Black lives mattered before George Floyd was killed — even if you're just now noticing
- Ever since Trayvon Martin's death sparked the rise of the
Black Lives Mattermovement, police have killed many more black people. George Floydis the most recent case in the news, and this time, there seems to be a higher sense of urgency from the public.
- Why did it take so long for people to catch on?
- This is an
opinioncolumn. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
I was in college when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The Ohio State University is a predominantly white school, and, naturally, there was a lot of contention about what was going on.
Even my white friends at the time, who were a lot more liberal than the average OSU student, didn't quite seem to grasp the gravity of the situation, leading to some very disappointing conversations about race. It was clear to me that racism in America wasn't a huge concern of theirs, and that sentiment continued for years throughout many more extrajudicial killings of black people.
There are countless names that have been burned into the minds of black Americans over the years, but now we've arrived at George Floyd. This time, though, something feels different. The level of urgency is much higher than it has been with other police killings. That's great, but why did it take this long?
Even during an international pandemic, when we've been directed to stay home and stay away from large groups of people, protesters are coming out in massive numbers. In response, police departments have acted violently and recklessly, but that still hasn't deterred organizers and protesters from showing up.
A plethora of companies and corporate brands are speaking out about George Floyd. Brands that have never taken a stance before are saying that Black Lives Matter, no matter how trite it sounds coming from Doritos. Additionally, people I know and like, who, to the best of my knowledge, have never posted anything about wrongful police killings, are now full-fledged allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But we've been saying that "black lives matter" ever since Trayvon Martin's death sparked the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement almost a decade ago. We've been just as loud and adamant about each case since then, as we have been for George Floyd. Now, a lot of the previously mentioned white people are donating to bail funds, supporting black-owned businesses, and getting the word and message out to their followers. They're calling their political leaders, sharing resources, and reaching out in support of their black friends.
All of this is great, but what makes George Floyd's case different from the previous ones?
I've been forced to call into question the intent of a lot of this newfound advocacy. How much of this outrage is genuine, versus a way for people and brands to play off the issue without contributing to meaningful change? You could argue that the intent doesn't matter much as long as the message is being spread, and that's true to an extent, but if the intent isn't pure, how can I expect these new allies to follow up on their advocacy?
It took an unfortunately perfect set of circumstances to get people to finally care. The widely shared video of George Floyd's death doesn't provide any gray area for detractors to operate from. Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in cold blood. There's no way a reasonable person can say that Chauvin felt threatened, and there's a sense of depravity on Chauvin's part, considering that Floyd was begging for his life for minutes on end.
In previous cases, there has always existed the argument that officers felt threatened by their victims. For those of us who have been outraged for years, that argument isn't fair, but for those who are complacent, the argument provides a reason not to be outspoken. It's a shame that it took an immaculate case to get people to care, but that's just the reality.
I've gotten many check-in messages from my white peers, and they're always heartwarming, but they often mention something about how crazy things are "right now" or that this is a "sad time," which implies that racism at the hands of the criminal-justice system isn't always happening. The criminal-justice system is systemically racist, which means it produces racially disproportionate results.
Black people make up about 13% of Americans but 34% of incarcerated people. Black people are imprisoned more than five times as often white people. Black and white people use drugs at the same rates, but the imprisonment rate of black people for drug charges is six times that of white people. These realities exist all the time, not just right now.
What's going to be crucial going forward is that allies actually act on the sentiments they've been sharing online. Every previous extrajudicial killing of black people deserved the same amount of attention that the George Floyd case is getting.
Had that been happening since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, it isn't hard to believe that the pursuit of substantive changes to police reform may have started a lot earlier because of the pressure placed on government officials by the protest of its constituents.
It is wonderful how people have reacted to George Floyd's unjust death, but we are in search of justice, and justice requires you to stand beside us at all times, not just when it's trending to do so.
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