Another Pandemic During a Pandemic: Fighting For Racial Equality and Black Humanity

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Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that not only have the shops and restaurants in Republican-led states resumed business as usual, and against CDC guidelines, so too have Police departments across the United States. Americans have been chomping at the bit to get outside for the better part of the year. 

The weather is changing, and the days are more tolerant of activities outside. A perfect recipe for the perfect storm. As much as we need police officers, firefighters, and first responders more than ever, as poverty and domestic violence rise as a result of COVID-19, minority communities understand that we cannot trust police officers. 

It is especially difficult at a time when cooperation and trust between first responders and communities across our country serve as a lifeline so that we might survive the sickness of COVID-19 all around us. As if that hasn’t been enough to handle, as Black Americans disproportionately become infected with and die from COVID-19, Black Americans still have to navigate the sickness of racism fueled by ideologies of white supremacy and certain death by the hands of law enforcement and those affiliated with them.

In the case of police departments, business as usual from the perspective of an inner-city, Afro-Latina is the systemic and nationally normalized murder of unarmed Black men and women across the country. Since the beginning of the global coronavirus pandemic, there are three cases at the forefront of Black American’s anguish which has, by the grace of social media, catapulted this conversation to a national platform for the umpteenth time. The three cases referenced involve a 26-year-old first responder and EMT Breonna Taylor, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, and most recently, 46-year-old George Floyd. All Black Americans, all unarmed, all murdered at the hands of White law enforcement. The only difference in the Ahmaud Arbery case is that one of the men who hunted him down was a former law enforcement officer at the time of Ahmaud’s murder.

A synopsis of the details of each of these three cases:

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery sustained three shotgun wounds, two to his chest, and one in his wrist at the hands of Travis McMichael, one of a trio of White male vigilantes in Brunswick, Georgia. The three men followed Arbery who was on his morning jog, attempting to corner him twice, before succeeding a fateful third time using the truck driven by the father-son duo of Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael, a retired police officer. 

The McMichaels alleged that they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery because their neighbor said someone matching Arbery’s physical description trespassed on a construction site of his home. A third suspect and co-conspirator William Bryan followed the McMichaels in his vehicle filming the altercation. 

Ironically, the public release of Bryan’s video over two months after Ahmaud was killed is what sparked such a viral public outrage that arrests were finally made within two days of the video’s release. The McMichaels turned out to be well connected throughout the prosecutor’s office in Glynn County. Gregory McMichael worked for and with a litany of prosecutors and judges. The McMichaels and William Bryant remained free for two months while the Arbery family buried their loved one. 

Ahmaud’s father Marcus Arbery describes the murder of his son as “modern-day lynching”. For historical context, Gregory McMichael has also been photographed at Ku Klux Klan rallies and Travis McMichael was heard exclaiming “F#$%*^% [email protected]$%#$” as Ahmaud lay dying on the ground beneath him. The defendants, in this case, appeared in court on June 4, 2020. Grand Jury procedures are scheduled to recommence on June 12, following statewide restrictions on activity and movement because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Justice and FBI are investigating possible hate crimes in this case.

On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Kentucky was at home with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker when the couple was awakened by forced entry into their dwelling in the middle of the night. In defense of his household, his woman and himself, Breonna’s partner Kenneth fired a single shot, hitting one of the two plain-clothed police officers who entered into their apartment as a part of what Kenneth would come to learn was a “no-knock” search warrant. Officers fired a total of twenty-two rounds and Breonna was fatally shot eight times before Kenneth could hang up from his first call to Breonna’s mom to call 911. Breonna’s family released the 911 call this past week. 

The only charges that have been brought in this case were charges of attempted murder against Kenneth Walker for wounding a police officer. These charges were dropped on May 22, 2020, citing a lack of evidence. Ultimately, the Louisville police department made a grave mistake when they entered Breonna’s apartment that night. They found no drugs in Breonna’s home and the alleged drug house they were looking for was over ten miles away. Under public pressure, the Mayor of Louisville has suspended no-knock warrants and there are whispers that the case into this killing will be reopened after protests erupted in Louisville. So far police have shot and wounded eight people, killing an additional unarmed Black man, David McAtee, who fed police officers for free from his BBQ stand and was beloved by his community. 

Most recently, and perhaps most consequently, George Floyd became the Xth unarmed Black man to die at the hands of law enforcement officers’ infliction of excessive force. On Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, the Minneapolis Police department received a call of a possible forgery. By Tuesday, May 26, 2020, the phone video of the arrest and callous murder of Mr. Floyd filled the airways of national news. According to police reports, responding officers found and approached Floyd, who was sitting inside of his car and engaged their alleged suspect. This information was not released until Friday afternoon. Tuesday morning, the recorded video went viral globally by a concerned passerby, a seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazier. 

Based on a business’s external camera uncovered by NBC News, Miss Frazier’s video catalogs what happens to a handcuffed Mr. Floyd toward the end of his arrest and life. In her video, a handcuffed Mr. Floyd is lying on the ground, and officer Derek Chauvin is pinning Mr. Floyd down with his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd. Floyd can be heard saying repeatedly that he could not breathe and calling for his mother before he loses consciousness and dies. Officer Chauvin continues to kneel on the neck of an unresponsive Mr. Floyd for an additional 2:53 seconds. Depending on the angle from which you are watching the incident, you notice that while Derek Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck, he was one of three officers applying their body weight to an already handcuffed, detained and eventually subdued Mr. Floyd. All four officers were fired on Tuesday, May 26th. Derek Chauvin’s crimes have been updated from the penalties of manslaughter and third-degree murder to second-degree murder. The three additional officers Thao, Keung, and Lane have been charged with aiding and abetting murder, all charges can carry 40 maximum year sentences if found guilty. 

