests doesn’t matter. I am not the aggrieved. I haven’t spent my life being accosted by police. I haven’t spent my life having Karens call the police because they were “worried” or worse. However, there are a few things I can do in my position that I can think of: 1) Listen to African Americans. Not just with my ears, but with my whole body. Think about what life is like when one is targeted because of one’s race, to have to worry about one’s children coming home alive because of the color of their skin. Listen to that pain and feel that pain; 2) Vote for individuals who aspire to create a just and equal society; 3) Donate to causes that aim to eradicate systemic racism; 4) Lobby politicians at all levels to enact change, specifically in the use of force by police; and 5) Speak out, and vociferously so, whenever I hear or see acts of racism. Not just when it’s easy, but always and without pause. If you are African American and reading this, I would love to hear more suggestions to add to this list.
It’s 2020 and it is long past the time for us as a society to correct the societal ill that is systemic racism. Remember, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. There is no in between. So, do what you are capable of to enact meaningful change. We cannot afford to fail in this endeavor.