Editor’s Note: George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston yesterday, next to the mother he cried out for. Did you listen to any of the service? I did. The remarks of Rev. William Lawson left me in tears. The 92-year-old Lawson helped organize the civil rights movement in Houston, and founded the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. He urged those present and those listening from afar to vote Trump out of office: “Keep mobilized,” Rev. Lawson said. “Don’t let this be a one-day parade; keep mobilized and get ready to vote, vote, vote.”
How can a person not be moved by the admonition to vote from a Civil Rights leader like Rev. Lawson? Yet, as today’s news out of Georgia proves, the work of civil rights is a long ways from over. That’s the message that today’s guest writer, Tina Ray brings us as well. Tina and I worked together at the Fayetteville Observer in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I appreciate her fearlessness in her writing and in her life. I think you will, too.
By Tina Ray
Black folks are tired. We are tired of wearing masks of gratitude for strides we’ve rightfully made either through education or hard work or both, but still being viewed through the lens of racism. We’re tired of watching police declare war on our bodies, as with George Floyd who died after being pinned to the ground for more than 8 minutes by Minneapolis police, May 25. We are tired of our skin color being grounds for police to conduct an unwarranted traffic stop. Driving while Black is not a misnomer. In 2019, NBC News reported that police across different states and municipalities searched black and Latino drivers based on less evidence used in stopping white drivers. The report was based on a study conducted by the Stanford Open Policing Project, which mined the data of nearly 100 million traffic stops from 2011 to 2017. Black drivers were racially profiled more during the day. Thirty-six percent of white drivers who were searched were found with contraband, compared to 32 percent for black drivers and 26 for Latino drivers. Black people are tired of having to give our children “The Talk, a never-ending conversation about how not to be arrested, assaulted or killed by law enforcement officers.
- Be overly-polite to cops
- Don’t reach for a wallet, insurance or registration without first being clear with the officer that those are precisely the items they’re reaching for and not for a gun. I don’t want my sons to be the next Amadou Diallo, who died reaching for his wallet after an encounter with plain-clothes police in New York in 1999, or Levar Jones, who was shot while reaching for his license by a South Carolina state trooper in 2014. For too long, the justice system in this country has had a horrific track record with persons of color. Look no further than the Exonerated Five — a group of New York men exonerated for the rape and assault of a white woman in Central Park after having been imprisoned from six to 13 years. Or Frank Lee Smith, a Florida death-row inmate who died of cancer in January 2000 before he was exonerated of the rape and murder of a young child.
What do these cases and other miscarriages of justice have in common? Bad policing and a justice system that is not blind. In fact, the system has 20/20 vision when it comes to falsely imprisoning our men, sons, brothers and loved ones just to clear a case.
Black lives are disposable to crooked cops.
The fact is this — America was built on white supremacy. It was built on the belief that white lives mattered more than the Native American lives they destroyed. White supremacy made it easy for Caucasian people to enslave black people and to set up a Jim Crow society that was much like Apartheid in South Africa. It allowed supremacists to call grown men and women boy and gal.
Today, that same supremacy exists in the belief that buildings matter more than black lives. It’s not unlike the mentality of slaveholders who valued buildings and cattle above the lives of the people they enslaved. When activists say Black Lives Matter, opponents say All Lives Matter. Were white people sold as chattel and discarded like trash in a justice system that made prison a business rather than a rehabilitation component?
We’re tired of police brutality and we’re fed up with racism.
That’s why streets across this nation are packed with protesters and rioters. I’ve read assumptions about both, especially the looters, but remember Christopher Columbus looted America from Native Americans. America looted people from Africa and enslaved them from 1619 to 1865 in order to build this country. Black lives are looted by police brutality. Black promise is looted by racism. Black prosperity was looted by compound, generational wealth given to whites through land and financial grants, as well as by disparate pay inequities today.
Looting is the language of America.
Don’t get mad when others become fluent in Her language. I don’t condone looting, but I understand the rage from whence it comes. Now is not the time for white Americans to worry about looting. White Americans are only getting a small glimpse of what minorities have lived through as second-class citizens in a country that priced slaves lower than animals. Remember the killing of four, little black girls in Alabama on Sept. 15, 1963. Remember the burning of churches and homes across the South. In the 60s, the KKK burned crosses in yards.
Black people who even tried to vote were fired from jobs. White American violence gave us riots and killings in Tulsa, Okla., Wilmington, N.C. and Rosewood, Fla. to name a few. So often, Caucasians like to remind us of Dr. King’s nonviolence, but never of his murder. It was Dr. King who said, “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.” But, Dr. King also offered a solution: “Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
This country does not listen or respond to nonviolence.
No matter how we protest — raised fists by Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, taking a seat by Rosa Parks, boycotting Vietnam like Muhammad Ali or taking a knee like former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Our protests are never implemented in “the right way.” Yet, white people ask us to believe that killing our men is done in “the right way.”
No, it’s not. It is excessive force. It’s murder. It’s a violation of human and civil rights.
To the Caucasian people who have marched, protested, written, sent a text or phoned, African Americans appreciate your voices and your work. My friend and former colleague, Paula recently asked me how she could help. I told her to recognize her white privilege and systemic racism against persons of color. I urged her to contact police departments, district attorneys and attorneys general when she sees police brutality and vote in every election for politicians who advance civil rights, equality and equal protection under the law. As a mother to a young son, I also asked Paula to put herself in the place of all black mothers when she saw a black man, George Floyd, call for his dead mother as he realized his life was dangerously slipping away. Additionally, I thanked Paula for asking and told her to continue to be the caring, empathetic person she already is. And I offered to help her if she ever needed my help.
We need justice.
Author Bio: Tina Ray is a wife and mother. A former journalist, and a fierce advocate for racial and gender equality. Tina loves history, literature, the beach and Nina Simone.