Jacob Blake, George Floyd and a Nation's Racial Reckoning
By Stereo Williams
There is a collective rage and exhaustion in the minds and spirits of so many Black people. In a year of performative allyship, of unending soundbites and election year rhetoric; one is still left pondering what does any of it mean and where do we go from here? The protests that have continued since the killing of George Floyd are a reminder that our status quo is not something anyone should want to return to -- even once the threat of COVID-19 has subsided. Because the ever-present scourge of racism has never found its vaccine.
No sooner had the world gone into forced quarantine, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was on news crawls and websites all over the globe. Arbery was chased and gunned down on Feb. 23, 2020 in Brunswick, GA. by three white men who'd considered him "suspicious" because he was jogging through their neighborhood. Almost two months after his killing, his story made national headlines because of a social media push about the case. Gregory and Travis McMichael weren't charged after authorities found Arbery dead; nor was William "Roddie" Bryant, who'd cornered Arbery and filmed the killing on his phone. The district attorney was accused of delaying the McMichaels' arrest. All three were subsequently arrested and the McMichaels were charged with felony murder on May 7; and Bryant was charged on May 21st with felony murder and attempted false imprisonment.
26-year old Breonna Taylor was murdered by police in Louisville, KY, two weeks after the Arbery killing. Taylor was killed when Louisville police officers opened fire into her apartment while executing a no-knock warrant in an alleged attempt to arrest an accused drug dealer who lived 10 miles away. Taylor, who had been working as an EMT during the coronavirus epidemic, was shot eight times. There have been no arrests or charges against any of the officers involved; an investigation is pending.
Even in a year of unprecedented crisis, a target remains fixed on Black peoples' backs.
Men walk towards law enforcement with their hands up on August 24, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A second night of civil unrest occurred after the shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, on August 23. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
A boy sits on his fathers shoulders while holding a sign on August 24, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A night of civil unrest occurred after the shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, on August 23. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
The toxicity of racism has been like a cancer on America's soul since its inception; a scar that is part of this nation's birthright. There is no easy fix for what has taken centuries to embed into virtually every facet of American culture; a white supremacist code that has fueled everything from imperialism abroad to fascism at home. With the specter of the 2020 election looming, and a President who seems to grow more antagonistic (and more glaringly overmatched) by the day, it's hard to know if America's standing at a crossroads or teetering on the brink.
In Minneapolis, the May 25th killing of George Floyd, when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the handcuffed Floyd's neck for almost 9 minutes, was a flashpoint in a year where anxiety and anger have been constantly simmering. The people immediately took to the streets; in Minneapolis, and in cities like New York, Portland and Atlanta. The protests roared throughout the summer, as justice for Floyd and the call for America to face the racism in its culture became a cause célèbre. Everyone from movie stars to mascots has lent their voice to call out racism and white supremacy in our private lives, in our workplaces and on our entertainment platforms.
But the shooting of Jacob Blake, even in the midst of all of the suddenly-trendy slogans, reminded anyone who needed a reminder that this fight is long and it's hard. And America has to do a lot more than just talk a good game. Blake was shot seven times in the back by officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin; after he'd reportedly attempted to break up an altercation between two women in the neighborhood. Video footage shows an officer tug at Blake's shirt as Blake goes for the door of his vehicle, only to be shot and collapse onto the horn.
Just days after protests began in Kenosha, 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested and charged in Wisconsin with first-degree intentional homicide after a shooting at a protest left two individuals dead. Rittenhouse was among an armed vigilante group that traveled to Kenosha to "protect businesses" from "looters." Witnesses claimed Rittenhouse walked past officers with his rifle in hand, and they had to alert the police on-hand that he'd just shot several people.
That an armed 17-year old white male could commit acts of violence within the eyes and ears of officers and be taken into custody without incident brings into sharp relief the duality of American culture. Violent white men are presumed to be justified; that Rittenhouse felt it his duty to take up arms and travel to another city speaks to that justification. Black people, on the other hand, have to be defended even as victims of violence.
It's tiring and it's traumatic, to relive this ugly truth constantly. In the coming weeks, there will be investigations and revelations; but where will that leave this country? A country that still seems unwilling to uproot it's most venomous attribute can only issue platitudes in the form of charitable donations and PR pushes. There is plenty of room for cynicism when it comes to progress in America, and its more than justified. This country has done a lot of talking.
But it has done nothing to earn Black folks' trust.
*CREDIT: A demonstrator lights a flag on fire outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse during a third night of unrest on August 25, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)