We are done dying.
Over the past six years, cell phone video footage has provided overwhelming evidence of the lived experiences of Black Americans. Yet, the footage also documents what so many of us have already known: cries of injustice continue to be ignored. Our tainted model of a jury system extends to our media, which details accounts that too often sit on the side of the white supremacy that is embedded in our society. The victims become the ones on trial of public opinion, white people’s perception of innocence and guilt.
In 1991, video surfaced of Los Angeles police violently beating Rodney King. I was 12 years old, and the racism of our criminal justice system imprinted on me. I joined youth organizations focused on combating racism and promoting equity and diversity. At age 18, in 1997, I marched against police brutality at a youth rally led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at a conference in Pittsburgh. The city was still rife with tension from the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage, a Black motorist who suffocated after he was pinned to the pavement by white officers. The officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter. None were convicted.
Fast-forward almost 20 years, and my six-year-old son is watching Eric Garner fight for his last breath in 2014, which will be his first memory of injustice. That sickening pain as a Black parent, witnessing innocence flee their child’s body, is a shared fear around the nation. Now I attempt to shield my six-year-old daughter from footage of George Floyd’s precious life being snatched away by an officer kneeling on his neck.
Despite the progress made during the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not developed to address the failures of state violence. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was later enhanced by the updated “Section 1983,” which prohibits violation of a person’s rights by excessive force. Yet police brutality persists — unchecked.
Since slave ships arrived in 1619, our society has abandoned the idea of equal justice for Black Americans. Our country has 400 years of history to resolve — from enslavement, lynching, Jim Crow, civil rights, mass incarceration, redlining, health disparities and the physical, psychological and volatile nature of racism. And white Americans have mostly severed themselves from the responsibility of their bloody history, which has allowed white supremacy not only to continue, but to rise and present itself boldly around the country over the last four years.
The emerging awakening of non-Black people to amplify what’s been a terrifying few weeks for Black Americans may be the change needed for protection and reform to our justice system. But whether white America will actively join Black America’s fight over the long haul is yet to be determined. There is a surprising turn of white people being pulled by a spark not seen since the death of Emmett Till, after the sacrifice his mother made to display his body in an open casket in 1955. For those with a new flicker inside them, Black Americans beg you to make a lifelong commitment if you want this sickness embedded in our society to end with the next generation.
Without everyone’s engagement in addressing America’s race problem, the trauma of continued inequality for African Americans, time after time, goes brought without justice. Without action. Without swiftly righting a wrong.
A nation where there are stars for some and stripes for others.
Our country’s bloodstained history of violence against people of color will continue to taint our nation’s morality until it is addressed. Countless lives will be lost as their memories become faint hashtags, hard to recall. Another name. Another community impacted. Another life snatched away. One stretch of protests will not resolve 400 years of carnage.
The generational trauma of violence is unacceptable.
We are done dying.
We are done dying, the latest campaign by the NAACP, accurately represents the state of affairs for the Black community.
We are done crying. Done mourning. Done listing the names of those lost by the hand of racism.
Done smiling and code-switching to disarm fear. Done being held responsible for actions harming the Black community. Done with unfair sentencing. Done with being followed. Done with white vigilante behavior. Done with the lack of acknowledgement and restitution from enslavement to unequal pay. Done with unfair schooling systems. Done with home loans at higher rates and redlined neighborhoods.
Done listening to sidetracking conversations to crime in neighborhoods that are exactly as the system intended.
Done with the rules that don’t apply to white America:
Don’t help the ill.
Don’t sell cigarettes.
Don’t talk back.
Don’t walk in your own neighborhood.
Don’t record police.
Don’t lie down.
Don’t go to a pool party.
Don’t play your music.
Don’t run for your life.
We are done. We can no longer let America sit by, idly ignoring injustice.
And neither can you.
It is time for all of white America to be a part of the solution. For everyone to rise up together and hold our leaders accountable. To not take issues lightly. To boycott organizations that ignore when their employees commit violence against others. To publicly shame any act of harm against the Black community. To make demands of justice heard through news, social media, business ratings and even your dollars. To attend your local representative meetings and demand a plan to establish antiracist training, laws, regulations and retributions. To supplant leaders who do not support Black constituents — from city councils to PTAs, to state legislatures to the presidency.
Only when we are united will change finally rain down from the mountaintop, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sought in his speech on April 3, 1968, when he attempted to unite race and class — the day before he was assassinated.
Take a stance with the Black community. Join your voice with ours. Together, we will not be silenced.
Kim Johnson is a higher education administrator, equity practitioner and young adult author of ‘This Is My America’, coming July 28, 2020.