BY JEANETTE LENOIR
George Floyd’s little girl is right, he did change the world.
It’s been nearly a week since America started putting out riot fires ignited by an emotional tsunami when Floyd’s callous murder sent shock waves, still rippling, across the globe. The wails of agony and blind rage at the officers responsible, the racism that fueled his death, the oppressive law enforcement system and discriminatory government structure behind it all, is well known by all marginalized people. Especially Black people. And that’s evident in the different responses and reactions to these protests. Some are expressing themselves with violence, while others are taking a more peaceful and measured approach to address the long festering wounds of racism, police brutality, social and economic inequality. The devastating reality of bigotry and discrimination in America has finally come to a head like a boil ready for lancing.
And Floyd’s tragic death is bringing a broad coalition of protesters together to change the state of American society. Unfortunately, there’s no blueprint or manual for a people fed up to adequately respond to a Military obsessed government, putting protesters at risk of losing focus with infighting and disagreements on how to effectively carry out these demonstrations calling for change. Historians, in discussing the leadership styles of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently talk about the lather not having a cohesive strategy to follow through, a collective plan B, if the civil rights marches and protests didn’t prove effective. Gandhi, on the other hand, was effective in uniting Indians on a common course for autonomy from British Rule and were ready to raise the stakes with a plan B, changing their clothes, in other words, using their collective economic powers to fight their oppressor. If Americans want the outcome of these protests to be fruitful beyond the capital B in the new Black, we will need a similar strategy to address institutionalized racism and reform policing.
The momentum created by these protests must energize grassroots campaigns targeting the specific issues highlighted during former President Obama’s town hall meeting on Wednesday. From stopping the practice of choke-holds, deescalation tactics, to implicit bias training. These policies are already in place for law enforcement communities to implement. A recent article in The Atlantic highlights the groups and independent commissions that have provided specific solutions to address police misconduct in America. “Prior tragedies have resulted in a string of independent, blue-ribbon commissions—Wickersham (1929), Kerner (1967), Knapp (1970), Overtown (1980), Christopher (1991), Kolts (1991), Mollen (1992), and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2014)—to make recommendations for meaningful change that could address police misconduct. These groups have developed well-reasoned conclusions and pointed suggestions that are widely discussed and enthusiastically implemented—but only for a time. As public attention shifts, politics moves on and police-reform efforts wane. The cycle continues unbroken.” The solution, like the Ten Commandments has been written, but the resolve of politicians to act is still MIA because they can count on protesters losing their way and their will to keep fighting. It’s become the standard of American uprisings. Or, maybe, the fire next time, as laid out by James Baldwin, is here.
Despite the uniqueness of the global protests sparked by Floyd’s death, the risk of apathy and lack of persistence remains a real threat to real change that’s desperately needed. In addition to police accountability, community action at every level addressing systemic racism, through fostering diverse relationships that lead to creating policies based on real-world experiences is sorely needed. Therefore, change must include a more diverse Congress, as well as state and local leaderships. Marginalized folks, especially Black people, have to run for local offices and community boards, just like Black leaders during the early part of the civil rights movement have urged us to do. Moreover, it’s incumbent on all of us to hold those in power accountable to meet a changing nation’s demand for a better country, because it’s going to take a society-wide approach to address our structural challenges rooted in racism.
“It was absolutely clear that the police would whip you and take you in as long as they could get away with it, and that everyone else—housewives, taxi-drivers, elevator boys, dishwashers, bartenders, lawyers, judges, doctors, and grocers—would never, by the operation of any generous human feeling, cease to use you as an outlet for his frustrations and hostilities. Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough,” wrote James Baldwin in, The Fire Next Time.
Black people are the CEO’s of enough is enough dot com. We’ve been in this sunken place for far too long. The difference of this moment in time, is that finally, the housewives, taxi-drivers, elevator boys, dishwashers, bartenders, lawyers, judges, doctors, and grocers have had enough, too. And not just here in the U.S., but across the world. It is our collective belief in American culture and humanity, at least the promise of it, that is forcing this broad coalition of protesters together this time, some with the need to speak with violence. And that is to be expected when our common understanding of right and wrong, our written and unwritten rules of how we treat one another, our human contract, is continuously violated by those with the most power. The 400 year old violation of our humanity has been vicious and egregious, so much so, that our president saw fit to pepper spray his way through peaceful protesters chanting, “Black Lives Matter” to hold up a bible he doesn’t respect for a photo-op he doesn’t need in front of a boarded up church closed to parishioners. Tragic can’t sufficiently capture this posturing.
The only thing that can passably contextualize his strange movements is this passage in The Insane World Of Adolf Hitler by Chandler Brossard, “It is not in the least surprising that Hitler, who, incidentally, had been born a Roman Catholic, had a highly confusing and contradictory relationship with churches and Christian concepts in general. His actions and words denied the existence of a God, yet the fact that he constantly referred to himself as being “guided by Providence,” and “chosen from on high,” indicates that at least in some ritualistic—or opportunistic part of his mind he really did believe in the divinity. Clearly, this motivated his famous assertion, in the late thirties, before a screaming, chanting wild-eyed Munich audience of thousands, “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.” Donald Trump surrounds himself with sleepwalkers, steadily building casual racist pressure under the guise of religion, similar to how Hitler used and abused religion to turn his fellow countrymen against each other, leading to the Jewish Holocaust and WWII. We can’t let that happen again.
Malcolm X said Americans must speak the same language in order for us to understand each other. Thus, it’s time to speak with our protests, money, and our votes, similar to what Gandhi did for Indians and what Rosa Parks did for African Americans with the Montgomery bus boycott. Major companies taking bold actions to fight racism by firing bad employees, ending police contracts with private businesses, firing and charging offending officers, creating opportunities for more minority upward mobility, making strong public statements, and following through with measured transformation, are the changes we need to see. The strong anti-racism reaction from Ben & Jerry’s is the modern leadership this moment needs. Calling for the dismantling of the culture of white supremacy is powerful and refreshingly honest. It recognizes long standing Black pain and suffering. And Citigroup, Netflix and Microsoft making strong statements against racism and discrimination, including the global protests in solidarity against Black oppression in America has been deeply inspiring. A hopeful sign that the winds of change are finally blowing again.
This transformational change will build if marginalized people and their allies continue this fight against a common enemy: racism, police brutality, and growing inequality. Senseless violence doesn’t always discriminate or give rise to passionate protests. Even so, little Black girls like Gianna Floyd are the chief victims left behind when Black fathers are murdered by the police, and Black mothers like Wanda Cooper continue to dominate the fields of grief with the disproportionate loss of their Black boys, like Ahmaud Arbery, to racial violence. Black women like Breonna Taylor still fit perfectly into a certain dimension, an unholy space poignantly expressed by Malcolm X when he said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman, the most neglected person in America is the Black women.” This has to be reversed, too. These sacrifices are changing the world, but it falls on all of us, rooted in a common belief in humanity, to ensure their deaths, and all those who have met similar fates, are not in vain.
And because the media plays a significant role in narrating our human story, a call for sincere adaptable action on their part, must be part of the restructuring of a more balanced and just America. We can start with condemning the Philadelphia Inquirer recent offensive headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.” George Floyd changed the world, his little girl said. Although he didn’t intent to, through these protests and call for racial equality and policy changes, may the goodness and mercy that comes from his tragic death finally make way for all people to dwell in a better world forever.