The Moral Courage Needed in America

Since February, the news stories listed below about police brutality have been traumatizing, disappointing, frustrating and exhausting:

February 23, 2020 | Ahmaud Arbery, murdered in broad daylight while jogging. Murderers slept in their own beds that night.

May 13, 2020 | Breonna Taylor, shot eight times and killed by Kentucky police in a botched raid. No drugs found in her home.

May 25, 2020 | George Floyd, died after three police officers kneeled on him in the street. Two of the four officers had a history of violence while on duty.

May 25, 2020 | Amy Cooper weaponized her discomfort and called police on Black man because he asked her to leash her dog in Central Park, New York City.

May 30, 2020 | Two college students brutalized by two Atlanta police officers who were swiftly fired for using excessive force.

It is unsettling that watching the snuff films of the 21st-century lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery (Georgia) and George Floyd (Minnesota) feels normal.

These injustices and others are somehow expected. We have become comfortable with the definitions of “innocence,” “honorable” and “acceptable” being different for Black people than for white people. The videos played over and over again as if they are Super Bowl commercials feels wrong. If the victims of these despicable, heinous acts were white, would these videos have been played as much?

Is it just me, or was anyone else horrified by how calm Derek Chauvin (charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter) was while he had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, his hands in his pockets, while Floyd begged for his life?

There is no longer a burden of proof that legalized genocide of Black people is real.

And all of this happening against the backdrop of COVID-19, making us feel separated, off-balance and powerless. When there are protests across the country in 40+ cities and around the world; the National Guard activated in our nation’s capital and other major U.S. cities; when a white woman weaponizes her privilege and calls the cops because a Black man in New York City asks her to obey the lawwhen two young people in Atlanta are pulled from their car, tazed and pepper-sprayed while driving home, I keep asking: What kind of world are we living in? When is enough, enough?

Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, said: “We cannot turn a blind eye, it is on us as leaders to see this for what it is and call it what it is.”

On that note, when COVID-19 has claimed more than 100,000 American lives and 40 million Americans find themselves unemployed, what do you call it when the President tweets the following?

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Or this when talking about the protests taking place at the White House over the weekend:

“The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.”

I call it inciting and glorifying violence — and not a coincidence at all. When Twitter has to hide a tweet from the President and Facebook employees are enraged because Mark Zuckerberg will not take the post down, so they take to Twitter to express their anger, there is no denying the intent.

In the 1960s, Miami Police Chief Walter Headley also said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reference to non-white communities. He also said, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”

George Wallace said similar things while campaigning in 1968, as did Eugene “Bull” O’Connor, public safety commissioner in Birmingham, Alabama, who instructed his police officers to hose Civil Rights demonstrators and release attack dogs on them.

Not only are Trump’s tweets dog whistles, but the first also violates the 4th Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled in 1985 in Tennessee v. Garner that the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.

Dr. King called a riot the “language of the unheard.”

When you see the news and read social media updates, what do you hear? What do you see? Do you see out-of-control cops looting Black bodies, or are you only focused on the damage to buildings, cars, and how terrible the protestors are for not obeying the law? While people are denied their basic human rights, can we comfortably stand by and judge how they fight for their freedom, access to opportunity and equal treatment? Are we more upset over destroyed property than destroyed lives?

Police have arrested more than 4,000 protesters across the country. Still, only one of the officers involved in Floyd’s murder has been arrested.

On Saturday, I knew I was going to see one of my neighbors while our children were outside riding bicycles and getting some much-needed time in the sun. I’ve been very disciplined in making sure that my words on the events as of late are not forced. I planned to speak on these senseless murders when I knew I could control my mouth, when my heart was done breaking, when my tears were no longer racing down my cheeks. I squared my shoulders, held my head high and stepped outside.

One of my neighbors, a white, middle-aged woman, asked me what she can do.

She told me that she cares about what is happening but feels powerless because she doesn’t know where to start or what to do to be part of the solution. At that moment, I took a deep breath before I responded and reminded myself that she is an ally. I told her I could recommend a lot, but what matters most is what she has an appetite to do.

Does she want to volunteer at a soup kitchen or stand with protesters and help fight for the rights that have been promised to Black people but never given? I suggested she ask herself the following questions:

  1. How will you use your remarkable power and authority?
  2. How and when will you teach your children about racism?
  3. How will you activate your privilege for the advancement of others?
  4. What are the authentic actions you are willing to take to be part of the solution?

I then thought about what people leaders must do during these tough times.

  1. Be able to say the Black people’s names being gunned down and state that it is wrong, and that something must be done.
  2. Understand that their people will hold them accountable and EXPECT bold action. They are waiting for appropriate and meaningful responses.
  3. Be honest about the past employees that were fired because they stood up against racism or left because of a toxic culture that allowed them to be villainized because of their skin color. Think about team members that are underpaid and underutilized because they are Black. Take swift action to put systems in place to end unfairness in the hiring and development processes.
  4. Understand that some of your employees are continually dealing with racial fatigue. Some groups have others to run with, someone else to pass the baton, while others are running every single leg of the race without a break. Have empathy for what that might be like and do your best to show they have your support, they are valued, wanted and are not alone.

 

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