Western New York is in the process of entering “Phase Two” this week, but does anyone believe that we’re going to emerge as a kinder, gentler society as a result of our government-mandated isolation? Does anyone really feel as if the time apart will inspire us to rethink our approach to social interactions moving forward?
I’ve had nothing but time to reflect on those questions and more during the quarantine, but the latest murder of an already subdued black male at the hands of someone whose mission should have been to protect and serve has left me no closer to an answer than I was three months ago.
Like many of you, the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death have left me feeling sick, sad, and angry to the extent that the imminent reopening of public spaces doesn’t sound all that appealing anymore. I’m sick of people acting as if black lives only matter when they’re making money for multi-billion dollar corporations (i.e. athletes, actors, musicians etc), I’m sad about the fact that certain protests have been hijacked by individuals whose agenda has little to do with justice for the victims, and I’m angry that it took days before the officer in question was formally charged despite the video evidence being so clear-cut.
The reality is that America has been a live grenade for a while now and Derek Chauvin appears to have finally pulled the pin.
We may never know what was going through his mind during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that he spent kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but I think it’s safe to say that responding to the pleas of bystanders to stop was not. He made a choice and will hopefully pay for his actions accordingly, but, until tangible changes are made, the issue will always be bigger than putting a cop with 18 prior complaints behind bars.
What we’re seeing manifest itself in these uprisings isn’t just a response to what happened in Minnesota, it’s a collective exasperation from a community fed up with always being on the wrong end of history. I can’t condone the violent and irrational destruction of businesses that had nothing to do with the initial incident, but it’s easy to see what happens when politicians on both sides fail to come together to reckon with generations of institutionalized racism.
I’ll never pretend to understand the challenges of being black in America in 2020. All I can offer are the words of someone who grew up next door to a house that had a Confederate battle flag flying high for all to see. Regardless of the flag’s original intention, I knew it was wrong, and, given what I knew about the person responsible for putting it up, there was no confusing its purpose in that moment for anything other than promoting white supremacy.
Because I have no control over how anyone else chooses to see the world, all I can do is make sure that my son learns to respect people of all races and understand that this country wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of everyone involved. I don’t know about you, but my sociocultural experience wouldn’t be nearly as rich if voices such as Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Spike Lee, and Kasi Lemmons were barred from sharing their gifts with the world.
When I interviewed Chuck D from Public Enemy back in 2010, we had a long discussion about how education is one of the greatest weapons in the ongoing fight against oppression and he told me that the cheapest price anyone can pay in today’s society is attention.
That line has stuck with me ever since, and, after seeing what has transpired lately, perhaps it’ll begin to stick with others, as well.