To the Editor:
I have such a myriad of emotions from watching coverage of the death of George Floyd and the protests that continue two weeks and counting. Heartbreak and horror from watching yet another black man being treated in the most inhumane way possible. Disgust for the officers who murdered and participated in the murder of George Floyd. Anger at the department that allowed an officer, entrusted to serve and protect, to remain in his job after 17 known misconduct complaints against him, and yet he was responsible for training new officers. My disdain for those who try to vilify the peaceful protesters by repeating social media lies to perpetuate fear. Finally, my deep frustration with those in our local community who make comments like “You know, George Floyd had drugs in his system,” or “Why are they rioting,” or “All lives matter.” These comments reveal an ignorance, racism, and lack of compassion that is embedded in society and remains present in our community. At the same time, I am uplifted, by seeing crowds of young, diverse, people who are demanding that we build a just, equitable future America that they want to live in.
“All lives matter” may sound like we are all in this together. However it redirects the focus from those who need it the most: our black brothers and sisters. In fact, Black Lives Matter is a movement that addresses the racial bias, systemic racism, and police brutality suffered by black and brown people. It speaks to the outrage of black people being twice as likely to be killed while unarmed by a white person. BLM’s guiding principles include eradicating white supremacy, and intervening in the systemic violence inflicted on communities of color. Systemic violence includes underfunded schools and disproportionately high rates of punishishment for black and brown children compared to white children in the same schools. Blacks make up 18% of the population yet they represent 40% of incarcerated Americans. The truth is that the black experience in America is much different from that of non-black Americans.
For white people, the first step to combating racism is to listen and be open to understanding our own inherent biases. Educate ourselves about what it means to be discriminated against and speak up even when we think we are alone. We need to be an ally for our black sisters and brothers, that means having those hard conversations about black lives and how all of us play a part in systemic oppression.
It is time for a change. For those of you who inexplicably still display it, it’s time to burn your racist Confederate flag. It is a symbol of losers and has no place of prominence in Michigan, which lost 13,000 souls fighting for the Union. It screams nothing more sophisticated than “You’re not the boss of me!”
It is time to remove the “blue lives matter” stickers from our publicly-funded police cars. While it may seem like a benign show of support and solidarity for our law enforcement professionals, it was also created as a negative response to Black Lives Matter. It is one more form of covert racism, and sends a troubling message to people of color in our community that maybe the police are not there to serve and protect THEM. (Arguably, it is also in violation of U.S. Flag Code, especially when prominently displayed on taxpayer-funded vehicles.)
While I don’t advocate the extreme calls to defund the police, it is time to reallocate some funding, starting with the post-9/11, post-War on Drugs, pork of military surplus vehicles and tactical gear designed to instigate violence, not stop it. Police militarization, traditionally reserved for exceptional measures and extreme threats, has become normalized. Militarization of police is ineffective in fighting crime and is in inefficient allocation of finite community resources. Our police officers shouldn’t be soldiers nor should they be responsible for all of society’s failings because services have been cut. Police have been made to fill in the gaps for lack of mental health, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence prevention, and health care funding.
Newaygo County is not a racially diverse area. We don't see the need to confront these issues every day. The current difficult conversations and confrontations might seem like faraway "big city stuff." But we don't live in a bubble. We are not surrounded by a wall that separates "us" from "them." Our local communities and some of our local families have historical ties to the KKK and racism is evident on the flagpoles in our yards and on the bumpers of our trucks. We are not sheltered from the current storm.
We are a small thread in an increasingly colorful tapestry that is America. Just because the problems that have been brought to light seem remote now, does not mean that our local communities have no obligation to move forward. We can be honest with ourselves and each other at this time of national reckoning and end the legacy of racism that we have inherited. If we do, we SHALL overcome the original sins of America right here in Newaygo County.
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