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A Time for Silence and A Time for Speech


I understand and agree with the heartfelt thoughts that many of you have sent this past week on the ongoing racial injustice in this country. For those of you who participated in the civil rights era marches, I truly understand your outrage at the ongoing police brutality and your mortification regarding the riots and looting. I will express my thoughts on both below.


First, I would like to address the issue of police brutality. It is quite disheartening to have this recurring situation of watching those sworn to protect us wantonly murdering a segment of our citizens with seeming impunity. We can look back 57 years to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the famous “March on Washington", on August 28, 1963, and see that one of the leading issues at that time was police brutality towards this nation’s Black citizens. Unfortunately, in terms of meaningful reforms in that area, we have been stuck in a time warp. On that day, a quarter of a million people of all colors, and all walks of life, gathered from all over the country to protest for jobs and civil rights for Black citizens. In part of his speech, Dr. King addressed the question being posed by some Americans of when those in the civil rights movement would be satisfied. The first topic among the litany of societal injustices cited was that of police brutality. He said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”


57 years is nearly a lifetime. It is well past time for each police department, in every state, to have in place a zero-tolerance policy for any act of unprovoked brutality against any civilian. Period! Regulations must also be put in place to dismantle the ability of any city’s police force to harbor criminal elements. We must educate the police forces across this country on interacting with all races, and hold each officer sworn to protect all citizens under their watch, accountable for all their actions. There are serious legal ramifications for perpetuating hate crimes in this country for civilians. This should apply to all police forces as well.


For People of Color, everyone knows that it has been quite a journey. It is well past time to complete the job of correcting the centuries-old injustices. In your correspondence, some of you spoke of having feelings of despair when thinking of ever being able to make the necessary corrections in this country. In light of what we have recently witnessed, now and in the past, I completely understand those feelings and concerns. However, I feel that we should have a greater sense of hope. When viewed from a historical perspective, our nation is better positioned to achieve this today than we have ever been. My personal hope is based on reading the statements published over the past week from some of the nation’s major corporations taking a stand against racism and white supremacy. That means that we are all standing together this time. Why? Because of all the changes that the original civil rights movement brought about. We all now live, love, and work together. There are now faces that can be placed on a friend, neighbor, child, or grandchild when someone makes a bigoted statement, or when someone is seen being unfairly treated because of the color of his or her skin.


We are all intertwined far more than we ever were. When I see a young woman, whose grandfather and father were both Black Muslims, marrying a white Christian because they met on a college campus and fell in love, I see living proof of the positive changes that the civil rights movement brought about deep in our conscience as a society. That altering of the mindset deep in the soul of this nation, to eliminate Color as the first factor considered in any interaction, is a large part of what we fought for. Continuing to look back at the civil rights movement and to remember Dr. King’s words in his “Dream” speech, he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The realization of that dream, as presented in that speech, is present before our eyes every day. That helps us to know that the country has now evolved to a high enough level to get this job done. Therefore, even in the midst of the current turmoil, there is reason to shelve the despair and journey on in the struggle with much hope.


The events of these past few weeks have spawned a new civil rights era as we watch all races, young and old, on the streets marching together to fight for a better world for their offspring. The young are fully invested in that ideal, not because people of our generation are preaching to them, but because they know and understand that it is the right way forward. As a nation, we had not evolved to that degree in the 1960s. At that time, most things were running on two separate racial tracks and we were very much a “They” society. Over this past half century there has been a sea change, and we have very much become a “We” society. This could not be more clearly seen than at this moment of protest. It is currently a moment where we see White and mixed-race parents and grandparents of black children on the streets marching with young Black men and women who are at greatest risk, because that risk is now also theirs. The multiracial and multigenerational families marching understand that unlike in the 1960s, the children who are the most vulnerable to racial attack are not from distant cities or neighborhoods. They are those that they love.


Reading comments of anguish, anger, and helplessness, my thoughts were that through what we had witnessed with George Floyd on our televisions and computer screens, we had all been taken to a place where we felt some combination of those emotions. For those who took to the streets in a rioting formation, those deep emotions were turned into destructive action. For those of my generation, watching those scenes unfold only added to our distress. Not only do we remember the key points of Dr King’s “Dream” speech, we also remember the general philosophy of the civil rights movement as it related to self-conduct. In his speech, he reiterated the points on conduct as established by the founders of the movement. He said, “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” With those words, and that way of behaving ingrained in the hearts and minds of those in my generation, when the looting began, we stood screaming, “No-o!” However, our shouts fell on deaf ears and everything spiraled out of control.


We were forced to understand that the rioters and looters had been moved into a state of shock. Their key motivating factor was: How, in 2020, do we watch a cold-blooded murder, in the guise of a knee on the neck, on our televisions and computers and do nothing??? When the officers were not charged, with sufficient evidence as a backdrop, they knew that the wheels of justice were never going to turn in the favor of a Black or Brown victim. They then took to the streets.


Although I do not condone the actions that were destructive, their response was totally understandable. It was outrage that morphed into pure rage. With the string of recent events in different states that had resulted in the loss of life for Black citizens prior to George Floyd’s murder, I am surprised that the “explosion” had not happened sooner. The unspoken message of the rioters was, “You cannot get away with blatant murder without feeling that there will be consequences!” With those deep feelings of anguish, anger, and helplessness, they risked their lives and brought this country to its knees. They had no other way of saying, “Stop the madness!” than to send some of it back. The destruction of property in some of the wealthiest business districts in the country as well as in the poorest districts, showed that rich or poor, Black or White, and everywhere in between, there are no safety nets. They were sending the message that we must acknowledge that we are all in this together.


To give people that sense of hopelessness is to open the door to unbridled anger. We know that the end result of anger is always destruction. When people are angry, and people feel that they have nothing to lose, the calling for those in power who are wise is to sit up and try to change whatever they can to give those in despair a sense of hope and inclusion. Not having the will or courage to do that means that they should be prepared to lose things that they have worked for and hold dear. King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:7, "There is a time to tear and a time to mend; a time for silence and a time for speech.” For those on the streets breaking windows last week, the time had come to speak loudly through tearing.

Finally, I was relieved by several things. First, seeing that cooler heads prevailed. Second, that additional loss of life was minimal. Third, that the darkness of the night has given way to a brighter day with people exercising their first amendment rights as citizens to peacefully assemble to protest the injustices.

Although, unfortunately, we cannot give George Floyd his life back, perhaps his name can serve as a beacon of hope for our age; a reminder of a place in the American psyche that we as a nation never want to return to. Let his legacy be that his death was the catalyst for a change that helped humanity to advance, and paved the way for a brighter future for generations yet to come.


Shirley

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