George Floyd's Death is More Than Just a Race Issue.
Is 2020 Over Now? Asking For a Friend
Within the past few days, the death of George Floyd has taken over our nation by storm. Protests have erupted across the nation, and many have taken to social media to express their outrage.
Once again, another black man has been killed by a police officer.
It is deeply saddening and frustrating to know that this is the country that I live in. It is also difficult for me as non-black queer man, because as much as I can empathize with the black community, I can never truly understand what it means to be black in America. All I can speak of is my own experience and how I have come to understand this crazy world we live in.
With everyone on social media posting about needing to speak up and stand with the black community, I felt a pressure being put on me to say something. I hadn't even thought about it yet. I was just focused on making sure I can pay my rent. Quarantine had already put me through an emotional ringer, and forming another opinion about the already crazy world in front of me seemed exhausting let alone impossible...
How is it only the end of May... I thought.
I didn't know how I felt, what I wanted to say, or how I wanted to say it. I found myself with an internal dilemma. How is it that I can be an ally? How can I show my solidarity? How can I find my personal stake in this fight, so I can stand right beside you arm-in-arm? How can I be passionate when there’s already a part of me that knows that this doesn’t affect me?
To be explicitly clear, George Floyd’s death was a tragedy and represents a gross misconduct by the police. All officers involved should be sent to prison. I understand the anger of the black community. I understand the racism involved in this incident. But that’s just the problem. I understand it, but I will never experience it. It isn’t something that will ever personally affect me, and that is the truth.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking:
What more do you need to stand with the black community?
Is injustice not enough for you?
I mean those are the questions I asked myself, so I don’t blame you.
And the answer I came to was that it will take a lot more for me to take to the streets and protest.
What that more is, I don’t know. And I think that’s the sad part.
So, I had to actually sit down and think about it.
So, here is a day in my thoughts, and how I came to understand that George Floyd’s death is more than just a race issue:
Yesterday, I spent my day thinking about George Floyd, the protests, and the riots.
What were my thoughts on it?
How did I feel about everything going on?
I knew that I wasn’t angry. I was frustrated. Sad. Tired. I went to work my Friday morning shift at the restaurant. I served many black families and couples. Some were talking about George Floyd, others were not. I noticed that I had the urge to want to ask, to talk to them, to understand. However, I also knew it wasn’t their responsibility to explain anything to me, after all they’re just coming here for lunch. On the TV, CNN was showing the protests and aftermath of the riots taking place in Minneapolis.
What would it take for me to protest in the streets?
What about the riots?
I have been practicing yoga for the past 6 months or so and just completed my teacher training. As part of my yoga practice, I have studied and adopted different ethical practices into my lifestyle, and the protests and the riots represented a conflict for me.
In yoga, our first Yama is that of Ahimsa, or nonviolence. Do no harm. It is the first “rule” that comes before all other guidelines.
To see violent riots, I found myself saying,
“Why can’t it be peaceful protests? Nothing comes from causing harm.”
I also found myself recalling an image in my head. That famous one of the Buddhist monk, on fire, protesting.
Such an incredibly powerful image. To me this encompasses what it means to peacefully protest. To remain nonviolent and to still speak volumes.
I then began to envision myself at a protest, sitting with my sign.
Would I be able to have the same conviction as this Buddhist monk?
Could I remain nonviolent among the chaos around me?
I reigned in my thoughts as my focus shifted to serving tables.
What orders went where, again?
What drinks did that table get, again?
What did I want to do for lunch after work?
I shift ended, and I drove home, still thinking about myself at a protest.
That night, with conversations with my boyfriend, he let me know how foolish my vision appeared to be.
We had spent the night, having dinner at home, watching the finale of Drag Race. My new yoga mat had come in, and I was so incredibly excited and joyful. Eventually, we began playing our respective video games. I received a text message from my sister, with a notice saying to avoid traveling into downtown due to the protests. I showed him the text.
Then we talked. We both wanted to understand how each of us felt on the matter. Me, a half-white, half-Brazilian, and my boyfriend, a white man from Oklahoma.
How did we feel? What were our thoughts? Actually.
I expressed my frustration with the violence taking place, but ultimately, I understood. People were angry. I remember seeing the Ferguson riots. I have seen every headline for years whenever another black man, woman, or child was killed at the hands of a police officer. The black community has been protesting for years to no avail. Nothing has changed. Patience had run short.
