On May 25, George Floyd was stopped by police in Minneapolis, Minn., on suspicion of passing a fake $20 bill at a local convenience store.
Unfathomably, this led to the video that we have all at least heard about, if not seen. The video shows an officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he pleads for his life saying the now famous phrase over and over again, “I can’t breathe.” All the while, three other officers simply stood around and protected the other officer as George Floyd’s life slipped away.
This became a galvanizing moment in the movement that is Black Lives Matter.
What is Black Lives Matter?
Black Lives Matter is a decentralized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people. Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the BLM movement, explains the necessity of a 21st century iteration of the civil rights movement: “#blacklivesmatter is a movement attempting to [show] what it means to be Black in this country. Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. Rooted in grief and rage but pointed toward vision and dreams.”
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman who was accused of killing Trayvon Martin, yet another instance of the justice system failing communities of color. The passion behind the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is simply that Black lives matter, too.
This movement was not created in hate. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible, and shows a lack of one’s ability to research, reflect, and understand the unequal treatment that people of color face across America each and every day. The Black Lives Matter movement practices intersectionality, looking at the commonality of those who are marginalized in society: women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and others.
George Floyd’s killing served as a catalyst for a nation reeling from countless documented instances of police brutality exacted without repercussions. In response to protests occurring across the country, as well as here in Washington, community members proposed bringing Dr. Kesho Scott, a sociology professor at Grinnell College and award-winning writer, to Washington. Scott will be discussing the true meaning of “Black Lives Matter” and will introduce a peace proclamation in an effort to help the community move beyond racism to a place of being actively anti-racist.
Racism in City Council
A recent Washington City Council meeting has forced this community to reflect on racism as it exists here and now. As comments made Tuesday evening by City Council members Fran Stigers and Steven Gault demonstrate, racism is a reality in this community, and it is the task of the community to fight back against that racism in all forms.
Council member Gault’s reference to the Black Lives Matter movement needing to “clarify which race it supports” thereby qualifying it as a “racist group” is tone deaf. The same can be said of council member Stiger’s decision to label the Black Lives Matter movement a “domestic terrorist group,” when in fact, there have been multiple peaceful Black Lives Matter protests here in Washington.
Black men in America are being killed by police at a far greater rate than white men. Black men, women and children are systematically discriminated against in our country, leading to a sense that Black lives don’t matter here. The Black Lives Matter movement specifies a race because society needs to actively work toward making sure that Black lives matter, too.
Council members Stigers’ and Gault’s references to problems being from “major cities” or “inner cities” highlight the “otherness” implied. The phrase “inner city” has historically referred to areas where Black Americans were required to live due to redlining and housing discrimination.
The use of terms such as “gangbangers” in relation to the BLM movement is an injustice to the true motivation behind the movement. This type of language reciprocates racist undertones and does not challenge the status quo.
When people in positions of power unashamedly display words or acts of racism, that has ripple effects into our society, government and laws. It shows a lack of respect, hostility and oppression toward the Black community and other people of color. That translates into ingrained racism on every level.
Why should we care?
Some members of our community feel that the Black Lives Matter movement does not affect Washington, that racism is predominantly an “urban” issue. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Thus, when George Floyd and countless others were attacked because of their skin color, it was an attack on all humankind.
Some members of our community may be surprised to learn that 12 percent of residents in the city of Washington identify as non-white or Hispanic/Latino (according to the 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau).
That is one out of every eight residents. These are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and family. They deserve respect from their community and from our local leaders. They deserve to have access to the same opportunities as white community members. They deserve to walk down the street without fear and discrimination.
For the Christian members of our community, we are called to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). Jesus lived a life of radical compassion.
In Luke Chapter 4, Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s forever.”
Those of us who are in a position of privilege have a duty to speak up for those who are marginalized, be it due to their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or economic status.
America is a nation of immigrants. A country that is constantly refining itself and its values. This vibrancy is created when we come together to learn and grow in an effort to break down the barriers created by hatred and fear. Sunday represents yet another opportunity for us to grow as people and as Americans. To hear the voices of those often silenced and affirm our commitment to create a brighter future. To learn more and be part of the change happening in this community and across the country, join Dr. Kesho Scott on Sunday, Aug. 9, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Central Park.
Ryan Gibbs and Ike Glinsmann grew up in Washington, graduated from Washington High School and have been involved in Black Lives Matter.