Originally I called this “Return to Truth,” but then Obiwan whispered in my ear, “Many of truths we cling to depend on our point of view.”
This isn’t about truth. This is reality. Facts. Information that is sometimes difficult to witness, because it can’t be changed.
I’m about to talk about Trump, COVID19, and #BlackLivesMatter. I’m an old white dude living in California. I am privileged, but the only power I have is my voice. I’m going to use it to try and say something meaningful and right.
George Floyd, a black man, was murdered on camera by a group of white police officers in Minneapolis. They had him handcuffed, on the ground, pleading for his life. They kept a knee on his neck for 9 minutes as he cried “I can’t breathe.”
What was your reaction when you first heard about the murder of George Floyd?
Now be honest. Would your reaction have been different if George Floyd had been a white man?
Look at the reactions around you. Look at the protests and the rioting. Look at the people clogging the streets. Most protests are peaceful, but many are flipping or setting police cars on fire. Look at the police holding the line, most doing their job appropriately. Some are even acting heroically.
But there are too many abusing their power. In Salt Lake City, police in riot gear knocked down an old man with a cane.
In Chicago, John Cusack tried to use his phone to film a police car on fire. The police chased him away and attacked him with their baton.
Way, way too many examples of police attacking reporters and journalists, in violation of the First Ammendment.
How we react is important. What we do with the power we have is important.
It is true that all lives matter. Only racists and scumbags would disagree with that notion. All lives matter, regardless of the color of their skin or their profession.
That is not what #BlackLivesMatter is about. It is not about black lives being more important than other lives, or putting one race above any other. It is about seeking justice in a system that is not serving all of its people equally.
According to Mapping Police Violence, there were about 1100 people killed by police in 2019. A quarter of those people were black, even though black people make up less than 15% of the population.
If you don’t like that site, how about PBS? This article talks about how statistically, black people are still more likely to die when dealing with the police than white people.
Black Lives Matter, but black lives are more at risk.
Black Lives Matter, but black men and women are not getting equal treatment in our system.
You can say “All Lives Matter” all you want, but you can not factually say that all lives matter and are given equal treatment in our United States. If that is your response to #BlackLivesMatter, you are demonstrating your ignorance, your lack of empathy, or your racism.
I could stop there. Maybe I should stop there. However, there are riots and protests all across my country, and I cannot stop thinking about them.
What is my reaction? Should the riots be celebrated or condoned?
It’s not that simple.
I do not condone the violence or destruction of property. There are innocent people getting hurt. Bystanders. People that had nothing to do with the system that killed George Floyd are losing their livelihood. I am sympathetic.
However, all other choices have been exhausted. The peaceful protests were either met with scorn or ignored. So what’s left?
Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality against black men in America. It was a peaceful protest where an athlete used his power and his voice to expose a serious injustice in this country.
Trump responded by calling him a sonofabitch. Pence staged a walkout of a game when the players knelt during the national anthem. Kaepernick ultimately lost his position and hasn’t been allowed to play in the NFL.
What did the peaceful protest accomplish? It’s been three years since Kaepernick first took a knee, and black men are still dying at a disproportionate rate.
What’s left when the peaceful protests fail? Exactly what we have today.
George Floyd was not the only black person killed at the hands of the police. There have been many, many others. Too many others. It is a systemic problem that cannot be fixed until it is acknowledged. Not enough people are recognizing it as a problem, so we will have violence and chaos until the ignorance is cured.
Only then can we build a new system which is just and equal to all.
While these protests are going on, we are still dealing with a pandemic. Across the United States there are 1.8 million total cases of COVID19, with 400,000 people recovered and 105,000 people dead.
We still don’t have widespread testing and contact tracing, so those numbers could be even higher.
People are taking to the street during the pandemic. Many are wearing masks, but how much will that matter when they’re all in close contact with each other? How much will the virus spread while people are calling for justice?
In some cities, police are using tear gas to control crowds. Sometimes they use the gas preemptively. Imagine that. Tear gas used during a pandemic that attacks people’s ability to breathe.
What the United States needs in order to get through these crises is leadership. Unfortunately, we have Trump.
Trump, exacerbating the race tensions with his racist dog whistles and his complete lack of empathy.
Trump, with his lies and incompetence, dangerously suggesting that maybe people can inject bleach in order to fight the virus.
Trump, ignoring the briefings about the virus and choosing instead to play golf and downplay the danger by saying “it’ll clear up like a miracle in May.”
I don’t want to end this with the taste of that man’s name in my mouth. It leaves me bitter and angry.
Instead, I will implore you to consider empathy.
When I talk about empathy, I’m not referring to the magical ability of Counselor Deana Troi from Star Trek. I’m talking about something much simpler than that.
Empathy is about trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s about taking some scenario and imaging how it might make someone else feel.
Remember George Floyd. Imagine what it must have felt like to be pressed to the ground, the hard, gritty concrete scraping your skin, while another man is over you, their knee crushing the back of your neck.
Imagine instead that it isn’t you being murdered by the police on camera, but your brother or sister. Someone that looks like you. Someone that lived a life like yours, laughed at the same jokes you laughed at, loved their friends and family the way you love yours.
That’s empathy. That’s what the world needs more of if we’re to make our current shared reality greater than it is.