On May 25, George Floyd was murdered by his ex-coworker, police officer Derek Chauvin, while three other officers stood by and watched. The resulting protests across the country have been met with extreme violence from police and white supremacists alike. It shouldn’t be controversial or dangerous to claim that Black lives matter, but, somehow, it still is –– and, non-Black folks, that’s on all of us.
We both love Carbondale. It’s a great town full of great people. That doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist here, or that things don’t need to change. Our town, our police department, and each one of us who benefit from white privilege are part of the same system that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. It’s our responsibility to rectify that system, and we aren’t helpless. To all of us who have the privilege not to fear unprovoked police attacks: We are calling for unified commitment to these three actions, in solidarity with those who have no such security.
- Donate to the Black Lives Matter movement.
There are organizations across the nation doing incredible work, from building bail funds to advocating investment in community-led health and safety strategies instead of over-policing. Leveraging any economic privilege you have to financially support efforts like these is a critical form of solidarity; it also supports a shift in resources and power that is arguably our best chance at long-term, peaceful, productive policy change. Visit tinyurl.com/BLMdonationresources for a full list of suggested resources.
- Know the history behind the system.
The modern police force was born from two distinct groups in the seventeenth century. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Groups in the North called “night watches,” formed by wealthy white Americans, increasingly focused on patrolling immigrant neighborhoods and eventually became state-sanctioned authorities. In the South, according to the National Law Enforcement Museum, the predecessors to the modern police were slave patrols tasked with capturing runaway slaves, creating terror to prevent revolts, and delivering punishment to slaves. It is these weapons, methods, and mentalities historically used to control people of color which form the foundation of policing in the US. This system was literally built to capture Black and immigrant bodies; we shouldn’t be surprised when it does. For more information on the history of the police in the U.S., see this link: https://tinyurl.com/Policehistoryresources.
- Demand accountability starting at home.
It is vital that we push for reform on a local level, too. We need to demand information about the workings of our own police department. How will the nearly $2 million our town invested in the police force this year be used, particularly the $20K for “equipment?” What kind of de-escalation training do officers undergo? What is the department’s protocol for use of force? Carbondale’s police department exists within the same racist national framework that murdered George Floyd, and the first step to reckoning with this structure’s impact is transparency.
It’s easy to think, “Oh, well, he was a bad cop,” or, “Oh, in that city things are messed up.” But it’s not a few cops, it’s not a few cities. We don’t somehow exist outside of history and racism. And it doesn’t matter whether or not every member of a police force is dangerously racist; a single cop is too many. We are lucky to live in a relatively safe and peaceful town, but that doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to enact change. Too often social movements die in white middle America. This one can’t. It’s too important.
This is not a plea for charity. We are not asking you to put on a cape and save Black America. We are asking you to act in solidarity with people across the country fighting for their lives, because we are part of the problem, and because our own humanity is on the line. When we turn a blind eye to Black murder, we become less human ourselves. We are sick and tired of living in a world that upholds the murder of Black bodies as lawful. We hope you are, too.
Emily Bruell contributed to this column.