“There is a difference between calling for peace and calling for quiet.”
I was impressed by these words of Rev. Al Sharpton at the eulogy yesterday for George Floyd in Minneapolis. With personal stories from his siblings who recalled family love in hard times growing up in Houston, the service memorialized a good man and also challenged all of us to really confront our racial bias.
Some people are saying that Mr Floyd’s death is an egregious example of police brutality, which it is. But when they say it is unusual they may be also saying that Floyd’s death is an aberration; if only that were true.
In February of this year a 25 year old black man Ahmad Aubrey was pursued by two armed white men in a pick up truck and shot and killed in daylight in cold blood, for no apparent reason. The men who murdered him were neither questioned or arrested for four months. It was June before anyone held them accountable and then only because a video was released showing these men in the act of shooting Mr. Aubrey.
In Central Park last week a black man, Christian Cooper, was bird watching in an area where dogs are supposed to be on leash. Amy Cooper (no relation,) a white woman, had her dog off leash. When Mr. Cooper asked her to use the leash. Ms Cooper was offended by his request, and threatened to call 911 to tell the police that she was being harassed.
That’s how racial privilege works. In a racist society white women and men can always threaten to become the victims because folks believe black people are fundamentally aggressive. In a racist society people who kill black men can say they looked like a criminal, or their hoodie seemed ominous, or that they resisted arrest, even with their hands up.
This time, white people don’t have the luxury of pretending we don’t understand why folks are so upset about the death of George Floyd. It is no aberration. I doubt we would be seeing nightly demonstrations if there had been no Trayvon Martin, (17) killed by a neighbor who was acquitted; or Michael Brown (18) shot 12 times in the back and front, while he had his hands up in surrender; or Eric Garner choked to death by police while he begged that he could not breath, his punishment for selling cigarettes on the sidewalk.
Sadly, it is a frighteningly persistent pattern. It is police and private citizens alike who escalate to lethal violence. It is a different standard of justice depending on your race. It is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty that Whites can count on but black and brown people never can. It is too late for white people to become defensive. It is time to listen. There will never be peace in our country until there is justice in America, justice for everyone.