Story Interrupted by Tragedy
I was about to push “send” on part 2 of a blog planned to honor my Native American grandmother, on today, her birthday. While a tribute to her, the message was twofold: Native peoples have been marginalized almost to the point of annihilation and we must all speak up when we see injustice. That message is important and will still be posted. But, how could I post that message without first acknowledging the most recent horrors against black people.
George Floyd and Christian Cooper.
There has been a flood of outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the malicious behavior directed against Christian Cooper. Through immediate actions and words, many are living out the expression, “my brother’s keeper.” That is good. But once again, racism — power and privilege — was at the core. Regardless of the fact that George Floyd was on the ground, handcuffed, saying he couldn’t breathe, and that the officer knew the incident was being recorded, that yet-to-be-named Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least five minutes until he was dead. Regardless of the fact that Christian Cooper was only asking Amy Cooper (no relation) to leash her dog so he could bird watch, with forethought and calculation, she called the police, positioning herself as the proverbial (white) damsel-in-distress threatened by a black man. Both the white police officer and the white dog walker instinctively understood and acted on their power, their societal position, their white privilege.
We are our brothers’ keepers. We must take responsibility and transform our world into what it should be. The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck and those who stood by and watched have been fired. Will they now be charged with murder? The dog walker has been fired from her job. Now what? Justice for George Floyd and Christian Cooper will be just that, justice for Floyd and Cooper, vitally important, but still only justice in two isolated, specific incidents.
Racial justice will occur when we look at, and change, the systems that create the police officers who seem not to fear killing an unarmed man or the bias that shone proudly as Amy Cooper told Christian Cooper what she would say on her call to the police. Racism and bias are fundamental in America. They are the foundation that gives structure to America — our (in)justice system, education system, health care system, the list goes on. And the bias is so embedded in all that we see and do – our culture – that we have to work at catching ourselves and others as those often far-too-subtle words and actions are revealed.
Systemic/structural racism and implicit bias are real. George Floyd’s murderer and Amy Cooper are just the most recent ones to pull back the curtain.