The month of June 2020 may go down in history as the moment everything changed.
Those seeds of change were sewn on May 25, 2020. A man, a black man, a gentle giant beloved by many, was killed at the knees of police. He wasn’t resisting. George Floyd wasn’t violent. He was just one of us, but not one of us – a human being not seen as equal by some entrenched in some form of racism. Mr. Floyd deserved better than he received.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick took it upon himself to protest what he saw as police brutality against African Americans. He did so peacefully, deciding to take a knee during a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers. It was a simple yet momentous gesture meant to stir conversation about brutality, injustice, and the killing of unarmed (or legally armed) black men by police.
Instead of focusing on the cause of Kaepernick’s protest most Americans, particularly white Americans, focused on the protest. Rather than see it as a peaceful means of civic discourse, those Americas decided to focus on the peaceful act and not what caused it. Kaepernick was attacked, ostracized, and forced out of his profession. The conversation disregarded the message and instead became about the messenger and the method of delivery. As a result, nothing he sought to accomplish was addressed and wouldn’t be until violence erupted in the Spring four years later.
Kaepernick’s message was nothing not shouted before. In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, a group of activists created Black Lives Matter. Again, rather than listen to the peaceful message of BLM, most Americans, particularly white Americans, focused on the name of the group. In a particularly misguided reaction, those Americans took offense that BLM focused on “black lives” and not “all lives”. Rather than discussed the inequality and injustice often part of race relations in these United States, the conversation became about the name of the group seeking to create the conversation. Again, little changed as few things BLM sought to change were addressed. That is until violence erupted in the Spring of 2020.
An Opportunity to Change
I am a white male American. I was born into a large club, one that is automatically offered the blessings of a society who sees its Manifest Destiny as a birthright not extended to all. Yet I’ve experienced a variety of challenges in my life that have allowed me to develop an empathy my ancestry and upbringing did not provide. So while it’s easy to see my whiteness as the real blessing, I see the real blessing as my ability to rise above that whiteness and do what I can to extend that Destiny to everyone who wishes to seek it.
It has put me at odds with many in my own race but it has also given me relationships with many. I don’t mind being at odds with those who can’t hear the message due to a name they take offense to, or those who can’t discuss a major issue because the messenger took a knee during a song. I wanted to hear the messages but, more importantly, I wanted my white brothers and sisters to hear it, too. Instead, many refused until violence erupted in the Spring of 2020.
Perhaps, though, we finally are beginning to see the seeds of change sprouting. In recent days, we’ve seen once-violent protests cease and those wishing to get the message across kneeling as Kaepernick did, showing in fact that Black Lives do Matter.
We’ve also seen police officers, many of whom were devastated by the death of George Floyd, kneeling alongside their civilian brethren and marching in one voice with those who seek an end to social injustice. Finally the message isn’t about the messenger, or the name of the group, or the method of discourse. Despite attempts to hijack the cause, it seems the message is finally about the message. Perhaps now we are realizing the moment of change many of us have been hoping for.
I’ll be honest, officers kneeling and walking with protesters didn’t surprise me as much as it did some others. I’ve been a first responder for nearly half my life, and most of the police officers I’ve met in that time are awesome human beings who are engaged in tough and dangerous public service. Watching police officers kneel in front of a boisterous group of protesters, and hearing the protesters cheer the action, gave me the type of hope I haven’t had much in the last few years. What we may be witnessing is a moment of change where those great officers I’ve gotten to know refuse to stand by those bad ones we see in the news and, instead, rise up to set a new standard for community policing.
The opportunity for such change is here. Let’s hope it takes root.
It’s Not Over
While there is hope that things are about to change, we can’t fool ourselves that change will just happen. There are many among us who will attempt to hijack the conversation who, whether through conscious action or subconscious reaction, will seek to keep the status quo alive. White nationalism, emboldened in recent years by the rise of Trump, won’t go quietly into the good night. We, those of us who agree that Black Lives Matter, need to remain focused on the mission and rise to meet the challenges presented.
As a white male seeking change, those like me need to learn to listen to those not like us while communicating with those who are. We can be effective instruments for the type of change those not like us are seeking. In the end though, I believe we all will find we are more alike than different, more similar in all aspects of our humanity that we now know.
It will take work. It will take debate and it may even take protests. Yet, with steadfast work, continued dialog and a commitment to “being the change”, those efforts will leave a world better than the one we found. That should be the objective for us all. The measure of a great society isn’t just monetary especially when not everyone can partake in that monetary greatness. Equality in all aspects of our society should be the objective we seek as a true measure of our greatness.
Hopefully, one day very soon we all can extend a hand without seeing the color of it, nor of the hand that reaches out to grab it.