Ahmaud Arbery (25) was hunted in daylight by three men while jogging in Georgia. In Kentucky, Breonna Taylor (26), a first-responder, was shot in her home by police in the wrong house. George Floyd (46) and Eric Garner (43) both said, “I can’t breathe,” before being murdered in the streets. Sandra Bland (28) was found hanged in her cell, after three days in police custody in Texas. Trayvon Martin (17) was murdered in Florida, for the crime of wearing a hoodie at night. Botham Jean (26) was murdered in his own home, where he was a suspected “burglar.”
“The Charleston Nine” were killed by a white supremacist in a church service at Emmanuel AME Church. Their names were: Clementa C. Pinckney (41). Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54). Susie Jackson (87). Ethel Lee Lance (70). Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49). Tywanza Sanders (26). Daniel L. Simmons (74). Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45). Myra Thompson (59).
In Charlottesville, a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched through the streets with torches, guns, and Confederate flags. Gatherings of Ku Klux Klan members have employed and assembled using the hashtag “BlocKKKParty.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, a man in Colorado wore a KKK hood to the grocery store.
President Barack Obama faced birtherism during his tenure in the White House. Racial slurs were used against him and First Lady Michelle Obama (who at one point was referred to as an “Ape in heels.”). Obama figures – mannequins and scarecrows – have been documented hanging in trees and in marches on the streets.
This is the ugly face of America and the darkness of racism covering our land. We have a duty to speak out against injustice. Cities are burning in riots – in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many of us don’t see the value in destruction and violence. In fact, we condemn it. Instead, we might consider why these demonstrations occur – because we forget and are failing in our duty to speak, to demand justice, and to drive social change and equality.
Too often, we lose our consciousness about the lives lost to police brutality and racism. We’ve all been quick to speak out about the burning Target. We’ve been quick to condemn graffiti reading, “Save a life, kill a cop.” We’re quick to affirm our support of “Blue Lives” while scoffing at “Black Lives Matter.” We rail against retaliatory violence.
The reality is – burning buildings, destroyed cities, violence, and hatred – it is wrong. It is unnecessary. It does endanger and cost lives and livelihoods. It doesn’t make sense to protest police brutality while giving police an action to engage in violently. But it is happening in part because we are failing to do our part. Even now, many are silent as people are beaten, arrested, and tear-gassed – as violence erupts because of the unjust murder of people like George Floyd.
The police didn’t employ violence or tear-gas to the hundreds of demonstrators who stormed the Michigan state capitol building with guns and threats against Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Those demonstrators – in an act of domestic terrorism – went unengaged in their protest of lockdown measures during a public health emergency. Imagine the violence and retaliation, for one moment, had that group been engaged. But they weren’t – neither were the “very fine” white supremacists or neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
Ask yourself why – and it becomes painfully obvious why Colin Kaepernick took a knee on the field. It becomes painfully obvious why the threat of police was coupled with the identifying, negatively-intended use of “African American” against Christian Cooper (57) in Central Park. Ask yourself why and everything you see about “Black Lives Matter” is justified.
By the way, BLACK LIVES MATTER is not a suggestion that black lives matter more – it is a proclamation that black lives matter equally. If you don’t see the necessity of the movement, you’re not paying attention (especially if you retaliate with “All Lives Matter,” you’ve missed the point). If your reaction mirrors that of a racist and hate-enabling President who tweets: “…These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd…when the looting starts, the shooting starts…” then you are complicit in a cycle of violence. Consider the use of your voice – or the impact of its absence.
The day I saw the video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I bypassed the “sensitive content” warning. I thought I was desensitized enough to violence. I’d watched similar and far-worse videos before, right? Wrong. I was horrified – and I wasn’t prepared for the fallout. Ahmaud was hunted – the visual was sinister and haunting. I keep replaying it in my mind. Ahmaud jogging, pursued by his third murderer from behind. I see the two men exit the truck ahead that’s parked in the middle of the road. Ahmaud veers right and around the front where he’s engaged. The gun shots are audible – and I see him stumbling away, falling forward, and dying.
There’s the picture of Ahmaud in a baseball cap that reminds me of a friend. Now, I can’t separate the two – I can only keep imagining Eric in that video. That day, I was in the middle of a store when the visual formed. I’d just reciprocated a hello to a random man in the parking lot – and I’d just looked at a couple in the produce section. I thought, it could have been them. The weight of all of it hit me. It’s tragic and disheartening to consider that pure evil could be lurking anywhere.
That pure evil thrives in silence and whispers. It’s emboldened by our inabilities to have honest and difficult conversations. It’s emboldened by our failures to listen or to hold racists accountable every single time. When we don’t engage and challenge racism in our social settings or families, we allow this to continue. We allow the stories to disappear and our outrage to fizzle – until the names are forgotten and pushed from consciousness. We forget until it happens again and again and again. Our collective forgetfulness and indifference are why there are protests and riots that light cities on fire, why there is a proclamation that “Black Lives Matter,” and why black and brown, interracial, and adoptive families have to constantly ask, “How many more?”
If you’re reading this and thinking of anyone you know in particular that needs to be confronted with this reality – engage them. Who has to be the victim of hate, bias, or police brutality before your voice – if it hasn’t already – joins the growing chorus for justice, reform, and equality? Who has to be forgotten for you to be angry enough to sow seeds of hope for the future? Like our children in the future, we deserve to live in a world now where three racists can’t hunt a jogger, where police can’t be acquitted of murder, and where people can breathe and be heard.