For several days now I have wanted to write something, but I am often angry and speechless. The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020; the murder of Breonna Taylor on March 13th, 2020; the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020; and Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, two Black trans women were murdered this past week. And today, in Atlanta, Georgia, Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, was shot and killed in a Wendy’s parking lot. I am not interested in receiving or reading negative comments about the now past lives of these people, and whatever wrongs or poor decisions were made during their lifetimes—everyone has a past filled with risk, love, broken hearts, mistakes, good times and bad, and all the things we do to survive. Sadly, people in the world use the pasts of others in order to argue and justify their killings.
On June 4th, National Public Radio broadcast on Facebook Live the Memorial Service for George Floyd in Minneapolis held at North Central University. I viewed the service from beginning to end, watching mourners fill the hall. I stared at the interior light gleaming on Mr. Floyd’s casket. I listened to each message, and the memories, the eulogies, each song; I watched the American Sign Language interpreter communicate through graceful yet emphatic gestures—and all the while comments are scrolling, building, the number of Facebook remarks accumulate as many share their heartache for this family, but also the detestable judgments about a man’s life that most of the world would never have known if he had not been murdered by those who are supposed to ‘protect and serve’. I kept my focus on the man whose life was being memorialized rather than engage with post-ers who lack respect and responsibility for those mourning the death, the murder, of someone’s, many-ones, loved one.
I am not interested, and I cannot be troubled to search, find out, or look into, Mr. Floyd’s past for all the ‘terrible’ things he might have done, or the past lives of the other deceased mentioned in this post, or those who were killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, or the numerous school shootings. Or the recent surge in violence against Asians and Asian-Americans because of the rhetoric spouted around the COVID-19 pandemic. I am not interested in attempting to distract the public away from the issues that plague this country by using someone’s past as an excuse to kill, nor do I choose to give those distractors power by reprinting their language here. Don’t they know the deceased are still the children of others? And some have children of their own? People in their lives? Is there no empathy to be found?
Instead, I choose to listen and read; write this post, send emails to government officials; sign petitions; submit editorials. These are simple things anyone can do to help fight the real pandemic that has existed in this country since it was taken from Native Americans. Read and listen as much as possible. I won’t be watching and listening, or reading about the upcoming Tulsa rally that was originally scheduled for Juneteenth. I won’t give my attention to empower the evils that continue to perpetuate a public health crisis affecting millions of Black Americans. The public health crisis this country was founded on. The public health crisis that began with colonizers and continues today. Do not suggest that we are not responsible— that we have changed; do not suggest that this country was not built by the hands, and on the backs of Black slaves, but by their white owners. The slave-system was used to create the very economy we all benefit from, and unfortunately, the slave-system still exists today.
In his essay, “Notes of a Native Son,” (1955) James Baldwin writes, “He had lived and died in an intolerable bitterness of spirit and it frightened me, as we drove him to the graveyard through those unquiet, ruined streets, to see how powerful and overflowing this bitterness could be and to realize that this bitterness now was mine” (90). Here, Baldwin expresses the anguish and distress that lived and died with his father and is then born within Baldwin himself. What is owned during a lifetime of racial injustice, and the place of this life— the ravaged streets of the neighborhoods kept at a distance. Baldwin’s essay is devastating, eloquent, provocative. And we see the public health crisis revealed in Baldwin’s essay. And we see it revealed in one of America’s most coveted documents featured in classroom history books, the Declaration of Independence where it states “that all men are created equal.” But has this ever been true?
It was not true for Mr. Floyd. Or Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor, Riah Milton, Dominque “Rem’Mie” Fells, Rayshard Brooks; Orlando shooting vicims; the multitude of school shootings; Treyvon Martin; attacks on Asian citizens; Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and and and … , and, and…
Baldwin, James. “Notes of a Native Son.” Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. Print.
Bauer, Shane. “5 Ways Prisoners Were Used for Profit Throughout U.S. History.” PBS News Hour. Feb 26, 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Carlisle, Madeleine. “Two Black Trans Women Were Killed in the U.S. in the Past Week as Trump Revokes Discrimination Protections for Trans People.” Time Online. June 13, 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
“Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.” Founding Documents, National Archives. Last reviewed 29 May 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Ellis, Ralph et al. “Orlando shooting: 49 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance.” CNN.com June 13, 2016. Accessed 13 June 2020.
“History of School Shootings in the United States.” K12Academics.com Accessed 13 June 2020.
“Immigration: Destroying the Native American Cultures.” The Library of Congress. Accessed 13 June 2020.
“Memorial Service for George Floyd, June 4th 2020.” National Public Radio. Facebook Live. 4 June 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Moshtaglan, Artemis et al. “Atlanta protesters block interstate, set fire to cars at fast-food restaurant where police killed black man.” CNN.com June 13, 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Reinstein, Julia. “A Man Who Allegedly Tried to Kill an Asian-American Family Because of the Coronavirus Could Face Hate Crime Charges.” BuzzFeedNews.com April 1 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Romo, Vanessa. “County Officials Rule George Floyd’s Death a Homocide.” National Public Radio Special Series: America Reckons with Racial Injustice. June 1, 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Waterfield, Sophia. “What is Juneteenth? History and Flag to Commemorate the Emancipation of Slaves.” Newsweek Online. June 19, 2019. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Winsor, Morgan et al. “Father and son charged with murder of unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.” ABC News Online. May 8, 2020. Accessed 13 June 2020.