The Time to Act is Now

by Amy Beck

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Americans, we can do better.  We must do better.  Silence is not an option.

For the last week, we have seen images of George Floyd plastered across our television screens and social media feeds.  Many of us cried out in anger as we listened to him rasp, “Please, please.  I can’t breathe.”  We wept as we heard him beg for his mother.

This was not a freak accident or a simple mistake.  An officer pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for approximately eight minutes.  EIGHT MINUTES!  Think about that.  Eight minutes is three times the length of Aretha Franklin’s Respect.  It almost twice the length of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.  Throughout this time, Mr. Floyd was pleading with the officers for his life.  Bystanders made comments like, “He is a human, bro,” and, “Check for a pulse please.”  But Officer Derek Chauvin did not stop.  He continued to press his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck, making his body go limp.  Killing him.

George Floyd was a father.  He was a friend.  He was a person.

This is not a one-off tragedy.  This is America in 2020.  George Floyd’s murder pulls back that curtain on an all too real reality for many people of color in this country.

As a white woman, I have never found myself in Mr. Floyd’s position.  When I encounter law enforcement, I do not have mull over each move I make, considering how it may or may not be perceived.  I can wear a hoodie after dark and reach for a hairbrush in my car without a second thought.  I can view police as my protectors.  It is not because of my choices or actions.  No.  It is because the color of my skin grants a privilege that I did not earn and I did nothing to deserve.

Likewise, as a mother, I will inevitably worry as my son grows and begins to venture out into the world on his own.  But there is one worry I do not have to face.  I do not have to fear that the color of his skin will cause a stranger to fear him or law enforcement to automatically view him as a  threat.  Mothers with black sons and daughters do not have this luxury.  Instead, they live in fear that someone will somehow perceive their child as dangerous. That someone will not recognize their child’s life is sacred.

It is sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around what violent protests and riots will accomplish.  But I cannot imagine the pain, anger, frustration people of color are feeling.  When Colin Kaepernick kneeled, the opposition said it was disrespectful.  When the Lakers wore “I can’t breathe” t-shirts and Lebron James spoke out against police brutality, the opposition claimed it was inappropriate.  When Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully protested, he was assassinated.  At some point, it becomes clear that the opposition does not want peaceful protests—it wants silence.

This cannot continue.  It is time for Americans, of all races, colors, and creeds, to be allies and advocates.  It is our obligation to channel our rage and grief toward change.  We must act today—not tomorrow, not next week, not after the election.  Lives depend on it.

What Can You Do Now?

Notice How Racism is Denied, Minimized, and Justified.  Listen without being defensive.  If you are truly interested in change, the most crucial thing you can do is evolve your worldview.  It is critical to listen to people of color and groups like Black Lives Matter with an open mind and heart.

Pay attention and imagine if situations would differ if the person at the center of the story had different complexion.  Actively educate yourself about racism and racial bias.

Here are some resources:

  • 13th: From Slave to Criminal with One Amendment (a Netflix documentary)
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell
  • Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race by Derald Wing Sue
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Each and every one of us has a responsibility to educate ourselves on racism, racial inequality, and bias.

Take a Stand Against Injustice.  Use your privilege.  Have tough conversations with family and friends.  If you see something that is wrong, say something.  Make it clear that racism will not be tolerated.  Taking a stand is the moral thing to do.  It is the human thing to do.  It should be the American thing to do.  This can be scary.  You will feel uncomfortable and it will make others feel uncomfortable.  You might risk losing a relationship.  However, imagine what it feels like for the person at the brunt of the racism.

Go out and protest.  Right now, protesting may seem scary but not all protests involve violent clashes with the police or choking on tear gas.  Feel free to leave if it starts to turn violent on either side.  If you are white, keep in mind that this movement is not about you and you may not lead it.  Do not start chants or grab a microphone.  This is a time to practice following your black brothers and sisters.

Support the Leadership of People of Color.  Diversity in leadership allows our laws and power systems to be influenced by multiple viewpoints.  Leaders of color are critically needed to advance a new generation of policies that address the economic and social inequities confronting children, families, and communities of color.

Talk with Your Children and Other Young People About Racism.  We are raising the next generation.  We can teach them to recognize racial inequities and actively address racism when they see it.  We owe it to them to be better.

Don’t Do It Alone.  Together we are stronger.  When we work together to educate our communities and networks, we can lead to systematic change.  When we support established groups and organizations, we can raise up the voices of those denouncing racism and racial inequality.

Support Black Lives Matter.  We need to support the Black Lives Matter movement.  You can support Black Lives Matter while simultaneously supporting law enforcement.  Many people in power try to frame this discussion as “pro-police” vs. “pro-black”—but you do not have to pick one or the other.  Supporting Black Lives Matter does not mean that you are diminishing the value of law enforcement lives.  For example, saying, “I love you, Mom,” does not mean that you love your father less.  It means that at that time, you are recognizing your mother.  Likewise, supporting Black Lives Matter means you are acknowledging a systematic problem and injustice.

There are extraordinarily good police officers, and we need to reward them.  At the same time, it is apparent that state and local police departments desperately need more transparency.  We need to make sure good police officers are protected when they report misconduct.  When departments and unions refuse to acknowledge that some officers are unfit for that enormous responsibility, even after being caught on camera doing something horribly wrong, it can make life unbearable for the good officers who speak up.  They often face backlash from their peers and even superiors.  It is crucial to foster an environment that helps good police officers report the bad police officers and be praised for it, not punished.

Along those same lines, we must push to remove and punish bad police officers.  Black Lives Matter is not waging a war on police—it is demanding accountability for bad cops.  These are the officers disrespecting their badge and making a mockery of their duty to protect and serve all citizens.  These are the type of officers who abuse their power and assault the most vulnerable among us.  These bad cops are the ones who shoot first and ask questions later.  We should be fine with this type of cop losing his or her badge.

George Floyd should still be alive.

Breona Taylor should still be alive.

Ahmaud Arbery should still be alive.

Michael Brown should still be alive.

Eric Garner should still be alive.

Sandra Bland should still be alive.

Philando Castile should still be alive.

Oscar Grant should still be alive.

Amadou Diallo should still be alive.

So many black Americans should still be alive . . .

 

Amy Beck is one of our Iowa attorneys, specializing in employment litigation and civil rights.

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