I wrote this poem on Tuesday night, 4/19/20, not knowing the verdict would come out the next day. Like most everyone, I was thrilled at the outcome, one I never expected to see in my lifetime. Our country has a long history of allowing White people in positions of power and authority to abuse, marginalize and even killed Black people and other persons of color without retribution or consequence. That has been the practice. That has been the procedure. That has been the law.
So while so many of us held hope, we’d been down this road before and the expectation of receiving some measure of justice, was not in keeping with the patterns of the past. So to receive the result we did, to see the law upheld, was incredible. We took another step closer in changing the world for the better.
And changing the world is what we now have to do. It is the charge left to us by George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Daunte Wright…I could continue on, but then that list is all this letter would be, there would be no space left to talk about the future. And the future is where we need to be because we have too many people who are stuck in the past.
Now this is not the same as knowing the past, understanding our history and how it has laid the foundation for what we’re experiencing today. We have too much of the past that has been ignored, covered or overlooked, which is a major factor in why the world is where it is today: overwhelmed with systemic racism, imbued with disparity and injustice, and chocked full of entitlement and privilege masquerading as “freedom”. Being stuck in the past is to not grow and change as you mature, to not evolve your thinking as you are presented with new information or old is proven wrong.
Derek Chauvin is a reflection of this. A person, entrusted with the authority, the public trust and the responsibility to protect and serve, but being stuck in the past, he failed this city, its residents and himself by betraying that duty and murdering a defenseless Black man. He had a fair trial and was found guilty. The system worked in this instance and anyone who cares about right, safety or truth should be elated that justice was serve –“should” being the operative word there because there are still scores of people who think he should not have been held accountable, worst still that what he did was justified. Scores of people stuck in the past.
Stop and consider that for a moment, because the issue runs deeper than the unjustified murder. Consider the preparation for the trial: barbed wire, concrete blocks, National Guard and law enforcement brought in from other states all in anticipation of the reaction to the verdict. This tells you two things: 1. The public expected Chauvin to be found not guilty; and 2. The public expected the community to riot, largely because the majority of people involved were Black and brown. This is where we find ourselves, the notion of justice is so far beyond conception that we expect the guilty to be proclaimed innocent and the innocent to be guilty. And unfortunately this is not a new thing.
It is perhaps ironic that 29 years ago today, a mostly-White Jury acquitted the 4 officers that savagely beat Rodney King, the first recognized time that the kind of abuse Black and brown people face from law enforcement was captured on video. It has taken nearly 30 years to secure a conviction of this magnitude also caught on video. Back then, I was at Morehouse College, and we marched that night in protest. A day and a half later, the police had cordoned off the Atlanta University Center, where Morehouse, Spelman and other HBCUs are located, at 8am. I was there as police stormed the campuses in full riot gear, and dropped tear gas from helicopters and shot it into dorms all as a pre-emptive measure against any “uprising” or protests”. Two very similar situations, separated by nearly three decades, with the same negative expectation on communities of color.
Yet when there was a credible threat on January 6th in the Nation’s Capitol, which they had been forewarned about, law enforcement erected the same amount of defensive measures that you find at a Taylor Swift concert.
But these incidents are merely endemic of the culture of our country. A country steeped in the notion of freedom and justice, yet denying it for people whose skin is darker than the majority. There is one recurring theme that arises through these situations, one notion that has been taught, infused and trained into our mindset: America should be afraid of Black people.
America has been taught a contradictory and dichotomous view of Black people, to fear us while simultaneously to depend on and use us. This is not because of any power we hold or any measure of action we have taken, but because we have been subjugated for over 400 years and throughout that time, the injustice inherent in our treatment, breeds a fear of retribution. The White community has been lied to and told it was necessary or else we would murder, rape and abuse them—all the things that were being done to us—in order foster this notion and prejudice. We have been the bogeymen in the story of this country, while simultaneously building and maintaining it.
Nowhere is this more clear than the relationship the Black community has with law enforcement. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than White people, yet we are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than White people when this happens. We also make up 13% of the US population as compared to White people at 76%. But it is not restricted to law enforcement. The median net worth of White households is ten times the median net worth of Black households, the median income of Black households is less than 60% of the median income of White households. Approximately 20% of Black households live in poverty in comparison to approximately 8% of White households.
Consider that for a moment. The disparity exists in all factors across the United States, systemic racism permeates our community making a fair opportunity rarely achievable, and failure and disparity an almost certainty. It makes the American Dream a dream deferred. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to or submissively accept the conditions and the injustices this country visits on Black and brown communities and people. Systemic racism is woven into the fabric of our society and incorporated into every aspect of our policies and laws, policies and laws designed to maintain the disparity that continues to plague our world.
We must do better.
We have to step up and do better, refuse to turn away from the awful truth that has been our hidden shame for so long. We are a racist country. But we don’t have to be. We can change and the first step on that long road is actually acknowledging the truth. Not covering it up, not spinning it, not withholding it to create a plausible narrative, but facing it head on, with humility and the recognition that our country must be held to account before it can heal.
If we do this. If we unify on this. If we refuse to compromise on truth, it will be the beginning of a better world. If we drag all of the tragic lies and covered up truths out into the open, acknowledge them and face them head on, we will be operating in an honest and open manner and a different world. A world where we choose honor, where we chose life, where we choose justice.
Together we can create a better world.