By Gary A. Johnson – Founder & Publisher, Black Men In America.com
Posted: June 1, 2020
Note: It has come to our attention that Trump ads have been placed on our site. Placing ads on our site, will not change the narrative. The American people will decide this country’s fate in November 2020.
Like many Americans, I am tired, scared, and weary as I watch and experience the protests over the killings of unarmed black citizens, particularly black men in this country. I am a father of two black young adult men. The challenge for me is to lead by example and model how to constructively express frustration, rage, and anger over consistent social injustice in a way that does not take away, distract, or dilute the reason for the protests.
An additional challenge for me is to responsibly use my social media platforms and behave in such a manner that will allow me to inspire others and provide hope that things can improve and will be better. I have a rather extensive vocabulary, but I have simply run out of words to express how I feel about watching unarmed black people (mostly men) die at the hands of police.
I have witnessed protests like this in the past. This protest is different! This movement is worldwide. This movement is the cumulative impact of years of injustice, some happening on video before our very eyes.
People from every state in the country are protesting in the streets. These protests are no longer about the criminal death of George Floyd and the other people disproportionately killed at the hands of police. These protests are about “US.”
Let us assess the impact of five (5) factors that help explain how we, as a nation, got to this stage of chaos and destruction. Millions of people:
1. have been “locked up” for weeks because of a pandemic. (Don’t be surprised when we have a second wave of infections as many of the protestors are not wearing masks and there is no practice of social distancing)
2. have lost their jobs and businesses
3. have been forced to access public assistance for food to feed their families
4. do not have the luxury of working from home and must risk their lives going to work to sustain the economy for a substandard minimum wage
5. are finding the emotional stress and anxiety associated with all of this is simply too much to manage
Then you have the concept of what some would call “white privilege.” On one-hand you see images of mostly white protestors armed with assault rifles, storming state capitols, yelling nose-to-nose with law enforcement officers and not being touched or arrested, let alone killed. These citizens consistently complained about being “locked up” as a result of the pandemic because they could not go to the beauty parlor, nail salon, spa, tattoo parlor, barbershop or their local tavern. These citizens are fighting to be “served.”
On the other hand, there is another group of citizens fighting to be “heard.” Therein lies the difference. I am not saying that the people who want to be “served” are bad people. I am saying that the lack of willingness to embrace the different realities of citizens in this country have led us to this flashpoint.
If you need an additional reason why people are protesting, let me share what I call a “Here We Go Again” moment. The release of a preliminary autopsy report on the death of George Floyd reported no signs of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation and attributes George Floyd’s death to being “restrained”, his underlying health conditions, and any potential intoxicants in his system.
“Here We Go Again!” Am I not to believe what I saw on video? I saw a man who was not resisting arrest, handcuffed, and lying face down in the street with a 200 lb. police officer’s knee on his neck for almost 9 minutes. The man with the knee on his neck said repeatedly that he could not breathe.
Instead, the first autopsy report said that it was the “combined effect of Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions, and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” Floyd’s family had an independent autopsy conducted by two pathologists (Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson). Those results were released this afternoon and reflected that George Floyd died due to asphyxia from neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain. The independent autopsy ruled Floyd’s manner of death a homicide.
For decades protestors of all races have chanted, “No peace. No justice.” Many of us simply chalked it up as a catchy protest chant. Many of us now understand that if all citizens don’t have equal justice, there will be no peace.
People are looking for help from our elected leaders. Many of those leaders are “stepping up” to fill the void of leadership at the national level. For people who continue to turn in the direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I think you need to accept the reality that this moment is too big for the “tenant” who lives at that address.
The “tenant” who lives at that address does not appear to understand what’s happening and as a result, one can reasonably conclude that he does not care what happens. He has been mostly silent. However, when he chooses to speak, his words are the equivalent of an accelerate to a burning fire. There is nothing calming or empathetic in his words. At a time like this, most leaders focus on unity and coming together. This leader has demonstrated that this moment is too big for him.
The protests have spread like a wildfire. A wide swath of people have embraced this struggle. We all have a role to play. Citizens of all races are jumping in the boat. “If this boat sinks, everybody gets wet!”
Last Friday at a press conference, the “tenant” who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was asked to comment on the George Floyd murder. He turned away and walked from the podium as reporters yelled questions about George Floyd and the protests. This is more proof that the “tenant” does not understand the significance of this moment in history.
Remember when Colin Kaepernick took “a knee” during the national anthem before a preseason NFL game? This silent non-violent protest was designed to address this same injustice. The “tenant” called Kaepernick and the other NFL players “sons of bitches.” Remember? That was nearly four years ago. What form of protest would you prefer to have now?
One last thing. I’ve been stopped by the police a number of times over the years. Who hasn’t? Here’s the difference. When other people are stopped, they probably don’t have to wonder about violating the “unwritten” protocol of making sure that your hands stay visible and your disposition is friendly and non-threatening. One mistake could cost you your life. When you are confronted in a store because a manager believes that your mere presence makes the customers uncomfortable, the lines become blurred and you slowly start to see everything through a racial prism.
All police officers are not bad. I come from a “police family.” My mother retired as a police Sgt. with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, D.C. My Godmother was a police officer. Growing up there were Police Officers in an out of our house on a weekly basis. I have enormous respect for people in law enforcement. My mother was a pioneer in police community relations efforts in Washington, DC. She was a key player in the construction of the “Officer Friendly” program that was designed to improve the relationship between police and the people that they serve.
When Police Officers join protesters and community activists, it is not a sign of weakness, as the “tenant” at Pennsylvania Avenue would have you believe. Officers who do this are showing balance and strength.
This moment is too big for the “tenant,” but it is NOT too big for “US!”
The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans. This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner’s death in July 2014.
Name chart courtesy LA Johnson/NPR
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Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com, a popular online magazine. Gary is also a management consultant to government and many Fortune 500 companies.