As I write this we’re looking the back to back incidents of George Floyd being killed by cop in Minnesota and Chris Cooper having been threatened by a white woman in Central Park with a call to the police alleging assault (specifically assault by a black man, which makes it clear that she was acting with the knowledge of how that call can end if it’s answered). We’re also a couple of week removed from the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia and Breonna Taylor’s killing in Louisville by police who came in guns blazing to the wrong apartment. The hashtags are going up, the tweets are flying and now there are marches going on in Minnesota. At the risk of sounding callous…..we’ve seen this movie before. Now so far the results are a little bit ahead of what we usually get (Arberry’s killers have been charged and the officers who killed Floyd have already been fired), but we’re still waiting on Taylor’s case and don’t know if the woman wo threatened Cooper will be charged with anything (she has been fired and banned from Central Park). But from the looks of things so far, we don’t have any action being taken to change the underlying foundation of society that makes these folks act as if they are totally in the right and will not face any consequences.
Which brings me to where I stand on the reactions to all this stuff today. Quite frankly I get a little upset when the question is asked what can we do to change this. We? I don’t profess to be the voice of Black America but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that there isn’t much if anything else we as black people can do. Ms. Taylor was a decorated EMT asleep in her bed at home, Mr. Arberry was going for a jog, Mr. Cooper was out birdwatching and told woman who threatened him that she needed to leash her dog (which is the policy there). Mr. Floyd had been stopped by the police and was not threatening them. In each case they were minding their own business or were not causing a problem when stopped in the case of Mr. Floyd. What exactly are we supposed to do to stop people from aggressively going at us unprompted? If our mere presence is enough to trigger those actions then there’s no amount or level of performing that can convince our attackers to refrain from attacking us. Understand that these attacks happened because the victims were black and the perpetrators either wanted to attack a black person or felt they’d get away with it, or both. So what’s there for us to do other than not exist or not be black?
And while the support we have gotten from some white people as we speak out on these things is appreciated, as are the individual statements that some of y’all have made the real issue is the structure that allows this to happen. Everyone involved was encouraged, emboldened, aided, abetted, etc by a system that allows them to make those choices and not suffer many, if any, real consequences for it. And that system has to be changed or else we’ll be back here again and again. So my question to any white people who are truly concerned about this and want it to change:
What are you prepared to do?
That’s the real question. These murders, be they by police or people like George Zimmerman, keep happening because the perpetrators are backed up by society – elected officials, other law enforcement, the media, all the way down to private citizens. These individuals aren’t just acting of their own accord or on their own urges they’re acting because the message they’ve received their entire lives is that it’s ok to do so. There are entire towns and municipalities that factor in police citation payments into yearly budget – Ferguson’s city managers reportedly thanked the police when fines collected were up, and put pressure on them to collect more when they were down. When officers or civilians cross a line, they rarely get punished for it and the moment they receive any level of scrutiny there’s a GoFundMe in their names racking up donations. There’s an army of online defenders, some bots and some not, looking for any way to ‘well actually’ what they did or to find a way to blame the victim. Sometimes both. So what are you prepared to do in the face of that?
No I don’t expect you to fight people on the internet about it all day, but are you willing to call (or at least send a damn email to) your local elected officials and demand investigations or prosecutions? You willing to let them know you’ll vote for their opponent in the next election if they don’t prosecute more of these cases and stop beating around the bush hiding behind grand juries? If it’s not local to you then you can contact them anyway and let them know that since you can’t vote them out you’ll donate to their opponent instead. And if they tell you to go pound sand will you follow up on your threat? If you live in a city or county that is known to rely on things like tickets (which ultimately lead to more police encounters for black people and other people of color) to balance out the budget are you willing to challenge that system even if means you have to pay more taxes? Are you willing to speak up when you’re in all white circles and make it clear where you stand on these matters, even if it costs you friendships or other relationships?
If you are a white person and are truly concerned about stopping these things from happening then those are some of the things that need to be done on your end. Perpetrators need to be punished – legally, financially, and socially. The elected officials who look the other way or actively torpedo cases need to be run out of office. And the private citizens who either actively or passively encourage those kind of acts need to be checked. By you. So long as we obey the laws we shouldn’t be required to be perfect people or so genteel and successful that we inspire everyone to want to be better. No, the black man or woman who didn’t finish high school, doesn’t speak the Queen’s English and doesn’t come off as if they have anything nice to say to you deserves the same respect, same equal treatment as Oprah or Michael Jordan or President Obama. The split visual is pretty damning – people protesting a police killing in Minnesota get the tear gas, people walking into a capital building in Wisconsin armed with guns and shouting in the face of police – during a pandemic, nonetheless, because they want to get to sit down in a restaurant or get a haircut at a barber shop – get the polite treatment.
Now you tell me which issue warrants walking into the state capital with guns – police brutality or having to order your chain restaurant food to go?
To sum things up, where we go from here isn’t dependent on how well us Black people can perform for you to show that we deserve better than to be choked out in broad daylight of shot to death in our beds and followed and killed while we’re out jogging or to be threatened with police violence for telling you that you need to leash your dog. No, the next steps and any ones that will matter have to come from you guys. And it’s gotta be than co-signs or likes or RTs on social media. The big steps are the ones that have to happen away from the eyes of the public. We can’t take them for you, and we need you to do them if you care as much as you say. What I named here isn’t the whole list, either. So I ask again……what are you prepared to do?
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