Say his name. GEORGE FLOYD!
Say her name. BREONNA TAYLOR!
As hundreds marched up the main artery of my suburban Maryland town in support of Black Lives Matter on Saturday, June 6, I had no doubt it was the right action.
The sadistic killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin twelve days earlier (along with the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky) had turned quarantined streets there and in other US cities into tear-gassed, flaming avenues of frustration and rage. Enter our disrupter in chief—the hideous and twisted carnival barker drunk on power and his own Kool-Aid—fueling the flames and overtly calling for people engaged in unrest to be shot. But the rioting and looting subsided and the peaceful protests surged.
I’d been wanting to join the protests in DC, but learning that the cyclist who made national news—for assaulting young people putting up anti-racism fliers on the Capital Crescent Trail—lived in my neighborhood made it all the more imperative to march locally to demand an end to systemic racism. To shout for justice for George Floyd and all the others whose lives have been stolen by brutal police tactics.
But I couldn’t ignore the quiet anxiety every time a chant ensued. We were outside and all masked (I think), but we were marching en masse and certainly not maintaining anything close to six feet of distance from each other. The coronavirus—our other plague—marches on; in May the United States surpassed the grim mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 and in June surpassed two million cases, far more than any other country. And yet, in terms of what we deem essential in a time of pandemic, the protests for racial justice are just that.
As more white Americans are beginning to understand, we simply can’t claim that we’re not racist and (figuratively and literally) wash our hands. White people are enmeshed in a system that in myriad ways—in housing, employment, education, healthcare, and so on—affords them substantially more opportunity than people of color. If you want to keep the privileges of whiteness, if you don’t want changes made to accommodate nonwhites, you’re supporting racism. To care about the dignity of all people and work for equal opportunity requires an active anti-racism. But even if this is becoming clearer to some, resistance endures and these issues are still complex. For example, will homeowners in my neighborhood agree to better integration of schools if it means their property values go down, or if it means their kids have to transfer to a school with a lower rating? A local outdoor conversation circle has started up to discuss these issues and more. It’s small for now, so maintaining social distance is easy. I’m still acutely worried about the coronavirus, but I hope that with the hard conversations comes the added challenge to maintain our distance as more and more join in.
As Black Lives Matter Houston founder and lead organizer Ashton Woods says in our interview herein, the critical question is “where you’re going to be six months from now. Are you going to be at home comfortable, or will you be out there making sure that rights are actually being enforced and that people are actually being treated fairly and asking if institutional racism is actually being addressed in an honest way?” Six months from now, will we have better laws, better leadership? As Clay Farris Naff argues in this issue, government can be oppressive and even downright brutal, but we can work for a civil society, “enlightened by humanism and bolstered by fair and impartial institutions.” Will we do that work?
In six months, will we have a better way to talk about what it means to “defund the police”? Washington Post reporter Eugene Scott recently described that movement as the idea that “the police are systemically encouraged to react violently to nonviolent people, and that the resources spent funding those behaviors would be better spent elsewhere.” There’s more to it, of course, but I like how that description suggests that along with protecting people who’ve long been oppressed by policing, those working in law enforcement could benefit from such a transformation (or, if not, relieved of their duty). Defund, reallocate, reshape, humanize—there is still much to discuss and to do. Where will we be in six months? Despite what you may have noticed is a shorter issue of the magazine—a cost-savings measure in these uncertain times—the Humanist will be here. For you, with you, on your case, and all the rest.