I saw a headline that said George Floyd’s death “laid bare America’s racial wounds.” But they were already laid bare—by Emmett Till’s murder. And if not by him, then by Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. And if not by him, then by Rodney King’s beating. And if not by him, then by Oscar Grant being shot in the back by transit police while handcuffed on the platform. And if not by him, then by Trayvon Martin, only 17 years old, being literally hunted by a vigilante in a neighborhood where he was staying with his father. And if not by any of them, then by the thousands of others like them, whose names we may or may not know—but whose families knew them—before and after and in between.
A year after Trayvon Martin was murdered, I arrived way too early for a job interview in Contra Costa and used my GPS to find a little green space at the end of a cul-de-sac where I could wait. I wandered in it for a minute and then sat in my car. A neighbor called the police because I apparently seemed up to no good. When the cop questioned me and radioed in my license, I was visibly irritated. When he said I could stay, that it was a free country, I sassed, “Is it?” There is an almost unimaginable amount of privilege in that interaction. I felt no fear, let alone fear for my life, driving into this fancy, unfamiliar neighborhood and hanging out. None when the police showed up. None in interacting with the officer. It was an anomalous story to tell my partner later, not a brush with death.
Picture the landscape if all of us who have access to that well of power used it to create change. To intervene in unjust, life-threatening situations. To use discernment before escalating a situation and deciding whether to call the police. To hold elected officials accountable, so they can’t just skate to reelection when state-sponsored murder happens on their watch. To shut down casual stereotypes that help perpetuate another generation of white supremacy. To show some basic human empathy.
The sheer number of worthy organizations working on the issue of police brutality should indicate the scope of this problem. It should shame us. If you want to be an ally and can’t safely put your body in the street right now, please consider donating to Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero, the NAACP, or a local organization working for justice. If you aren’t in a position to donate, there is no shortage of seemingly small but significant daily opportunities to turn anti-racism into a verb. Notice them. Act.
Photo credit: Rob Walsh