I’ve heard a lot of people ask, ‘How did we get here?’’
Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy in 1955 who was accused of whistling at a white woman; whose husband upon hearing what happened, accompanied a friend, kidnapped Till, pistol whipped him and tied him up in the back of his pickup truck, and took him to a barn. Three days later Till’s body was found by two boys who were fishing in the Tallahatchie River. Till was beyond unrecognizable. The two murderers through a sham of at trial were found not guilty.
The year is 1998; James Byrd Jr. a 49 year old man accepts a ride home from three men he knew from around town. Instead of taking him home, they viciously beat him on a remote country road, spray painted his face, defecated on him, and chained him to the back of their pickup truck. They drag him for about three miles, much of which Byrd is alive for, until his head is severed after hitting a culvert. The three white supremacists, ages 23, 23 and 31 were the first white men to be sentenced to death for killing a black man in modern Texas history. In February, of this year, Ahmaud Arbery while out for a jog was hunted down by a father and son in their pickup truck, along with another man trailing behind. Arbery was shot three times and died by the roadside. The men were not charged, until a video of the incident went viral a few months later and caused outrage.
So, how did we get here? The real question should be, ‘when did we ever leave?
George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by four men who took an oath to protect and serve. Floyd, as you undoubtedly know now, was not only unarmed, but had his hands cuffed behind his back. The incident like many incidents in 2020 was filmed by bystanders, who, along with Floyd pleaded the officers to ease up their use of force. In total, it’s taken nine days before all four officers have been formally charged for the murder of Floyd. Since the murder of Floyd protests have been held daily across America, as well as countries around the world, including Canada. Within those protests, there have been incidents of looting and rioting. The hand wringing and consternation that’s been shown by many in the public and the media over the looting and rioting has been expected. People more upset about the broken storefront windows of a Target, rather than the one that sits on the backs of black people.
More important than the sound of shattered glass are the countless voices that have never been truly heard, whose words have truly been understood. It’s caused many a person to use a hashtag, post a picture of support, and many a company to release statements that they’re ready to listen, and understand that they’ll never truly understand the plight of the person who suffers untold wrongs simply because of the colour of their skin. You’ve heard people commit to having the conversations at home, teaching their kids about equality and speaking to treating everyone the same. It’s tough to call common decency a great start, but, this is where we are. As Canadians, we love to cheer on our diversity, and we’ve made many strides, but, the truth is we’re at a bit of a crossroads ourselves. A global pandemic, our Southern neighbors’ disjointed political landscape and increasing economic pressures has planted some seeds that seem to be sprouting far too quickly.
The truth is; turning this tsunami of hate will take a far more concerted effort, and it’ll need to be far more determined. Hate won’t always show up in too tight polo shirts and tattooed swastikas, it won’t always be a knee across a mans neck, and it won’t always show up in a pickup truck. It’ll often be unsaid, it’ll be the stunted silence, the double takes. It’ll be the explaining away of the Sixties Scoop or the Komagata Maru or peaceful protests. It’ll be the police officer that covers his badge number before heading out to ‘keep the peace’ at a protest. It’ll be the executive who surrounds themselves with people who only like him. It’s a comment dressed up as supporting our troops, or ‘think about children at home watching’. It’s forgetting that Tamir Rice was only twelve years old. It’s forgetting that Amadou Diallo was shot at forty one times. It’s not believing all of the incidents where a cell phone camera was not present.
It’s a need to question that, for every one of these interactions between a Black citizen and a militarized police force that did not result in a body left behind, how many spirits have been crushed? Dreams dashed? Lives shattered?
It’s about putting our civilians before civility.