Since Wednesday, with a precipice of protests and outcry in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, following the arrest of just one of the responding officer Chauvin, and a limited third-degree murder charge, Human Rights activists, Black community leaders, activists and organizers engaged in generally peaceful protest. Protests seemed to take a turn for the worst between Thursday evening and Friday evening. Cities from Sacramento to Washington, D.C.; most of which have been on restricted movement orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, erupted in looting, building burning, and violent clashes with police officers. 

On Thursday night, seven people were shot by Louisville police. On Friday, diverse crowds of rioters and protesters looted stores and set police vehicles ablaze. There was an undeniable escalation between Thursday and Friday night. What might have seemed like a minute detail on Friday morning was that minority businesses were not spared on Thursday night, which is not at all like Black activists. Why would Black activists destroy Black businesses in Black communities? As it goes with an ever overturning news cycle, Friday’s morning’s minute detail is Saturday morning’s leading story.

On Saturday morning elected officials, including the governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Minnesota Attorney’s General Keith Ellison warned Americans that White Nationalists and perhaps foreign actors had once again infiltrated the domestic weaknesses in American society to capitalize on the open wounds of American society. 

These domestic terrorists are organized and dedicated to infecting the ranks of peaceful Black protests to mar the reputation of otherwise peaceful demonstrators. America’s Attorney General William Barr announced concern over “far-left ANTIFA” extremist groups, President 45 announced that extreme left groups were a threat to American society. 

We have to get this straight, and in the spirit of separating peaceful protestors from provocateurs who came to burn down immigrant-owned centers and businesses, we have to work in lockstep to enact true and necessary change. On Saturday morning, those mourning in America were asked to obey curfews put in place by Mayors and local governments in most of America’s largest cities so that law enforcement could root out the evil of outsiders of the Black Civil and human rights movement manifesting in over a dozen American cities. In fairness, now is the time for strategic cooperation with those who have proven to listen to us, to hear us, to stand with us, in protests throughout the country during the day today. 

Now is the time, with surgical precision to amplify the abuses of White Nationalists and police brutality and the parallels and relationships between the former and the latter. It is not a coincidence that Derek Chauvin was arrested Thursday afternoon and protests escalated that night. 

In a world where White citizens and police officers perpetually hunt and kill Black Americans with impunity, an arrest is a successful development in this story; that is unless you’re a White Nationalist. As the mother of two Black sons, I stand fully with the movement toward social, economic and political equality for Black and Latinx communities and in harmony with that, I understand the nuances of the way dystopian societies are born, and now more than ever, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. We cannot afford to be used as pawns in the ultimate goal of White Nationalists who will use the cover of darkness to inflict their modern-day civil war on this country.

With a warning of stricter enforcement of curfew, mortified Americans four time zones across the nation were glued to media coverage of the peaceful protests of the day. Governor Walz of Minnesota joined Minneapolis protests in solidarity with the mission of those activists and citizens. If you watched coverage of protests and marches during the day Saturday, the differentiation between those there about the countless deaths of Black souls at the hands of police violence and those who would use the cover of night to exploit that pain was undeniable. 

Unfortunately, as the sun sets in Minnesota, so too did the peace with a disruption of the combined efforts of citizens and activists by violent and aggressive law enforcement. Without regard for the nature of protests, Journalists and peaceful protestors alike were met with lines of local and state police officers and National Guardsmen. As if they have heard nothing about the use of excessive force against the inalienable rights of American citizens. 

In Atlanta, a Black couple, students from Spelman and Morehouse was attacked and dragged from their parked car, the Morehouse student tased by police officers before both of them were arrested by police. Morehouse and Spelman are perhaps the pinnacle and convergence of Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy in this country. 

Violence also escalated in New York City, where the NYPD went from a police officer shoving a woman so hard to the ground that she ended up requiring hospitalization, having a seizure and having a concussion Friday evening, to officers running over protestors with a squad truck the next day. 

Journalists covering protests in Minneapolis for national news networks were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Protests in other cities on Sunday reciprocated the energy put upon them Saturday night by law enforcement. 

Most recently, Donald Trump used armed federal soldiers to forcibly and violently remove peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. for a petty ineffective photo op. This behavior has led to condemnation from our current and former Secretaries of Defense.

Surviving and thriving. Black Americans are fighting for our birthrights as American citizens and for our lives. 401 years since the first Africans landed on the shores of Virginia. We are nineteen days short of 156 years since Juneteenth, when Texas, the last slave state freed its slaves on June 19, 1865, yet Black bodies still serve at the leisure of the Trump-supporting business owners and Governors who NEED them to go back to work, without adequate testing, healthcare or paid leave during a worldwide pandemic. 

Democracy is not a spectator sport. We are in the fourth quarter of the fight for freedom here. We have to vote in elections with the same zeal with which our grandparents get up for Sunday church services. 

There are 156 days until November 3, 2020, when Americans can raise our voices with our right to vote. From states Attorneys General to Congressmen, from the president to City Councilmen, Americans have 156 days to get their tool belt to be able to make the most informed and important decision of the year: to register to vote, to find and follow factual and trustworthy media, to learn about candidates running in local and national elections, and to decide leadership who is going to decide how we handle a litany of issues concerning our communities including, but not limited to; police violence and the second wave of COVID-19. Stay woke. Stay home. Slow the Spread. Save lives. VOTE. Godspeed. 

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