George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery.
Three more names to be added to a long list of Black lives violently brought to an end. It’s been six years since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the birth of #BlackLiveMatter, yet so little progress has been made. In an Opinion piece by Spencer Bokat-Lindell published in the New York Times on May 28, the author included a graph that showed little to no change in the number of police killings each year since 2013 with the death count hovering around 1,200 annually.
To be clear, I am not demonizing the police and suggesting all officers are racist. To do so would be akin to characterizing all Black people as criminals. And yet that seems to be he way Black people are treated in the US, especially by the police, What’s going on here? White supremacy.
I know that when I write that, images of hooded Klansman or skin-head Neo-Nazis may jump to mind; but that’s no what I mean. I long ago set aside the notion that the only racist is a card-carrying member of the KKK. Rather, I recognize that I–and likely you–have racist thoughts all the time. We may not want to burn a cross outside someone’s home, but insidious race-related thoughts or beliefs creep into our minds like bugs and burrow themselves deep in our collective conscious. It’s the little voice that says, “White people can be trusted. Black people are violent.” That’s white supremacy: the belief that “white” ways of being or doing are inherently better than other ways of being or doing.
Amy Cooper is another example. While not a extreme as the vigilante “justice” forced upon Ahmaud Arbery who was shot while out for a jog, Amy Cooper had no qualms falsely accusing a Black man, Christian Cooper, of inflicting violence upon her when clearly, he was not. Rather than complying with his request that she leash her dog in an area of Central Park where it was required to do so, she wielded the power of white supremacy and called the police to report that an African American man was “threatening her life.” She weaponized his skin color. Why? There is no doubt that she was in the wrong. The Ramble is a protected area in Central Park where dogs must be leashed at all times. And when Christian Cooper politely asked her to comply with this rule, she decided in an instant that 1) the rules did not apply to her and her dog since he needed exercise and the dog run had been closed due to COVID19 and 2) Christian has no right to try to get her to comply, While I cannot know what was going on in her head or how frightened she may have felt, upon viewing the video clip it seems [possible] that she didn’t actually feel threatened by the bird watcher at all; however, she decided that the best way to respond would be to threaten him with potential violence, perhaps even “death by cop.” Again: white supremacy (for a great analysis of the event, check out this video Op-Ed by Baratunde Thurston). It seems clear that Christian knew he was in the right and was fine with her calling the police. But how could he not–at some level–fear their response might end up with his name on the list at the beginning of this post?
White people (myself included) must confront the reality of white supremacy or any hope of living in a multicultural world cannot come true. We need to learn to hit pause when we hear those words and consider how it manifests in our lives on a daily basis. As thousands of people take to the streets across the country in protest in response to the murder of George Floyd, I am struck by the measures taken by local governments (curfews here in Denver and elsewhere) and the violence some police are utilizing in the name of “keeping the peace.” I am reminded how many Whites value peace over justice, while Blacks may value the opposite. Just look at the stark difference in police response to (mostly) White protests over sheltering at home orders versus the police response to the far more racially diverse protests happening now. Other than skin color, what’s the difference? And many of the White protesters who were upset about having to wear masks in Costco were carrying guns! What makes those protesters less of a threat (as measured by the police response) than 75-year old, White protester, Martin Gugino, who currently suffering from a brain injury he received when pushed to the ground by police during a protest in Buffalo?… no wonder Billie Eilish lost it on Instagram. Damn, it can even be lethal to use the drive-through at Wendy’s (Rayshard Brooks).
We are all connected. Violence done to one of us, hurts all of us. We don’t have to “give up” our individual rights; we just need to remember our responsibility to each other.