Will Black Lives Ever Matter?
I originally started this essay back at the beginning of September, a little over three months after George Floyd’s murder. I wanted to reflect on how short-lived the outrage around racial justice on social media was. I wanted to talk about how this moment in time felt so much bigger that it was disappointing to see the interest fade. I strongly believe that cities across this nation would not have burned if George Floyd had been suffocated to death in ordinary times. I wanted to mention how it took a pandemic for people to even care about Black lives on a grand scale, and yet, in just a matter of months, so much of that energy has faded.
Every time I sat down to write, another Black person would be either be murdered by a law enforcement officer or denied justice, and I would watch to see if the fire in our collective belly would swell to the volume it was back in June.
Spoiler alert: It hasn’t.
For the month of June, my social media feeds were filled with messages of solidarity and a desire to uplift Black voices and tear down the systems of oppression that got us to where we are today. There were commitments to being allies and to destroying the racist system that still treats Black people as 3/5th of a human, if we are treated like humans at all.
I was experiencing mixed feelings during that first 30 day period. By whatever definition you use, I am Black, although I haven’t identified that way for most of my life. I was dealing with my own reckoning. Like many white folks, I was coming to terms with the struggles that my Black brothers and sisters had always told me about, which I could honestly say was not a shared experience (although I was certainly not dismissive of their experience in the least). But the energy that we had in June encouraged me. I imagined that this was what it felt like during the Civil Rights movement as thousands marched on Washington or across the bridge in Selma.
During that first week, I had hope that the tides were turning. I had hope that things would change. I had hope that people were open to doing the work and committing to influence the policy changes that are required for true equity and justice. Groups were formed. Books flew off of shelves so fast, they had to be reprinted. There was a solid commitment to knowledge and action.
Rayshard Brooks was murdered by police just two weeks after George Floyd. I knew that changing the system would take some time, but I expected law enforcement would be on their best behavior while this spotlight was on them. I should have known better than to believe that.
In July, I struggled to feel patriotic towards a country that didn’t want to accept its racist roots. For some, the reality of hearing that your whole life is based on a lie was just too much to accept, so they started ignoring it. I watched my Instagram feed go back to normal and demands for justice and peace were replaced with content creation tips, gratitude practices and Pinterest worthy recipes once again. Despite strongly increasing the number of BIPOC accounts I follow, I still saw plenty of “basic” in my feed on a daily basis. I watched the conversation die down to a murmur.
By August, my friend, who is a Black teacher in one of Denver’s most privileged high schools was reduced to tears, and I wished nothing more than to be able to hug her and tell her that everything would be okay — because it had to be. But I didn’t actually believe that in that moment. Posts about voting were increasing as both parties held their conventions, but the conversation wasn’t centered about equity and justice for Black lives.
Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back (while his young children witness), and fortunately survived, although he is now paralyzed. Sports teams boycotted playoff games while Corporate America responded by committing to diversity and increasing the number of Black employees at management levels. Meanwhile, the politicians are condemning protesters instead of placing their focus on the reason for the continued protests and vowing to fix the system that allows this to continue to happen.
At the end of August, I deleted my Facebook account in a rage. One of my oldest and closest friends had posted something along the lines of “all lives matter” and it infuriated me. We had been watching two months of loud and non-stop protesting and some of the people closest to me still didn’t get it. Every ounce of hope I felt just sixty days prior vanished in that instant. I went quiet for a week simply to calm my anger and frustration, and when I finally explained to my friend why I was so pissed, he rejected what I had to say and we haven’t spoken in six weeks.
In September, a grand jury failed to indict anyone for the murder of Breonna Taylor, once again highlighting the gross flaws in our system. Qualified immunity is the reason that Ms. Taylor will never see justice, and it’s the reason that people will continue to erupt in protest every time a law enforcement officer unduly takes the life of an unarmed Black person. The lack of an indictment for the murder was easily dismissed because the family accepted a $12 million settlement. The settlement is “good enough” to count for justice. I can tell you, as a survivor of the justice system as a victim, it’s not justice. Nothing will ever take back what has happened to you. The pain is indelible in your mind. Justice is about knowing that the person who hurt you is being held responsible for their actions. That is the only thing that helps dull the trauma of being victimized.
This week, Jonathan Price was performing a Good Samaritan act and was murdered by police and it barely made a headline. I’m not sure if it was swept under the rug while we were all distracted by news out of the White House or because Jonathan’s love of police made this murder okay. His case is thankfully being referred to a grand jury and we’ll see what happens there, but I remain skeptical. Just four months after George Floyd struggled to take his last breath, I’m struggling to have hope that Jonathan Price will get justice, or that we’ll see the radical change that is required to save Black lives right now.
Black lives still matter, but I’m questioning the commitment of the voices who were so loud back in June. This fight isn’t over just because you’re tired or bored. This fight will be over when we stop generating hashtags for those who should not be forgotten.