Do you remember that children’s book, Are You My Mother? It’s where a bird goes around asking a kitten, a cow, a dog and others if they are its mother.
I feel like I’m that little bird when it comes to the spate of black men being killed. With each Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin or Amadou Diallo, I’m asking: Are you my Emmett Till?
Which one of you will be the one who opens all of America’s eyes to the ugliness of systemic racism? Till was a 14-year-old Chicago kid who was lynched in Mississippi. The year was 1955 and his mom had an open casket funeral so the world could see his mangled body. An all-white jury did not convict the two men charged with the crime, though one of them admitted to the killing years later. Till’s horrible death was one of the major catalysts of the Civil Rights movement.
Honestly, I thought Trayvon Martin was going to be the catalyst to fight the modern-day effects of institutional racism that was forewarned in the historic 1967 Kerner Commission report. But apparently a wanna-be cop gunning down a 17-year-old with a hoodie and Skittles wasn’t enough to incite nationwide change. I recognize that gains were made and without a doubt Trayvon Martin did not die in vain.
But I wanted more. My country needs more.
When Michael Brown was killed, I watched as the nation divided largely along color lines and saw the truths of their own personal experiences. Communities that have found police officers to be helpful and heroic saw Brown’s death one way, and communities that have found officers to be rude bullies had a different take.
I also watched a militarized police force violate the rights of my fellow Americans. And things shifted. I started to see more white people protesting in Ferguson, Mo. and around the country in support of Ferguson. I started to hope that this time could be different.
Then the Michael Brown grand jury decision came and the difference was apparent. There were no longer mostly black people protesting with die-ins, marches and rallies. The protesters were white, black, Hispanic, Asian, all kinds of ethnicities. My hopes were buoyed.
Next came the grand jury decision on Eric Garner, who died after an officer put him in a chokehold. It was clear, Americans of every hue were outraged. The protests stretched from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. My hope for improving America’s race relations grew.
We can’t have substantial change unless people from all backgrounds demand it. When the world saw Emmett Till’s body after he had been beaten, shot, tied to a cotton gin fan and tossed in the Tallahatchie River, many said, whoa, this isn’t the America I want. This ends now. It was like seeing is believing.
Is listening to Eric Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe!” enough to make us say, this isn’t the America I want?
Is the disturbing videotape of Garner’s chokehold going to be the equivalent of Till’s open casket for my generation? Will it be another case of seeing is believing? I don’t want to wait to find out. I shouldn’t have to wait for the “perfect victim” to galvanize this country. I just want all of this to end.
I am glad about the Ferguson Commission, the new federal guidelines on racial profiling, and the Dec. 13 march in Washington but it’s not enough. We have whole communities that rightfully distrust the police, neighborhoods where the entire system has failed its citizens. I believe most cops are good cops, but we all know it only takes a few bad apples. And our justice system is fatally flawed.
Our country needs all of us to chip in. Every day in your life you can push for change. I don’t have enough room to list all the examples here, but educate yourself on what subtle, modern day racism looks like because its damage is real. If you can see it, you’re better equipped to fight it. When someone else points out racism, don’t immediately dismiss them as being too sensitive or playing a race card. Let’s listen to each other. Teach your children by showing them the actions of an open mind. Keep marching, keep protesting, keep tweeting #CrimingWhileWhite #AliveWhileBlack, please don’t give up. Keep demanding for a better America.
Do it for the Emmett Tills. The Rumain Brisbons, Prince Joneses and Jonathan Ferrells.
Give truth to Eric Garner’s words: This ends now.