You know, I just had an opportunity to speak with the Floyd family, a group of them, most of them. They’re a close, decent, honorable family, loving one another. And once again we heard the words, and they heard them, “I can’t breathe” — an act of brutality so elemental, it did more than deny one more black man in America his civil rights and his human rights. It denied him of his very humanity. It denied him of his life, depriving George Floyd as it deprived Eric Garner of one of the things every human being must be able to do: breathe. So simple, so basic, so brutal.
You know, the same thing happened with [Ahmaud] Arbery, the same thing happened with Breonna Taylor, the same thing with George Floyd. We’ve spoken their names aloud. We’ve cried them out in pain and in horror. We’ve chiseled them into long-suffering hearts. They’re the latest additions to the endless list of stolen potential wiped out unnecessarily. You know, it’s a list that dates back more than 400 years. Black men, black women, black children.
The original sin of this country still stains our nation today, and sometimes we manage to overlook it. We just push forward with the thousand other tasks in our daily life, but it’s always there, and weeks like this, we see it plainly that we’re a country with an open wound. None of us can turn away. None of us can be silent. None of us can any longer, can we hear the words “I can’t breathe” and do nothing. We can’t fail victims, like what Martin Luther King called “the appalling silence of good people.”
Every day, African-Americans go about their lives with constant anxiety and trauma, wondering who will be next. Imagine if every time your husband or son, wife or daughter left the house, you feared for their safety from bad actors and bad police. Imagine if you had to have that talk with your child about not asserting your rights, taking the abuse handed out to them so, just so they can make it home. Imagine having police called on you just for sitting in Starbucks or renting an Airbnb or watching birds. This is the norm black people in this country deal with. They don’t have to imagine it. The anger and frustration and the exhaustion is undeniable.
But that’s not the promise of America. It’s long past time that we made the promise of this nation real for all people. You know, this is no time for incendiary tweets. It’s no time to encourage violence. This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now. Leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism. It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation.
We need justice for George Floyd. We need real police reform to hold cops to a higher standard that so many of them actually meet, that holds bad cops accountable and repairs relationships between law enforcement and the community they’re sworn to protect. We need to stand up as a nation with the black community, with all minority communities, and come together as one America.
That’s the challenge we face. You know, it’s going to require those of us who sit in some position of influence to finally deal with the abuse of power. The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone. I believe it’s the duty of every American to grapple with it, and to grapple with it now. With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence.
Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable, but if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more without treating the underlying injury, we’ll never truly heal. The very soul of America is at stake. We must commit as a nation to pursue justice with every ounce of our being. We have to pursue it with real urgency. We’ve got to make real the promise of America, which we’ve never fully grasped: that all men and women are equal, not only in creation but throughout their lives.
Again, George’s family, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I promise you, I promise you, we’ll do everything in our power to see to it that justice is had in your brother, your cousin’s case. I love you all, and folks, we’ve got to stand up. We’ve got to move. We’ve got to change.
I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face-down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.
The first is an email from a middle-aged African-American businessman.
“Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.”
Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling.
The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others.
It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.
This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.
It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.