I watched the same sadistic, horrific murder of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin that many of you saw.
Which came just days after bird watcher Christian Cooper videoed Amy Cooper’s shameful, racist, and dangerous 911 call in retaliation for him asking her to put her dog on leash in Central Park, which many of you also watched.
Which happened a few weeks after 26-year-old Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor died from eight gunshots fired by police who stormed the apartment she was in with her boyfriend, without knocking, in search of a person who was already in custody.
Which happened a few months after 25 year-old Ahmaud Arbery was murdered on video by racist vigilantes while jogging after he spent three minutes making the fatal mistake of looking inside an empty house under construction (which I’ve done and bet some of you have, too), and it took 74 days for the perpetrators to be arrested and charged.
Which came less than eighteen months after the night of September 6, 2018, when off-duty Dallas Police Department patrol officer Amber Guyger entered the fourth floor Dallas, Texas, apartment of 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean, thinking somehow that he had broken into her third floor apartment, and killed him.
Which happened less than a year and a half after Dallas area police Roy Oliver officer shot and killed 15 year-old Jordan Edwards as he was riding in a car that was driving away from a party police had been called to break up and posed no threat whatsoever to him (Oliver initially lied and said the car was approaching him, but had to change his story when it was contradicted by bodycam footage.)
Which happened eight months after the dashcam and helicopter cam videoed murder on September 16, 2016 of 40 year-old Terence Crutcher by Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby. Crutcher was standing near his vehicle in the middle of a street, unarmed and apparently disoriented, during the encounter. Despite the video footage, a jury acquitted Shelby.
Which happened two months after the videoed July 6, 2016 murder by St. Anthony Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a routine traffic stop of 32 year-old St. Paul school cafeteria supervisor Philando Castile, who was politely complying with Yanez and in the car with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four year-old daughter in the back seat. Despite the murder being filmed from the police car dashcam and despite a real-time Facebook live video by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, Yanez was acquitted by a jury.
Which happened the day after 37 year-old father of five Alton Sterling was shot dead at close range, which was recorded on cellphone video, by two Baton Rouge police officers who were holding him down after being called to the convenience store where he was selling bootleg CDs as a result of an altercation in which Sterling was not the responsible party. Sterling was armed, apparently because CDs bootleggers had recently been robbed. The officers were not charged.
The aforementioned tragedies and murders by police of so many other African American boys and men – Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner, just to name a few – reflect both a wanton disregard for Black lives and a deeply ingrained MYTH of Black male dangerousness that was propagated along with the pseudo-science backed MYTH of racial hierarchy to justify economic exploitation, subjugation, and sadistic cruelty towards African Americans during slavery and since.
This has been going on continuously in one form or another for hundreds of years. The only difference is now there are cellphones, bodycams (which should be universal among police), and dashcams.
Police killed 1,099 people in the U.S. in 2019. Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population. Black people are 3x more likely to be killed by the police than white people despite being less likely to be carrying firearms when arrested. 99% of police killings of Black people between 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime (see mappingpoliceviolence.org for more info on police violence and click here for a Lancet study on the effect of police killings of African Americans on African Americans’ mental health).
If you are not Black, reading this and also taking in the reality of the exponentially greater number of non-fatal but traumatizing, stressful, dehumanizing, and sometimes physically painful encounters Black young men and men have with police each year, can you understand why Black people feel so powerless and are so incredibly upset.
Can you understand why Black men are so fearful about encounters with police and why the parents of Black sons worry so much on a daily basis?
I’m not writing to tell you how to feel or what to think. But I think we can all agree that racism remains a widespread, deadly cancer in American society, and that the killings and lack of accountability noted above are just some of its awful consequences. The disproportionately negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on African Americans are obviously another. As, of course, is the massive inequity of resources invested in the education of African Americans compared to most white children.
Twenty-four years ago today, Stand for Children was founded with a rally of 300,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was a national day of commitment to children whose purpose was to inspire and challenge ourselves and our country to be and do better.
Together, since then, we have positively impacted the education and lives of millions of children.
But, if we are being honest, despite all the good that has happened, we have to admit that society has become significantly more unequal since then, not less, and that the basic human rights of African American young men and men – to live, to go from place to place without fear, to be free from police harassment, to be treated with dignity and without excessive force during interactions with law enforcement – are nowhere near adequately protected.
And if you admit that, then the question is: what are you willing to do?
Particularly if you are of European descent, on a personal level, are you willing to examine and actively and continually work to root out your own internalized racism? Are you willing to have direct, respectful, uncomfortable conversations with friends, family, or co-workers who make racist comments.
Racism isn’t something you just get past. As Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote last weekend, it “is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air."
Then, on a systemic level, are you, on a sustained basis, willing to join us in supporting advocacy efforts for meaningful police reforms as well as common sense criminal justice reforms that will make our communities safer and more just?
If you want to advocate not just for educational justice but social justice as well, please let us know.
Thank you for standing for children and for a just society where everyone is treated with respect, dignity, and decency.