“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” -Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from the Birmingham jail 1963
“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hands on you, send them to the cemetery.” – Malcolm X
For the past few days, my youngest daughter and I have been marching with the Black Lives Matter protests in DC and VA. When we marched in DC, the police and military presence was everywhere. You would have thought that there was a full-blown war going on and an enemy had invaded their territory. The actual protesters were in fact very peaceful (at least during the times when we were there). At one point we sat down and just listened to a few people speak. People of all races were represented. Some were passionate, outraged, saddened, and overall fed up with the police killing of black and brown men and women. We chanted “Say his name: George Floyd,” “Say her name: Breonna Taylor,” “No justice, no peace,” “No racist police,” “Hands up, don’t shoot!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and a few other powerful call and respond phrases. It was an exhilarating experience. So many emotions ran through us. We wanted to do something. We wanted to have an impact. We wanted to be supportive of a cause that touched so close to home.
You see I am the mother of two black daughters and a black son: the daughter of black parents. I am the aunt to black nieces and nephews. I am engaged to a black man. We are all aware that at any given moment any one of us could be the target of a system that was never designed to protect or serve us. My nephews, fiancé and some of my cousins have been harassed by the police on many occasions and have at times been taken into police custody. Whenever my son leaves the house with his friends, I worry if he will return home in one piece. I have had to coach him about how to interact if he is ever approached by the police. It is scary to think that at any given moment because of the color of their skin, your child could be the next victim of police brutality.
During one of our marches, we stopped at the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument for what they called a “Die in.” We knelt for 8 minutes 46 seconds: the amount of time that it took Officer Chauvin to murder George Floyd with a vicious knee to the neck as he pleaded for his life. During that time, the names of many black and brown men and women were called as we honored them. Some were high profile cases of which I was familiar. Yet many were names that I had never heard. Name after name was called: Korryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Brown, Jr., Eric Gardner, Philando Castile, Freddie Grey, Rodney King, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the list goes on and on. All murdered in cold blood by a systemic disease of white supremacy and the stench of racial injustice that permeates American society. Hearing all of those names did something to me. It made me wonder how many names we still did not know. It made me think about the pain that their families surely feel and how each one of those deaths were preventable. I know if the people named during that 8 minutes 46 seconds were white; most of them would have lived to tell the story. That makes me feel a lot of different ways; sad, angry, frustrated, outraged, unsafe, leery, and most of all like something has GOT to change!
Black people have an extremely complicated history in America. It is like America wants the benefits of black people’s time, talent, resources, but never wants to fully acknowledge our humanity. When the Constitution was written, it was never meant to benefit anyone but privileged white men. Everything and everyone around them were at their disposal, for their use, their pleasure, or whatever they saw fit. The blacks who were for the most part all enslaved (although there were some free blacks), were considered 3/5th’s of a person.[i] It was not until the Reconstruction Era of the 1860’s and 70’s that three key provisions of the Constitution were ratified that legislatively freed the slaves (13th Amendment), provided them with citizenship and Due Process under the law (14th Amendment), and gave black men the ability to vote (15th Amendment).[ii] This was a time of unrest and upheaval not unlike what we are seeing now. It took years of fighting and constant pressure for things to change.
Over the years, many more fights were fought to continue the work that the heroes and sheroes of the Reconstruction Era started. Women fought for the right to vote and finally won.[iii] African Americans continued to be subjected to inhumane treatment, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in every area of our lives. Because of heroes and sheroes of various Civil Rights movements over time, and the marching and speaking out of a hurting people, laws were passed opening up doors for African Americans that had previously been shut tight.[iv] This came with a high price of innocent blood shed (i.e., Bloody Sunday), persistent black leadership soliciting the powers that be, and an organized people unwilling to give up until they accomplished their goal of change (i.e., Bus Boycotts).
I am so excited to see people fired up again! I love the energy of people taking to the streets and demanding justice for the many unaccounted-for lives that have been snatched away before their time. I am enjoying seeing the young, old, black, white, LGBTQ, Latinx, and so many other supporters out marching, speaking out, and pushing legislators to write laws that will effectively change the protocol for police conduct.[v] If we continue with this momentum, we will make this world a better place for our children and children’s children. We are at a tipping point in history. I encourage everyone with a voice to speak out; everyone with working and willing feet to march and protest; everyone living in the US to vote because our very lives depend on it! Something MUST change and that change starts with our collective voices being heard and respected! It is going to take time and persistence, but together we can do this!
My firm and I are available for any questions or concerns firstname.lastname@example.org. We vow to take a stand against injustice and continue fighting for the equality we all deserve as human beings regardless of skin color. Be safe and continue to fight until things change!
[i] See U.S. CONST. art. I, § 2, cl. 3.
[ii] See id. amend. XIII, § 1, amend. XIV, § 1, amend. XV, § 1.
[iii] See id. amend. XIX.
[iv] See Civil Rights Act of 1964 (while there were many other important Civil Rights Acts passed over the years, this one provided many of the rights that African Americans now enjoy- outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Also prohibited discrimination in voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations). 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (1964).
[v] See Breonna’s Law (calling for the end of no-knock warrants and other police reform- going to full Metro Council in Louisville for vote on June 11th).