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George, We Are So Sorry. This WILL NOT Be In Vain.

"No more minding my business, straddling fences, tinting my vision. Can I get a witness?"—SHANNON SANDERS, "Silence Is Violence"

Human Interest

It's amazing what the Most High prepares us for, sometimes without us even understanding why. At the top of the year, when some of the people in my world asked me what I would be focusing on in 2020, I said, "I feel the need to praise and support Black men more. That will be my mission." All this year, I've been intentional about complimenting Black men, both young and not-so-young. I've found ways to use my gifts to help them when and wherever I can. I purchased a shirt (that you can get here) that simply says, "Black Men Are Not Your Enemy" (they have one that says the same about Black women too, by the way).

And perhaps, that's why, the moment that I saw the video—the video that will be forever embedded in my brain that I will not be sharing here because I want to be sensitive to those who are triggered by such graphic visuals—I was immediately shook to the point of tears (Darnella Frazier, thank you for your courage in capturing the footage; we know things would be looking very different right now if you hadn't. We're holding you up, sis). Did I really just watch a man, yes, a Black man, die—no, be murdered—on a live video? By a cop? A cop who has a history of using "excessive force" with other civilians (and used to work with George at the same club months before. SMDH)? While three other cops watched? In front of over a dozen bystanders who pleaded with him to get off of George Floyd's neck? As George pleaded the same?

Even now, as I'm writing this, I'm having to take deep breaths because reliving what my brother—our brother—went through is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking and so hard to process, let alone digest. The pic that leads this story? It's selected by design to remind us that he lived the same regular day-to-day life that we all do. As someone who's lost a fiancée, I feel for his. Every time I read about how much of a "gentle giant" he was, I find myself getting triggered all over again. And what did he lose his life over? A freakin' counterfeit twenty dollar bill. One that Mahmod Abumayaleh—the owner of the store where George was last seen alive—said was very possibly one that George didn't even know was fake. One that, either way, shouldn't have resulted in the loss of his life. Have mercy, there are no words. Yet, I will try and find some. So that I can let those who knew and loved him know, in my own small way, that his living—and dying—will not be in vain by sharing these five points and suggestions.

Someone Just Died. Senselessly So. It's OK to Feel…However You Do.

There is no handbook for shock—or grief. That's why, there is no reason why any of us should feel apologetic about however we feel about George's death. Or how he died. With articles running like, "Prosecutor says he won't 'rush' to charge cops involved in George Floyd death", I totally get why there are Twitter posts like:

It's also why I appreciate others like:

And, while there are actual Black women (what in the world, Candace?! There are more than just white Karens in the world…clearly) who are posting thought-less videos about how Black people are acting like "trained chimpanzees" in response to their pain, I totally understand why actors like John Boyega are standing firm in saying things like this:

Y'all, we have every right to be angry. So, for all of the folks who are using the ever-so-popular, gloss-over-the-problem phrases like, "don't hate, love", please remember that even God Himself got angry, at times. The Bible says, "Be angry and do not sin" (Psalm 4:4, Ephesians 4:26-27). The Bible also says, "SEEK JUSTICE" and "REBUKE THE OPPRESSOR" (yes, I am yelling those phrases—Isaiah 1:17).

By the way, while we're here, one definition of hate is "unwilling". It is not "unloving" to be unwilling to put up with injustice. Please let's stop it with any narrative that presumes otherwise.

Yet what gave me the extra internal push to pen this piece was when I saw videos like the one from this absolutely beautiful young Black man, Keedron Bryant, singing about being "a young Black man, doing all that I can":

And a video that was posted by the Emmy-nominated actor Asante Blackk (who played the younger Kevin Richardson in When They See Us), as he shared how his parents' anniversary had a bit of a dim light on it due to how "traumatizing it is, growing up as a young Black man in this country":

Both of these are a very vivid reminder that, every time a life is taken, senselessly so, it has a domino effect. And, just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes that same village to acknowledge, to mourn, to comfort, to speak up, to defend, to rally—to do what needs to be done to bring about real and lasting change. To do so, yes, as Malcolm X once said, "By any means necessary."

I won't pretend to act like I have even an inkling of all the answers. But as so many of us are sitting in our homes, staring at our computer monitors (or smartphone screens), still in utter disbelief of what this week has brought about, I did want to share a few gentle nudges about what we all can do to keep from being stagnant in our shock, fear, confusion—or all three.

5 Ways to Get Through This Time of Injustice

1. Speak Out

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God gave us all gifts and platforms. One of mine is the gift of writing. That's a part of the reason why I thought it would be a slap in the face of my Creator to not use it to say something about this horrific loss. My godchildren's mother wrote a song entitled "We Are Seeds" with a visual that addresses police brutality (and ICE). Maybe you've got a T-shirt line. Maybe you have a podcast or YouTube channel. Even if it's just your social media account, it's not enough to just talk amongst your family members, friends and co-workers.

Author Germany Kent once said, "To say nothing is saying something. You must denounce things you are against or one might believe that you support things you really do not."

Your gifts and platform aren't just for yourself or your own personal gain. You are more powerful than you know. Find a way to speak out about what has transpired—what has been transpiring among our people. Not later. As soon as you possibly can. You never know who you'll motivate and inspire to do the same.

