Dear members of the Emerson community,
As the world watched, a jury rendered its decision in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He could have been convicted on all of the charges, some or none.
He was found guilty on all three charges. But let us not forget that Derek Chauvin was aided and abetted in his awful murder by three other officers: one white, the other two of African and Asian descent.
Most important, let us not forget the terrible impact on the brave seventeen-year old Darnella Frazier, whose film captured the nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck until he cried out for his Mama and took his last breath. She was courageous and brave.
Eleven months ago, I wrote in an essay “America is on Fire.”
We mourn George Floyd. But let’s not forget the other George Floyds of which he is but one:
“Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when white vigilantes pursued him in their pick-up trucks, shot and killed him. A Harvard educated black birder, Christian Cooper, was bird watching when a white woman walking her dog weaponized the lynching trope in an attempt to summon police.
Do you remember Trayvon Martin or twelve-year old Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland or Philando Castile or Eric Garner or Freddie Gray or Botham Jean or Breonna Taylor?”
The deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police continue apace– even as the Derek Chauvin trial was proceeding to its conclusion today: Duante Wright, a twenty-year old father, was killed in a recent traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota by a veteran police officer, who said she had mistaken her taser for the gun she held in her hand. Body camera footage shows a thirteen-year old Adam Toledo as he was shot to death by a police officer – even after he had obeyed the officer’s command to “Show me your hands. Drop it. Drop.” The officer shot, killing the boy as he turns, doing exactly what the officer had instructed, his hands raised in the air.
This we know: there will be more of these killings before the Memorial Day anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
These deaths are a reminder of the other pandemic that plagues these United States: the fear of Black people, but especially the fear of Black men and boys in public spaces. A fear of their bodies. Sadly, there is no vaccine yet discovered and manufactured to eradicate it. It lives on in the hearts and minds of many Americans. It conjures up a racist past of angry white men stringing up a Black man to a tree as white women and even white children look on in celebration and merriment, taking with them the trophies of the Black man’s body – an ear here, a finger there.
When will it stop? When will those of us in places of power, privilege and influence, in our thunderous voices, exclaim to the heavens above: “Enough. It is enough.”
Some will celebrate tonight. Some will dance in the streets.
But not me.
I hear the somber and sorrowful voices of the past (and of the future) calling to me about this disease that ravages our country, desecrating the promise of America, blaspheming its much lauded beauty.
These deaths unveil the deep and long-standing social and economic racialized disparities that exist within this land of plenty.
We see – with spirits made heavy by human suffering – the deep fissures of race and poverty that – like specters at dawn – haunt our nation’s conscience. Who among us can sing today without bitter irony the song of America’s beauty.
My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty;
Of thee I sing…
Who can sing this song with pride as we watch in horror – over and over again – the legions of Black men and boys, their bodies torn asunder by fear and hate?
Let us begin with us. Let us acknowledge – beginning today – that we, all of us – including the community of the educated folk – are deeply implicated in this terrible truth.
No, this is not a time for celebration.
It is a time for reflection and resolve, of true bravery and courage. A time to confront, head-on, hate, fear and ignorance in all of their various forms and manifestations.
These killings must stop.
As U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings reminded us while he was still among us: “C’mon now, we’re better than this.”
Yes, we are. Yes, we must be.