Most Black men have had a George Floyd moment. When he was killed, a piece of every Black man died with him.
We all witnessed a murder a week ago. Plain and simple. There was no resisting, there was no weapon. Just a scared unarmed Black man, calling out for a lifeline as a police officer snatched George Floyd’s last moments on earth. Like many of you, I felt sick, sick for his family, sick for his kids and sick because I know there’s not much difference between what happened to him and what could happen to me.
I always felt insulated from situations like this. Madison is pretty liberal, right? And truth be told, I’ve had mostly positive interactions with police locally and I have many close friends who are sworn officers. But that fear of police, fear of the outcome of what a rogue cop is looking to do to me is always there. In any interaction with police, my one goal is always clear: survival.
I always thought having a better job would take my fear of police away, making a little more money, maybe having more influence in the community would quell that gut-wrenching feeling of seeing an officer pull up behind me. Sadly, it didn’t. There is not a single part of my pretty awesome life that makes my heart beat slower when I drive by a cop. And none of it will change conversations with my son about race and how things will just be “different” for him. Unfortunately to some police officers, we might just be their George Floyd.
I remember a story of mom when I was in college and staying at my parents’ house for the summer. I was heading out to meet some friends at the union and was wearing a black doo-rag under a yellow visor. Not my normal style, but I thought it was a cool look (newsflash, it wasn’t). My mom saw me before I left the house and pleaded with me to change my headgear. I never understood untill I was a little older that she wasn’t worried about my suspect 2001 fashion choices, she simply didn’t want me to get profiled. She was trying to save my life.
I’ve been followed in retail stores, called the N-word, and had people ask what lawn company I work for while mowing the lawn at my own house. And yet, you would think I would give up. Say forget it, things will just never change. But I still believe in the goodness of people. That people can change. That laws can shift. I believe that our deep-rooted pain can be the catalyst for social and political movements. For many Black people, we don’t get time to heal. These wounds stay fresh and right now, Black people are tired of hurting.
To my brothers and sisters, take time to heal with this loss. But be prepared to rise up and organize immediately to put people in power that support progressive policing and criminal justice policies. We have no choice.
I will probably never be at the head of a protest, shouting inspirational chants as the crowds respond to every word. I will probably never be leading a march down State Street towards our capitol. These activities should be saved for the true activists in our city. But what I will commit to you is that you will have every ounce of my energy, my knowledge, and my insight as we lead a march towards progressive, systemic change for people of color.
I want a change that will see Black and Brown people thrive socially, intellectually, economically and politically. The change I want to see cannot be achieved in a silo. It will take the intersection of activism, community engagement, and political partnership to carve out a path forward, a path paved with Black excellence, not Black bodies.
To my friends, thank you for your calls, your texts, and your emails just to say “how you doing, how you feeling?” It means more than you know. Over the past few nights, I’ve shed tears for George, shed tears for all black people who were victims of police violence. And yet I am still keeping an open mind for what the future holds for my city and the future of policing in America. These moments are always tough, and sometimes Black people just want to feel heard.