When George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, I was appalled by the number of people in my circle who blamed the victim for that crime.
“Well, Zimmerman was scared. You can’t blame him for defending himself.”
Zimmerman was scared? What about Trayvon? How could anyone not see that a teenage boy stalked by a full-grown man was the one who ought to be frightened—and the one with good reason to defend himself—in that scenario.
The problem is, since this country’s inception, people of color never have a legitimate reason to defend themselves. And they live in fear of every white person with an ounce of authority, whether it’s a self-proclaimed neighborhood watcher like Zimmerman or Gregory and Travis McMichael, who murdered Ahmaud Arbery eight years after Martin’s death, …
…or police officers like Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner; the Louisville officers who shot Breonna Taylor eight times and arrested her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, for attempted murder (of an officer); and Derek Chauvin, who compressed George Floyd’s chest and airway for eight minutes, refusing to relent even while Floyd and witnesses begged for his life.
This is a tragedy. This is a travesty. This needs to change.
Law enforcement is a dangerous job that takes courage and dedication, but come on, people! The purpose of the job is right there in the name: law enforcement. The police must begin to police themselves and stop colleagues from murdering individuals in their custody. Prosecutors must hold perpetrating officers accountable for their actions, and judges and juries need to stop excusing the actions of cops who violate rights and take lives.
If it’s just a few bad apples, then culling the spoilage shouldn’t be that hard.
But it is. My daughter asked me today why people were protesting, and what they hoped to achieve. What they want, what every last human being on this planet should want, is for our governments to ensure that every person has equal access to justice. There are many places in the world where reaching that ideal is impossible, and unfortunately the current administration, and the history of this country, leaves many in doubt of its achievability here in the USA.
But…despite my grumpy middle aged exterior, I am an optimist, and I choose to believe that if justice for all can be made anywhere, we can make it here. We just have to do the hard work of pressuring our government to do the right thing.
Putting My Mouth Where My Money Is
A friend asked me the other day why I posted something about George Floyd’s murder when I hadn’t “spoken up” about Arbery or anyone else. It’s true—I hadn’t posted about any of these outrageous murders in recent years. Since I started publishing my work, I started to avoid controversial topics on this blog and my social media feeds. I was afraid of offending potential readers, but I also just wanted to avoid controversial topics because I hate confrontation. Arguments over Trayvon (and to be clear, a grown man and self-styled vigilante killing an innocent teenager should never have been controversial) were exhausting and drove up my blood pressure, so I stopped engaging on politics and other issues along ago. But the fact is I’m a pretty far-left liberal who regularly contributes money to progressive causes.
I used to think the money was enough. Now I’ve decided I need to begin putting my mouth where my money is. I’m going to start by saying their names.
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones and #Breonna Taylor).
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10-year-old walking with my grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
This is reality.
Other People Speak Up
A lot of my writer friends have written eloquently on this topic, from the heart and from their own experience. A sampling of a few:
In “The Curse of Neutrality,” Sarah Chorn documents the perfect storm of poverty and inequity that surround these deaths, and talks about the need for white people (like me) to not only listen but to speak.
In “Living in Minneapolis While Black,” Dara Beevas (owner of the publishing house I work with) described her experience living as a black woman in Minneapolis before and after George Floyd’s murder.
In “I Am Not Your Beard,” Monique Desir writes about the challenges of keeping racial discourse civil when the other side doesn’t want to hear what you have to say.