In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, I really struggled as to what I should do. I felt angry, sad, powerless, and above all, frustrated.
I was living in Oakland in 2009 when Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by a BART police officer while he was on the ground with his arms behind his back. I watched protesters in Oakland peacefully march for accountability and against racism. I lived through the riots that began after darkness fell. And I remember how not much change came of it. The closest feeling I can name to describe how I felt when I watched this play out again in 2020 was frustration. Frustration with myself, with my government, with my society.
So for my friends and acquaintances who are using this time to share their pain, share their solidarity, share their indignation, share advice, and try to reach outside of their bubbles to respectfully educate, advocate and engage with people who have a different perspective on the aftermath of George Floyd's killing - I see you and I hear you. To those who feel uncomfortable about all of this or can't understand why this is such a big deal, I understand you and I hope that you can try to understand the outraged people around you.
To me, the reason Black Lives Matter is such a powerful slogan is because it is so simple and non-controversial that it is almost a truism. What else can you respond to the phrase, "black lives matter" except to say, "of course! Obviously!" Some go one step further and say, "of course! Obviously! All lives matter!"
But the thing is, in our society, not all lives matter.
If America started to see weekly police-related killings of baseball fans or suburban moms or nursing home residents, you would see universal indignation and immediate change. Those people are "us" - we know them, they are our neighbors, our family, their tragedy could easily have been ours. But the killings of black people, predominantly young black men, doesn't raise that same kind of indignation because they are the "other". Black people are something not quite fully American, which is why I'm willing to bet that most Americans read about the death of a young black man the way they read about a typhoon in Indonesia. It's a terrible thing, but it's not my problem, or my people, or my country. Black people, since before America's founding, have been the "other" and because of that, their advancement, their opportunities, their rights, and their lives have not mattered to Americans.
To me, Black Lives Matter is more than a statement of what should be objectively true. It's a call for change in how we view black people. To me, it is Black Lives *Should* Matter.
If you know me and my personality, you know that I am action- and solution-oriented. So, in addition to trying to engage with family and friends who are willing to listen to me on a personal level, our family has decided to set up a monthly donation to Campaign Zero. Funds donated to Campaign Zero support the analysis of policing practices across the country, research to identify effective solutions to end police violence, technical assistance to organizers leading police accountability campaigns and the development of model legislation and advocacy to end police violence nationwide.
Confronting racism and police violence is complicated, difficult, and uncomfortable. I don't claim to have an easy solution, and I know there are a thousand better-written, better-thought-out pieces on this topic floating around on the internet. I'm writing this reflection mostly for myself, and for my daughter, who hopefully will someday be able to answer "Black Lives Matter" with "well, obviously."