My son is exhausted of this burden and angry that it has happened yet again. I am exhausted and angry, too.
I do not know a black family that does not have a story. The Internet is filled with accounts of driving, walking, shopping, running and eating while black. How many stories can we count in just the past decade of black people doing ordinary things that result in their harassment, detention, restraint and death?
George Floyd is the latest in a too-long list of black men and women who have died at the hands of white police officers. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when neighborhood vigilantes chased him down, shot and killed him. Christian Cooper was bird-watching in New York’s Central Park when a white woman walking her dog tried to weaponize 911 to bring law enforcement to bear on a black person.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police while playing at a playground near his home in Cleveland. Teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed walking home with a bag of Skittles by a self-appointed neighborhood lookout in Florida. Sadly, for black people, no traffic stop is routine. School cafeteria worker Philando Castile was shot and killed during a stop in Minnesota with his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in the back seat; he wasn’t even driving. Sandra Bland was detained following an allegedly unsafe lane change near Houston and was later found hanging in her jail cell.
How about being at home? Emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times by police officers who barged into her Louisville apartment. Pre-med graduate student Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed while babysitting her nephew at her mother’s house. Accountant Botham Jean was shot and killed in his Dallas home after a day at work. For black people, even relatively minor infractions resulting in an encounter with police can lead to their deaths. Eric Garner was killed while being detained for selling cigarettes on the street on Staten Island; Freddie Gray died in the back of Baltimore police van after he was found to be possessing a knife.
We may not all be able to march with you peacefully in protest in Minneapolis, but know that we are with you in spirit.
I keep wishing for a president who can give the anger of African Americans a voice. Instead, the president we have wallows in and feeds on division and racial hatred. I have seen enough to know not to believe President Trump when he pretends to be unaware that his recent tweet echoed the worst of 1960s bigots: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” I am on the lookout for a president who will claim our anger as his own and do something about it.
George Floyd was my brother; he was my son. Floyd is dead, but he did not just die. He was killed by a white police officer who pierced his knee into Floyd’s neck for up to nine minutes while three other officers stood by. Onlookers pleaded — Floyd pleaded — with the officer to stop. “I can’t breathe.” “They [are] going to kill me.” When on the agonizing video I heard Floyd cry out “Momma, Momma” for his deceased mother, I cried for him. But it was in that moment I realized that black mothers who are living can no more protect our sons and daughters than Floyd’s dead mother could protect him.
There can be no column long enough for all the names — over hundreds of years of enslavement and decades of Jim Crow — of the victims of the violence perpetrated under color of law against black people in America. I cannot litigate all that here, but I am angry about it, and my anger demands that the land of the free and the home of the brave allow our black sons and daughters to simply grow up and live their lives into old age untouched, so that for once we black mothers can get a decent night’s rest.