On May 25, 2020, the entire country was caught up in the throes of a pandemic unlike anything we had ever seen or experienced before. We watched as the COVID-19 death toll increased from the number of people that were ailing daily, while trying to find basic items in the food market decreased, as everything was being rationed from wipes to meats.
So, on that fateful day in Minneapolis, when we learned that yet another Black man had died by the hands of a police officer, no one was ready for what would later be seen on a bystander’s video – a former police officer, now convicted murderer Derek Chauvin, kneeling on the neck of the captured Black man, George Floyd, who then said that he could not breathe for over eight minutes, slowly dying, calling for his mother.
We were horrified. Not just Black America as we have been saying for years and years about police brutality in our communities, but white America too. The video was watched many times, the more we watched it, the angrier people got.
In the middle of a virulent and dangerous pandemic, people threw caution to the wind and began marching in the streets and protesting throughout the United States. The anger was searing, the tears were flowing, and the energy was raw, as people marched and bellowed “Black Lives Matter!”
Fires were set, police cars were burned, the National Guard had to be called in to several states, and it was just general mayhem everywhere.
In August 2020, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, a civil rights and police reform bill which is still sitting in the Senate chambers as politicians fight over whether that bill should be voted on or not.
One key tenet of that bill is to end qualified immunity for police officers who are killing citizens so they can be tried in court. Another is a national registry for police misconduct and uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies across the country.
There were so many cries for the defunding of police departments around the country that police officers became unsure, afraid, and even angry. In Philadelphia alone, they are now calling for people to apply to the police department as many officers have turned in their resignations or opted to retire because of the citizen’s mistrust of them.
It is now a year later, and Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder. We still await his sentencing, but on some small level that verdict allowed Black people to breathe again, if only for a short while.
What happens now remains to be seen, moving forward. Racial equity committees have been formed in organizations; diversity and inclusion officers have been hired, and yet there is an underbelly of hesitation on the part of those who have held the immense power for generations in this country.
Where do we go from here? Will we see measurable changes on all levels of government and in our communities? Will we be able to root out the undercurrent of hatred that continues to run among us in the daily fabric of our lives?
Black people have had to suffer with mental health crises for generations simply by being. We never can seem to achieve enough, be smart enough, or do enough to get ahead and create generational wealth for our families.
Each time a Black life is taken without remorse, the city pays the families millions of dollars as a recompense. The cost for the damage to our souls is immeasurable; no amount of money can fix that.
What this country can do is to start changing the very systems that have kept its knees on our collective necks for way longer than before George Floyd was choked to death, because this just feels like another version of a modern-day lynching.
God help us all.
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