Less than. Those two words keep going through my head. All the injustice in this world is predicated upon someone looking at another person and thinking that other person is less than…less worthy of happiness than others; less worthy of civil liberties than others; less worthy of safety than others; less worthy of even taking a breath than others.
George Floyd’s senseless murder broke my heart, but so did Ahmaud Arbery’s; so did Freddie Gray’s; so did Breonna Taylor’s; so did Eric Garner’s; so did Trayvon Martin’s (especially as the mom of hoodie wearing teenage boys), and on and on…an endless list. Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest police brutality and racial injustice was met with derision, with Donald Trump calling him a “son of a bitch” to the cheers of his rabid base. Kaepernick’s career was ruined, because the issues that simple act illuminated were uncomfortable to contemplate. People just wanted their football without a side of social commentary on grave injustices. It was too easy for too many people to look away—too easy to think of him as a “privileged brat” who should just take his money and simply entertain. But, maybe if that knee on the field wasn’t ignored and condemned, there wouldn’t have been a knee on George Floyd’s neck for far longer than it took to extinguish his life.
That act by Derek Chauvin caught on camera forced the people who had been looking away to retrain their gaze on the black experience. It forced people to wake up. You can’t watch that video and think it’s anything but sheer brutality. I reflexively thought in the first split second I saw it, If you’re witnessing a murder, why didn’t anyone call the police? Before the heartrending reality that it was the police sunk in…calling would have done nothing. Now we must retrain our gaze again on all the other injustices that have been going on for centuries. We must understand that there is no such thing as “very fine people on both sides,” as Trump said after the Charlottesville white supremacist riots. There is evil and there is not evil.
Normally as a writer I think in shades of gray. Pure evil characters or pure good characters are never as interesting as those who fall in the middle shades of gray. The characters in my next book, Feel No Evil, all have good and bad traits. But in the case of racial injustice, there is evil and there isn’t. If you perpetuate it, you’re evil. If you fight against it, you’re good. But then there’s a third category—and that’s neither perpetuating it nor standing up against it. That’s the people who may think, “How horrible,” but never open their mouths. Well guess what? They fall on the evil side too. The Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who spent his life fighting evil, was my grandfather’s first cousin. He said, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” It’s time for good men and women to speak up and be loud. If you turn away, if you clutch your pearls, yet don’t speak up, you’re allowing evil to flourish.
And to be clear, I don’t think all police officers are evil. We’ve all seen the photos of police officers kneeling along with protesters and other scenes of solidarity. My brother-in-law was an NYPD police officer for over two decades. Most only want to help. But, even one depraved officer is too much. Even one officer who keeps his knee on the neck of a man crying out that he can’t breathe, crying out for his dead mother, is too much. Even one chokehold, like that used on Eric Garner, is too much. Even one child gunned down for playing with a toy gun, like Tamir Rice, is too much. And the list goes on and on.
And it’s not just police officers…there are the McMichaels and the George Zimmermanns of the world who will always look at people of color and think less than; think, I can do whatever I want. These people feel justified in committing murder. But they are the ones who are less than…they are less than the dirt those innocent souls they extinguished are buried under.
I’m writing this at 4:00 am. I can’t sleep, because I’m 99.8 percent sure that I broke my ankle earlier today, and the pain is pretty excruciating. Too excruciating to sleep. I feel bad even mentioning this with all the pain in the world right now—psychic and physical—I’m just explaining my mindset (and any typos or rambling). I was on Twitter at around 3:15 am waiting for the Tylenol to kick in, so I could perhaps finally sleep, when I read Yvette Nicole Brown’s tweet thread about her friend who witnessed non-black agitators in Los Angeles smashing a police car while black protesters yelled at her to stop. I started to cry, because even this protest is being ripped away and turned into a weapon against those who have already suffered so much. So, I decided spilling my feelings into the WordPress app on my phone might not make for the best essay I’ve ever written (I’ve never even written an essay on the app), but if enough people read it, it might be the most important. Sometimes you just need to do that—write when it hits you, even if it’s not polished or perfect and then just press publish without a million rereads. And you just hope the message gets through.
And this is the message: white people need to stand with our black brothers and sisters and link metaphorical arms. We need to speak up and understand that George Floyd’s murder was the tipping point for these latest protests, not the first spark—far from it. It should be safe to jog while black; sleep in your bedroom; go birding; buy a pack of Skittles and on and on. And we need to understand that there’s more to the destruction and violence than meets the eye and those looking to inflame a race war are very likely the ones behind the most heinous acts. And most importantly, we need to not look away and stay quiet when there are heinous acts of injustice and racism…or evil will flourish.
An extra: This song by Ryan Star was written about Eric Garner, but applies to George Floyd. Give it a listen: Boy