In the time of COVID-19, everything takes on an uglier light. Small, meaningless conflicts are more likely to escalate. Men wearing masks run the risk of being taken as burglars — especially if they’re black. And now there are protests.

In the midst of all this, a white police officer committed a horrific act against a Black man, George Floyd, who was murdered. Murdered, plain and simple. The Minneapolis PD’s failure to exact immediate punishment on the head of the murderer ignited a series of protests, which spread like wildfire around the country. The degree of the murder — handed down as 3rd + manslaughter — has been called into question. Even if the Minneapolis police had done the right thing and arrested the murderer from the start, however, it’s likely that this event still would’ve triggered protests. And these aren’t plain protests. They’re an outpouring of outrage, an out-letting of grief, a burning over of anger. Because this has happened again and again.

Say it with me. Again and again.

Here’s an opinion article from The Washington Post about why white people are able to “compartamentalize” — i.e. excuse — police brutality against whites, and why Blacks can’t.

The thing is, it’s happened again and again. Despite the protests, despite the anger, despite it being made clear time and time again that this is not acceptable behavior. In each case, it seems the motive is slightly different, but at least part of it boils down to racism: systematic prejudice and discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.

What does this boil down to, and is there a solution?

I, for one, believe that there is. But it’s unlikely to appear as quickly as many people wish it would, and in the meantime everyone who believes in equality needs to join the protests, physically or otherwise, raise their voices and — yes — raise their tempers at times and — yes — fight back sometimes, even if it’s not what fits into the system. This is about breaking out of the system, okay? The system is what harbors racism. You can try to game the system, play the system, but racism’s still there, and it’s still rearing its ugly head in horrific incidents like the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

I respect police officers. I do. And I believe that most police officers are individuals who set out to make a difference, to help people, to serve and protect communities. And I believe that sometimes, police officers make honest mistakes. In a tense situation, they might discharge their weapons unnecessarily, perhaps wound or kill someone in the process. Is this preventable? To some extent, but not completely, at least as long as our police officers are human beings and not automatons.

But what happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd, what happened in Sanford to Trayvon Martin, what happened in Cleveland to Tamir Rice, what happened in countless cities across America to countless Black men and women — these were not honest mistakes. They were neither honest, nor were they mistakes. They were murders.

When you look at the facts, getting shot by the police is a leading cause of death for young Black men in America. Their risk of death via police gunshot is 2.5 times greater than a white man’s risk — and this is in a majority white population. But that’s the issue, isn’t it?

Across America, white boys and girls grow up without knowing Black boys and girls. We live in a country together, but you wouldn’t believe it looking at the composition of some areas. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a city that’s about 50% white and 50% other — but just a few towns over, in the suburbs, the population is 80% white, and only about 5% of the remaining 20% is Black, if that. Some white Americans have just gotten to a point where they can point out a Black neighbor or two and say, “These are the good ones,” without realizing how hurtful and downright racist a comment like that is to all Blacks. And to think we judge that as a step in the right direction!

To solve the race crisis in this country, we need to do a few things.

To start, we need to demand justice for those who have lost their lives to racist and intolerable acts on the part of the powers that be. We need to implement new standards for policing and new standards for how prospective police candidates are screened. Men and women who have the desire to kill must not be allowed to become policemen and policewomen. The same goes for men and women with a history of racism.

In the meantime, white America needs to accept the rage of Black America, and accept that it’s not going anywhere until something changes. And that means that liberals need to put their money where their mouths are and get something done on this issue, because many hard-line conservative politicians and media anchors who have always stood with the police before this are standing on the other side now. It’s time to act. It’s time to stop putting this off. It’s time to move and secure justice for George Floyd and all the other men and women who have been subject to police brutality over the centuries of American history.

The truth is, I’ve never attended a protest. I’ve always felt it’s better to achieve things through individual action. But sometimes situations are too big for individual action to achieve anything, and people need to stand up for their own. They need to demonstrate. Though they shouldn’t have to, they need to take to the streets and take to fire and take to loud voices to prove their dignity and their humanity and — yes — their patriotism, their dedication to what America has always meant and will always mean, future willing.

Because if you’re truly American, and understand the heart and soul of this country, you’ll understand protests. We speak out for what is right, against what is wrong, because we have that right and that duty and that privilege, and because our country was born in the flames of rebellion. Protest lies near the heart of what it means to be American. When something is too big for us to simply do something about it, when situations are out of our control, we take to the streets and raise our voices.

Right now, we Americans have no leader to speak for us. We have no single voice. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you must recognize that leadership from the center, in these past few months, has been unclear, fragmented, and misguided. A few tweets urging governors to “crack down” is not how to address a nation in pain. Suggesting that people take unproven treatments for COVID-19 is not how to address a nation in the middle of a pandemic crisis.

True leadership is to speak in a single, loud, clear voice, from the White House, on national TV — on a system that will take you to the screens of Times Square and the radio-waves and the news, where your address can be reprinted and reread. True leadership is to make a single statement, not to undergo countless changes of mind. America has badly needed true leadership at the moment true leadership is lacking.

Personally, I accept that some windows may be smashed and some property destroyed in the process of these protests. I know that the majority of protesters are making an effort to protest peacefully, and that in many cases people from outside — not the protesters themselves — are the ones causing the most serious damage. The chaos of the protests, in the end, comes to reflect the chaos and political partisanship of the day. We deserve better than this. I believe — I have to believe — that our efforts, in the end, will bring something better than this. I urge you to believe, too, even when it seems that belief might be misplaced.

For those of us not in the streets, we need to do whatever we can. We need to write about this issue and spread the word. And we need to hope and pray that the actions we take will lead us towards a brighter future. Black lives are beautiful and they matter. Strength and solidarity to the Black community. I stand with you in demanding justice for George Floyd.

Here’s a great list of organizations compiled by Slam Online that you can donate to if you’re looking to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement financially. There’s also a list of petitions you can sign, and a list of state and local leaders to contact. And here’s a link to the Black Lives Matter website, where you can sign up to join their email list, read articles and testimonies, and get connected.

If you enjoy articles on social justice like this one, try my article on education inequity and COVID-19.

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