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The Murder of George Floyd and The New Civil Rights Movement



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A selfie of a middle-aged black man wearing a black and grey knit hoodie.
George Floyd did not deserve to die. Source

Strange fruit on red lines cross blue lines and die.

In the last moments of George Floyd’s life, he was lying on the ground, a terribly symbolic knee on his neck, begging for his life and crying for his mother. It was heartbreaking.

And it was broadcast across the world.

For those who are not Americans, you might wonder how the death of this man has led to riots, has led to the President of the United States threatening to shoot those responsible for “looting” (A threat which, if carried out, violates the oath of office Trump swore to uphold ).

But it’s shouldn’t be hard to understand. Colin Kaepernick lost his career and was vilified in the press for respectfully “taking a knee” during the National Anthem. Yet another uppity black person who didn’t know his place. You can’t protest peacefully. You can’t vote your way to equality if enough people vote against you. You can’t protest racism without being accused of being racist . What avenues are for protest are left?

Strange fruit on red lines cross blue lines and die.

Strange Fruit , started as a poem and later became that magnificent song by Billie Holiday singing about black people being lynched in the south and hanging from trees (like fruit). Listen to Jill Scott singing Strange Fruit.

Redlining , of course, is the historical US practice of keeping black people out of white neighborhoods.

The blue line, of course, represents the police.

In a recent study of US police use of force , we find that black people are two and a half times more likely to be killed by police than white people. The reasons are debated , but it’s a moot point. As The Guardian found in their comprehensive research of US police killings, US police routinely kill more people in days than other countries do in years . From that article:

In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the US fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years.

You can argue all you want about why police are killing more black people than white people, but this neatly sidesteps the issue of why US police are killing at all.

Despite that, I’ll sidestep that issue. I’ll even sidestep the issues of racial justice because there should be no need to belabor the point that being black in America is fraught with danger and discrimination. Instead, I want to point out where this could be leading.

The New Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s was people of all skin tones working together to end the widespread discrimination against blacks. The 14th Amendment guaranteed all US citizens “equal protection of the laws” and the 15th Amendment gave black people the right to vote.

Black and white photograph of Thomas Mundy Peterson
Thomas Mundy Peterson was the first black person to vote after the passage of the 15th amendment. Source

After the 15th Amendment was passed, Thomas Peterson was the first black person to vote in the United States. The people in his town later raised money and gave him a gold medal celebrating this event. However, Jim Crow laws , mostly enacted in the Southern US, were passed with the goal of taking away this right.

These laws were largely successful. Redlining ensured that black people were not allowed to live in “white” communities and would be denied the economic opportunities that white people enjoyed. Education systems funded by property taxes meant that white children received better education than black children, which, in turn, helped to ensure that black people in the US would be economically disadvantaged.

But all of that pales in comparison to the thousands of black people who were lynched in the (mostly Southern) US , almost universally without legal repercussions. According to the NAACP :

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black. The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched. These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded. Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched. That is only 27.3%. Many of the whites lynched were lynched for helping the black or being anti lynching and even for domestic crimes.

Black and white photograph of two black men hung from a tree while smiling and laughing white people celebrate.
The Lynching of Tom Shipp and Abe Smith at Marion, Indiana, August 7, 1930 Source

These and many other issues helped drive the Civil Rights Movement, but today, many Americans don’t realize just how bloody that movement was. Sure, we know about the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. And maybe you’ve a vague recollection of someone named Medgar Evers , but did you also know about George W. Lee , Lamar Smith , Dr. Thomas Brewer , Herbert Lee , William Moore , Louis Allen , James Chaney , Andrew Goodman , Michael Schwerner , James Reeb , Viola Liuzzo , Jonathan Daniels , Sammy Younge Jr. , Vernon Dahmer , Robert W. Spike , or Wharlest Jackson ?

No, you probably didn’t know most of those names (I certainly didn’t). The US school system largely omits the history of the Civil Rights Movement and to this day, it’s hard to get a full accounting of how many people died as a result of that movement, but in reading their stories, one thing becomes clear: many of them knew they might die, but they did what they did anyway. But we usually didn’t learn that in schools; it’s just not taught.

It’s a crime that we’re not taught about all of those people murdered for the crime of thinking that discrimination against black people is wrong.

These issues drove the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s, but George Floyd’s death, or the future death of another person like him, will drive the new Civil Rights Movement.

Thugs

I recently shared a video on Facebook that went viral and currently has over 20 million views. I was flooded with friend requests. So I decided to conduct an experiment. With the exception of those accounts who clearly appeared to be bots, I accepted all of those friend requests in an attempt to positively engage with those who had different worldviews from mine. My wife wasn’t happy about this and, I must admit, she was right. I learned quite a bit from that experiment, but the main takeaway was simply that Facebook isn’t the place to have nuanced discussions about political issues.

The latest trainwreck of conversation was by someone reading one of my posts about George Floyd’s death and the subsequent riots and simply replying “Oh well thugs are thugs after all.” Their subsequent comments flowed into anti-LGBT territory and a defence of Trump, just in case anyone misunderstood where their sympathies lay. These attitudes by those who ”friended” me on Facebook are very, very common.

Black people aren’t protesting against the death of George Floyd. They’re just thugs. And what are these thugs protesting against?

Christian Cooper (who happens to be black), a board member of the Audobon Society in New York, was bird watching when he asked a woman to leash her dog in an area where dogs weren’t allowed off leash. Her response (on camera) was to yell “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life!”

Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man out for a jog, was hunted down and killed by three white men in Georgia.

Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was shot just for walking home.

Botham Shem Jean, also black, was relaxing in his own apartment when he was murdered by an off-duty police officer.

Oscar Grant (coincidentally, black), was held down by police and shot in the back.

In fact, one study of Deaths Due to Use of Lethal Force by Law Enforcement found:

Victims were ... disproportionately black with a fatality rate 2.8 times higher among blacks than whites ... [Black] victims were more likely to be unarmed than white or Hispanic victims.

Black children have been shot and killed by police for carrying toy guns or cell phones. Eric Garner was choked to death by police for selling cigarettes. In 2015, an average of two unarmed black people were killed each week by police in the United States .

A new Civil Rights Movement is starting in the United States.

It’s not about disenfranchisement.

It’s not about redlining.

It’s not about loss of job opportunities.

It’s about being murdered for being black.

A black field with the words “black lives matter” written on it.
Black Lives Matter

There’s a new civil rights movement brewing in the United States of America and it’s long overdue.

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