By D. Allan Kerr
My better half was watching a live broadcast the other day of protests in cities all across the country and posed a great question, one I imagine many folks are asking now:
“So if I’m pissed off about what happened and I want to be supportive of these protesters, what can I actually do about it?”
She didn’t just want to send a donation or sign a petition – she wanted to do something effective, something to help implement genuine change.
But the truth is we live in a small town in Maine, generally considered the whitest state in the country.
We don’t see the racial confrontations which are a way of life for so many fellow Americans.
Every so often we hear about another case of an African-American dying under questionable circumstances at the hands of a policeman. After each incident people march, they express outrage on television and social media, and then it seems public attention tapers off until the next horrific incident.
The difference this time around is we actually witnessed the murder of George Floyd.
There is no question of whether police officers were trying to defend themselves in the line of duty, as is often claimed in other cases.
We saw an unarmed, handcuffed man lying face down on the street while a cop continued to kneel on the back of his neck for what seemed an interminable period of time.
We heard Floyd repeatedly tell officers he couldn’t breathe, saying “Please” over and over, trying to appeal to the humanity of these four officers.
We heard bystanders urge the cops to just put him in their vehicle, pointing out that he wasn’t even resisting, and, finally, we heard them beg the cops to check his pulse.
And then George Floyd stopped breathing.
We’ve seen video of the moments before the incident, so we know he wasn’t brandishing a weapon or trying to grab one from the arresting officers. We know this all stemmed from an apparent $20 counterfeit bill.
It seemed all too familiar because we hear similar stories again and again – but this time we saw it before our own eyes.
When I see the Floyd video, I try to figure what is going thru the mind of Derek Chauvin as he continues to press his knee down even as Floyd says, “I can’t breathe” – the same words used by Eric Garner in New York City back in 2014.
Garner’s words became a famous rallying cry for Black Lives Matter and other activists. Garner’s death sparked nationwide demonstrations and controversy and made him a household name.
For the life of me, I can’t understand how George Floyd echoing that exact same phrase never seemed to resonate with Chauvin.
Does the anger you see on America’s streets really surprise you when this sordid history keeps repeating itself, even when lawmakers pledge for change after each tragedy?
Can you imagine feeling so expendable that a person in uniform can end your life and still escape prosecution?
This past March in Louisville, Kentucky, an emergency medical technician named Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her own home, after midnight, by cops executing a no-knock warrant.
Her boyfriend, reportedly believing intruders had kicked down the door of their apartment, opened fire with a registered weapon. Taylor was hit by returning fire – eight times – and died at the scene.
The warrant was to search for illegal drugs, but none were ever found. Three months later, none of these officers have been charged. June 5 would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday.
I was totally unaware of this incident until Floyd’s execution sparked mass outrage throughout the country over this recurring bloody cycle.
I have no doubt individuals are taking advantage of the current unrest to steal and destroy under cover of public demonstrations. (To paraphrase one post I saw, the protestors are protesting, looters are looting and terrorists are terrorizing – don’t lump them together.)
David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired St. Louis police captain, was viciously gunned down while trying to protect a pawn shop from vandals.
But a lot of the destruction we are seeing is fueled by genuine rage.
No one committed to implementing real change condones these actions, but it’s not hard to understand the root of the anger. And the sad reality is this violence has awakened the world.
So, regarding the question of what we can do to lend our support:
This past Thursday night nearly 1,200 people across the river in Market Square in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, took a knee for eight minutes and 46 minutes, the amount of time Floyd’s face was pressed into the street.
Another vigil was scheduled to be held in the square at noon Sunday. Similar events have taken place around the Seacoast region and throughout New England, including Maine.
On Saturday, students and recent graduates of Traip Academy, the local public high school in Kittery, Maine, led a march from the school’s parking lot over the Memorial Bridge into Portsmouth’s Market Square. The effort originated from the school’s Civil Rights team and was coordinated with local group Community Advocates for All.
Emma Ackerman is a week away from graduating high school but already recognizes black Americans have suffered injustice and violence even longer than the United States has been in existence.
“We felt we couldn’t stand idly by in this time of great sadness, but also great change,” said Ackerman, a member of Traip’s Civil Rights team. “For centuries, black people have been told to “wait” and they will see equality and justice. As a country and community, we cannot wait anymore.”
It’s worth noting that a president of the United States vowed this past week to “dominate” American streets.
Let’s be clear – our streets don’t belong to any president. They belong to you and me, black and brown and white and every shade of complexion out there.
And they won’t be taken from us, by anyone.
D. Allan Kerr feels better about the country’s future than he has in a long time.
(June 7, 2020)
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He can also be found on seacoastonline.com