A week ago, a family began mourning George Floyd. Described by friends and family as a “gentle giant,” he was killed in broad daylight by a police officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
George was a father. He was a brother to Philonise, Terrence and Bridgett. He was a friend to Stephen, Donnell and countless others in his Houston and Minneapolis communities. And now, because a police officer brutally killed him as multiple camera phones recorded and three police colleagues stood by, George Floyd’s name is known to the world. George’s life mattered, and it mattered long before his name was added to a long list of Black men and women whose lives were stolen at the hands of police and civilians who failed to see the humanity in their fellow American citizens.
In the streets of Chicago, Minneapolis and across this country and world, people are marching in George’s name, but for so much more.
Not surprisingly, with so much anger and sense of hopelessness, unrest has overshadowed peaceful protests. Our hearts ache as we see the violence and destruction occurring, including here in our own city. Our hearts ache even more for the lives that have been destroyed for decades after decades because of the injustice of racism and systemic inequities. We cannot be a nation that cares more about the destruction of property than the destruction of people. We will fix the broken buildings, but will we fix our broken spirits?
George Floyd’s death was the match that lit the flame, but the conditions for the fire have been there for a long time.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of the deadliest pandemic our country has seen in a century. George was out of work due to COVID-19. Like so many members of the Black and Latinx communities, he had a job that couldn’t be done from home. Unsurprisingly, the brunt of COVID-19 is being felt most by communities of color that have long been underinvested in and populations that live day to day with the impact of systemic racism. People are sick and tired of what it too often means to be Black in America.
It is painful to watch these events unfold and realize that racial and ethnic inequity is at the heart of what we are seeing today. But we choose to be hopeful.
Over the last several days, we have seen those directly affected marching next to allies, all of whom understand that ending systemic racism must matter to all of us. We have also heard from many of you who have asked what you can do to help.
Here are just a few ideas that can move us forward at this moment.
First, listen to what the protestors are calling for – for Black Americans to be able to live without fear that neighbors and the very people who are meant to protect them will hurt them. Second, get educated on systemic and institutional racism – how Black life has been devalued throughout history, which created the conditions for rampant discrimination – and how that continues today. Finally, get proximal and start at home. Share and discuss what you have learned with your network, including friends, family and people in your community. This could include sharing resources and other educational material you come across.
These are small but necessary steps for us to turn this moment into one that propels us forward and brings us closer together.
Now is the time for us to lean into what we are experiencing as a city and a nation and figure out how together we can stamp out the inequity that has long stained our country. If we are going to truly build back better from the impacts of COVID-19, George Floyd’s murder and the conditions that made both of them possible – we need to lift up practices and policies that ensure safety, fairness and justice for all of our people. That includes changing the culture of policing, including zero tolerance for police brutality, assuring that equitable access to health services and education are treated as rights not privileges and investing in policies and practices that will close the racial and ethnic wealth gap.
We must be bold. We must do it now. Otherwise, the conditions for fire will always be present.