I shared the vision I had for myself at the protest, sitting in conviction.
"You can't think that just sitting there is going to make a difference, when black people have been protesting peacefully for years, and nothing has changed. People are pissed and they should be."
My boyfriend also shared that he didn’t know how to feel either. He understood it just as I did, but we were both disconnected. We could never really understand what it was like to be black in America. We went on to hypotheticals,
What if it was the LGBT-community?
How would we feel then?
He mentioned the Stonewall Riots as an analogy. It made sense. He expressed that sometimes violence is necessary to enact meaningful change.
I thought back to revolutions of the past. American and French. Violence had been used to take power back from the oppressor.
I still didn’t agree with the use of violence. I argued that there must be some way for me to be an ally and still uphold my own personal moral convictions.
Could I remain some form of neutral and just allow the universe or God to do its thing?
Within the past few months, my spirituality had taken form and I do truly believe that we are all divinely guided by the universe, or God, or Spirit, whatever you what to call it.
Could my faith reassure me?
My boyfriend reminded me that, that in it of itself is a form of privilege. The fact that I am privileged enough to remove myself from the narrative. He pushed,
“Isn’t that part of the problem?” I agreed.
He went on, “Maybe we just don’t care enough. I mean we’d both rather be playing our video games right now.”
I disagreed. “We wouldn’t be talking about this right now if we didn’t care.”
I searched my brain for more thoughts, feelings, questions, and answers. I decided to look it the situation from a different angle:
Floyd’s death is a consequence of an increasing militarization of the police.
I looked at all these riots and the police officers involved. I looked at all the deaths over the past years at the hands of police officers.
When the response to protests is immediately police in riot gear, there is a problem.
When I have seen police with assault-style weapons in my own city on “patrol”, there is a problem.
When officers no longer ask questions and step on man’s neck, there is a problem.
Until today, I was unaware that the Department of Defense has a program, the 1033 program, that transfers excess military equipment local law enforcement agencies, including school district agencies. As of 2014, at least 117 colleges have received equipment from this program.
Through my own research, I came across a report by the ACLU titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police”. I recommend giving the report a quick read or skim as it is very insightful and contains many interesting findings.
What I personally found insightful were the following:
- The militarization of policing in the United States has occurred with almost no public oversight.
- Police culture is militarized through the training tactical teams receive; training officers to think like soldiers.
- The use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color.
There is a problem here, but it is not only a racial one.
I believe that the issue of racism here is a symptom of a larger problem: police militarization. Within the past decade, it has become extremely evident that our black communities have been facing a crisis. The media only shows the highlights. Think about all the lives lost to police hands that aren't talked about across the nation. It is clear that this is a problem that disproportionately affects black and minority communities. And that is problem that affects everyone regardless of their skin tone.
How long will our Black brothers and sisters continue to suffer before our Latino brothers and sisters suffer?
Before our Asian brothers and sisters suffer?
Before our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters suffer?
Before our LGBT brothers and sisters suffer?
Or is it only until our White brothers and sisters suffer that we will all finally stand up against the oppressor?
Where do we draw the line?
Allowing police departments to continue with this behavior without serious repercussions is a failure on us as members of our communities.
Yes, black people are dying at the hands of police officers, but the fact is that it could have been any of us. We all could have been George Floyd. We all could have been Sandra Bland. We all could have been Philando Castile.
But we weren't. It just keeps happening to black people. That doesn't make it okay. I believe that we are all brothers and sisters at the soul, and it's only through chance that I ended up as me and you ended up as you in this life.
It is only by chance that you weren't George Floyd. It is only by chance that you weren't Sandra Bland. It is only by chance that you weren't Philando Castile.
It could have been any of us....
All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. We must speak out against injustice. More importantly, we must act. I may never protest in the streets, but I can still enact change through my personal interactions. I can have the conversations with people around me. I can be the change that I wish to see.
When I was sitting with my thoughts, I found myself pulling out my old political philosophy textbook as it had a copy of MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", and one specific quote jumped out to me.
"Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."
At the moment, I still disagree with the violence. I will continue to believe that our world can be reshaped with love. Maybe some of you have lost your patience, but I have not and will continue to hold strong with love in my heart for as long as I can.