I’ve been struggling to write this column since protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, but what it comes down to is this: as white people, we need to listen, we need to stand with our fellow Americans, and we need to act instead of ignoring these problems until they dominate headlines again and again.
I was a junior at McClain High School when protests began in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, and I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t feel like the protests affected my life at all. Missouri and Maryland felt so far from Highland County, Ohio then.
And people of all colors get shot all the time, right?
In college, I had opportunities to listen to people from so many different backgrounds and to take classes that focused on things I’d never learned in my high school history classes.
Now, I’m still listening and learning, but I know enough to know that America was built on fire and protests, and the American spirit isn’t defined by skin color. Many on social media have compared the protests that began in Minneapolis to the Boston Tea Party — people don’t just wake up and decide to throw tea into the harbor for no reason. The Boston Tea Party came after years of taxation without representation.
Just like the Boston Tea Party, we can’t look at a single event as the exact cause of the Minneapolis protests. The Minneapolis protests didn’t begin solely because police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd gasped, “I can’t breathe.”
It’s easy to get distracted by the methods of a protest, but why do we expect people of color to stay peaceful while white Americans ignore them and celebrate the forefathers’ riots?
You don’t have to know the finer details of historical discrimination to know that kneeling on a person’s neck even after they no longer have a pulse is absolutely unacceptable. Taking a business week to arrest and charge someone who killed another person — on camera! — is absolutely unacceptable. This is not justice.
I was raised to believe that this is a good, fair country, but something isn’t adding up. Even if we only look at mainstream, large-scale protests and ignore history (a bad idea, by the way), a white person wouldn’t die in the same scenarios. I mean, white mass murderers like James Holmes, the guy who killed 12 and wounded 70 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, can survive being arrested in America. But when I see a cop, my first thought is to check my speed so I don’t get a ticket. On the other hand, a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter after mistaking him for another man.
Protests and widespread attention get results.
Last Friday, Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder. Since then, three other officers, who stood by as Chauvin ultimately killed Floyd through asphyxiation, have been arrested and charged, and Chauvin’s charge was upgraded to a second-degree murder charge.
The protests have spread too. According to NBC News, protests have taken place in every state. According to CNN, protesters around the globe — in places like Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Syria, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Poland and Australia — have taken to the streets with signs that read “No justice, no peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “I can’t breathe.”
We’re standing on a precipice. This year has highlighted so many flaws in our system, but the important thing is what we do moving forward. We have a chance to address these issues — how we treat those expressing long-term fear and frustration, how we prepare for national emergencies and pandemics, how we pollute our environments — and I truly hope we use this information to begin changing things for the better. We must act. We can’t just wait for the protests to end, so we can shove Black concerns back under the rug until the next wave of protests. Without justice for all, there is no real peace. When we don’t listen, it’s easy to remain silent and never understand.
When I learned that a group of local residents are holding their own protest on Saturday, I was so, so proud. Despite the fact that the Lincoln School Marching Mothers marched through Hillsboro within living memory, I was afraid the streets of Hillsboro would stay silent.
The organizers of Hillsboro’s protest have spoken with Hillsboro police and wish to protest peacefully — and members of our community are still threatening to bring guns to the protest and give protesters a “country-style welcome.” But we all have been living here for years.
It’s OK to have differing viewpoints — but this isn’t an opinion. If all lives truly matter to you, please put down your guns and listen.
Support Black artists and Black-owned businesses. Donate. Sign petitions. For ways to help, visit https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/.
I don’t really pray to anything, but no matter how you’re protesting and sharing the stories, I pray for your safety.
McKenzie Caldwell is a news reporter at The Times-Gazette. Reach her at 937-402-2570 or firstname.lastname@example.org.