We are witnessing protests in every region of this country. All of the protests begin peacefully. Some have ended violently, and violence is something none of us condone.
The murder of George Floyd simply was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Black rage has been lying beneath the surface for a long time. America has never known how to deal with black rage. It has either viewed it as illegitimate or dismissed it as “blowing things out of proportion.” And yet, when people think about the atrocities committed against black people for the last 400 years, it is incredible that incidents of violence have not exploded more. One needs only to think about Rosewood, Florida; the Tulsa Massacre; East St. Louis, Illinois; New York City; or that Missouri has the highest numbers of lynchings of black people outside of the deep South. Then you will begin to understand why black rage exists.
Some people talk about the beating of Rodney King as the beginning of the deterioration of trust between people of color and the police. But police brutality began in America hundreds of years ago. Before Rodney King, people of color have been mistreated, molested and killed by the police for hundreds of years in this country, and in Missouri. People talk about how there are some good police officers, but their presence is vastly overshadowed by racist cops who either willfully disrespect black lives and black bodies, or who are complacent when they witness injustice committed by their fellow officers.
I am encouraged by the protests in Columbia and nationally. It means that many in the white community finally get it. If you look at the thousands of people engaged in the protests, huge numbers of young and older white Americans are calling for justice and unashamedly shouting, “Black Lives Matter.” One well-intentioned white friend asked me, “Why are they saying ‘Black Lives Matter’? Don’t all lives matter?” My response is yes, all lives matter, but white America for too long has acted as if black lives do not matter, and so we must proclaim that black lives do matter. Large numbers of white Americans, and people around the world, understand.
Many people in Columbia have been calling for community-oriented policing for a long time. Obviously, when you see the community, particularly communities of color, as your neighbors and not the “enemy,” the incidents of police brutality will diminish. In our community, credit must be given to folks such as Traci Wilson-Kleekamp and Race Matters, Friends, Missouri Faith Voices, Steve Weinberg, Valerie Berta, Brittany Hughes, the Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, the Rev. Maureen Dickman, the Rev. Brad Bryan and many others who have called for community-oriented policing. Unfortunately, there has been resistance to their clarion call. Perhaps, the Columbia Police Department is now motivated to change their former posture. I hope so.
The crux of the problem is our failure to dismantle the continual systemic racism that is pervasive in the U.S. and in Columbia. Some of my critics have tried to convince me that racism is dead and that only liberals, or socialists or malcontents are keeping it alive. But with the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, such a response is both ridiculous and willfully insensitive. Those who make such an argument are people walking around with their eyes wide shut.
My hope is that after the protests here and across America, our politicians will be about the business of creating an environment of dismantling racism and making systemic change. We do not need the formation of task forces and committees that gather and analyze data, but have no power to enact transformative change. Diversity is not inclusion. Data gathering is not change. There can be no peace or love where there is no justice. Justice demands more than conversations about policing, employment, housing, economic disparity and a host of other issues that need to be addressed. We need real change.
Until then, protesters stand tall and strong until a change comes. Demand it. Insist on it. Let an older protest song from the Sounds of Blackness be your song, “Hold on, change is coming…”