2. Be a “Professional Student” When It Comes to Social Injustice

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Something that a friend of mine and I were talking about this week is how there needs to be more leaders when it comes to social injustice and that we ALL need to be willing to become constant students of the issues that affect our community as well. I don't know about y'all, but when I was growing up, I was made to watch the Eyes on the Prize series and march on MLK Day. Ignorance about social justice and injustice was not an option. I didn't have access to the world wide web until college, but now, all sorts of information are at our constant disposal. You can immediately read articles like "Number of people shot to death by the police in the United States from 2017 to 2020, by race", "Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex" and "Addressing Police Misconduct Laws Enforced by the Department of Justice", "Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual" and "Having 'The Talk': Expert Guidance On Preparing Kids For Police Interactions".

Speak with any lawyers you might know. Read about the laws in your own state. If you personally know a cop, get their insights and perspectives. Soak up as much information as you can. Then pass what you know down to your children. Knowledge will never stop being powerful. Let it fuel you.

3. Encourage Non-Blacks to Be ANTI-RACIST

You don't need me to tell you what it's like to be Black in America or what the headlines have been saying, especially as of late (RIP to you as well, Sir Ahmaud Arbery). As someone who went to a racist "Christian" high school, please believe that this has brought back all kinds of feelings of what it's like to be around people who aren't Black who think they aren't racist when…they actually very much so are. It can be very tempting to want to see all people who don't look like us as an enemy. Yet I must say that I have seen many people who aren't my ethnicity show up and show out during this time. No, it's not because they don't see color (maybe one day, I'll get into how that phrase makes me cringe); it's because they know that all hues deserve honor, respect and dignity. It's because they aren't just "not racist"; they are, as biologist Corina Newsome so powerfully, eloquently and concisely stated in a tweet a few days ago, anti-racist. They don't just think it's OK to not pre (or mis) judge someone based on their ethnicity, they encourage those around them to not be that way too.

There are articles like "Black People Need Stronger White Allies — Here's How You Can Be One", "'Unarmed Black Man' Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means" and "If You're a White Woman and You're Uncomfortable Right Now, That's a Good Thing" out in cyberspace that are sounding the alarm that racism is a human issue, not just a "non-white problem". Listen, I know that some people are intentionally ridiculous, I won't fight you on that. But others need to be educated. They need to hear our thoughts, our perspective—our history (because Lord knows that schools aren't boiling over with Black history and education). Share it.

4. Treat EACH ONE Like They’re the First One

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There was absolutely no way that I was going to write without asking us all to take a moment of silence out for Ms. Breonna Taylor. A certified EMT who was killed as officers were in the midst of issuing a no-knock search warrant in a narcotics investigation. After firing 20 shots, with eight hitting Breonna, the officers "realized" they were looking for someone who was already apprehended. This happened on March 13. A lot of us didn't know about it until well into April and even May.

There has been a lot of anger surrounding the fact that, not only did it take so long for her story to become national—and even international—news, but it seems like her name is not being spoken as loudly as George and Ahmad's. I just want to take a moment to say that as a Black woman, her loss literally hits differently. She matters in a very unique and significant way. We will seek her justice, just as much, as well. Because we should never get so used to this kind of recklessness and brutality that everyone just…runs in together. Breonna, you also did not die in vain. We honor you and your legacy. We will not rest until justice is sought out on your behalf too. Rest in peace and power, sis. And Kenneth Walker—Breonna's boyfriend who fought to protect his and Breonna's life and then was unjustly arrested because of it—we appreciate you standing up for the woman you loved. That is manhood infinity. We see you. You are in our prayers.

5. Be Unapologetic About Being Revolutionary

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Marc Lamont Hill recently shared his thoughts about George Floyd and the protests surrounding his death on Facebook. His message was entitled, "These Are Not Riots". I won't lie, as I was listening to some of what he said, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" started to get louder and louder in my head.

As I watched the video, I thought to myself, "George is not a victim so much as he's a martyr." What I mean by that is a martyr is someone who endures great suffering, sometimes to the point of death, oftentimes for a greater cause than they would ever know. What happened this past Memorial Day has clearly lit a fire in so many of us that revolutions— a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure—are needed sometimes. This, fam, is one of those times.

Regardless of what your personal thoughts and feelings of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara may be, one thing that he said is spot-on: "If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine." Just like each church-goer has their own way of praising the Lord, each of us have our own way of seeking justice on behalf of George Floyd and oh so many others. Let's be smart. Let's be safe. But yes, let's be radical too. Because as someone once said, "Nothing changes…if nothing changes."

George, as you cried out for your mother who passed last year in the very last moments of life, I truly believe that angels came to comfort you. I don't know one person, personally, who is not grieving along with your family that remains. Although it's not enough to say, we are so very sorry. Yet please know that this is not a passing news story for the Black community. This has raised a righteous anger and awareness in us that will not leave us any time soon. A change is gonna come. A revolution is in motion. You did not die in vain. From the depths of my heart, I can promise you that. Rest now. We've got you—and Ahmad, Breonna, Tamir, Alton, Sean, Atatiana, Philando, Korryn, Mike, Trayvon and…

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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