I understand why what’s happened in Minneapolis and other cities has happened, while not even beginning to understand how those protesting feel.
Let me attempt to explain.
I don’t even begin to have the slightest understanding of what being a minority in America is like. I don’t understand what it feels like to fear for my life when I get pulled over. I don’t understand fearing for my life while on a run, or selling loose cigs or walking home with Skittles and iced tea ... or sleeping in my bed. I don’t understand watching the news every day and seeing someone who looks like me not only killed by authorities, but the murder is swept under the rug.
I want to say something very clearly right now. Most cops are good people, a huge majority, but not all. Most want to serve their communities.
The issue, though, is that somewhere police decided protecting “their own” is more important than protecting the citizens from bad cops.
Also, while I’m clarifying things, I’m not condoning rioting, but how many deaths does it take until we look at our society and our culture? How long before we treat these murdering cops as what they are … murderers? What else can be done, hope things get better and hope they aren’t next? And what was the Boston Tea Party, if not looting? There are times in which violence is the only answer to prompting changes.
If we were interested in stopping this situation, we’ve had our chance.
Peaceful protests have been attempted and either rebuked or ignored. Not long ago, white America collectively lost our “minds” when a handful of black athletes dared to kneel during the anthem protesting police brutality on minorities. In a sick twist of irony, the film from Minneapolis features police brutality where the cop kneels on the neck of George Floyd until his life ends.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
That was said in 1967. It is now 2020, 53 years later and we still haven’t addressed the inequalities. We, as a nation, have never addressed the history of systematic racism in America because it makes us white folks uncomfortable.
I can understand how a group of Americans feel like their lives don’t matter. I understand when that group says, “Our lives matter” and white people respond with “all lives matter,” it is a slap in their faces. They never said any other lives don’t matter, simply theirs do. And us white folks can’t even let them have that without making sure we are included.
I don’t understand the fear of being killed for driving while a minority or walking while not white or simply existing while black/brown. But, I understand, feeling that, more tragically, your death won’t matter.
Oftentimes, the majority will do anything that shifts focus from the racial issues and make us white folks feel a little better about why this person was murdered at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect — any reason to why this person is to blame, so we don’t have to look at the dark history of racism in America and in the ranks of police departments across the country.
A person’s past makes no difference once they are in custody. It should go without saying; you don’t kneel on someone’s throat once they are detained. In the Marines we were taught enemy combatants should be treated humanly once in custody. But somehow in America we can’t treat our citizens as humanly as enemy combatants.
Now, I know some people are going to say, “Well, the officers are facing charges.” They are facing charges because of a bystander’s video. They aren’t charged because one of their fellow officers took a stand and reported it. They aren’t chraged because of oversight. They aren’t charged because they killed someone; they are charged because someone filmed it.
Will Smith summed it up. “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed,” he said.
Rodney King wasn’t the first case in Los Angeles, but his was on film. And even with film, the officers were originally found not guilty. And when tried again, only two faced 30 months for the beating.
In Minneapolis, it took videos of a police officer, sworn to protect the citizens, kneeling on a suspect’s neck to hold the officers accountable. It took videos of a black man, on the ground, not resisting, saying “I can’t breathe” with an officer on his neck as he died for charges to be brought.
That’s what it takes for America to react: film. King wasn’t the first and sadly Floyd won’t be the last. And hopefully, Dr. King Jr.'s words won't remain as relevant in another 53 years.
MATT JONES is a paginator and photojournalist for The Daily Independent. Reach him at (606) 326-2644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.