A shift in the wind. A turn of the tide. A watershed moment. The tipping point. A turn at the crossroads. Choose whatever image you like— something monumental happened yesterday with the George Floyd verdict. The notion that murder is a crime unless you are white person—policeman or civilian—killing a black person has taken its first step toward a radical new notion in America: Murder is a crime. Period. And you will pay.
Imagine you’re a kid torturing your little brother or sister or a mean kid at school bullying others or a grown man abusing his wife. Of course you need some form of counselling to examine what’s missing in you that you feel you need to hurt others, but the first step is that you need to be in a society that clearly condemns such actions, refuses to excuse them with “that’s just the way things are” or “boys will be boys” or “it builds character” or “I did it and I turned out all right” or a thousand other ways the enablers excuse unacceptable behavior.
And the second step is clear consequence. Fear of punishment doesn’t wholly deter people from doing bad things, but this much is clear— a history of no consequence absolutely feeds our worst impulses and gives explicit permission to keep doing it. And when it comes to police—or civilians—killing innocent black folks for little or no reason, it clearly has kept the door open to repeated incidents that showed no signs of stopping. Until now.
I’m not naïve, I’m not suggesting that after yesterday, we’re done with police violence against people of color. But the wind that has always been at their back now has turned around to slam them in the face and I believe they’re going to finally start paying attention. The moral arc of justice that has been beaten back with each new horror story reached its long overdue tipping point and it is pointing the other way. The systematic bullying, abuse and yes, murder that has gone on for so long unpunished has finally hit a line that says clearly—“Here’s where it stops. Step over it and you will face the consequences.”
Now white folks in general and police in particular, consider this. If I had to advise black folks on what they must do to stop being murdered, the list would be something like this:
• Don’t drive in your car.
• Don’t walk in a neighborhood.
• Don’t sell cigarettes or CD’s on the street.
• Don’t sit on your couch eating ice cream.
• Don’t stand in your yard with a cell phone in your hand.
• Don’t sleep in your bed.
If I had to advise white folks what to do to avoid going to jail in this new world to come?
• Stop murdering black folks.
George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Janisha Fonville, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michelle Cusseaux, Akai Gurley, Gabriella Nevarez, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson and others killed by police in the last six years, Emmet Till and the three thousand plus people murdered by lynching, I wish each and every one of you could have had the God-given right to live out your life here on earth. I can’t imagine how hard it was to have your life snatched away without having done a single thing wrong and how maddening it would feel that your murderers got away with it. I’d like to imagine you gathering today in the other world, kept alive by this new movement to “remember your names” and witnessing this historic moment. It is renewed flicker of hope from the candle of light and love and justice.
White folks who still think you have the luxury of deciding whether you “believe in” white privilege or not, read those names again or better yet, go to this Website and read the synopsis of their story—what they were doing, how the police responded, what the consequences for the police were. And then we’ll talk. https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2020/know-their-names/index.html
Meanwhile, on 4/20 when some folks (most white) were out celebrating their freedom to smoke pot, a long-deferred justice came to pass. May this milestone be the new 4/20, a National Day of Remembrance and Re-commitment to Justice.