Almost a century ago, researchers in Illinois found that African Americans in Chicago were six times as likely to be killed by police as white people.
The late comedian Richard Pryor often shared his stark terror of being choked to death by a police officers. That was almost five decades ago.
And yet, here we are in 2020 watching an excruciatingly painful video of a 46-year-old security guard and father of two lying handcuffed on the ground pleading for his life while a police officer taunts him with his knee firmed on his neck. The security guard is African American. The officer is white. The security guard died moments later. His name was George Floyd.
In February, Ahmaud Arbery, an African American, was shot and killed by two white men acting as vigilantes. The men accused Arbery of several break-ins, but at the time of his death Arbery was simply jogging through a Georgia neighborhood.
In March, Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT, was shot and killed in her own apartment by police officers who busted through her apartment door. Taylor was African-American. The officer who killed Taylor was white. The officers apparently broke into the wrong apartment.
There are others. Many African Americans can probably recite most of the victims by name along with the details of each incident.
Too often, however, it seems, white America moves on.
The anger and frustration is legitimate. Not every incident is so cut and dried, but the cries of George Floyd should haunt all of us.
It would be easy to say this is a police problem, but it is more than that. It would be even easier to say it is a problem for the African American community, but it is much more than that.
It is a white problem. It is a society problem. It is everyone’s problem.
And it is wrong.
No U.S. citizen should fear being shot as they jog casually through our streets. No U.S. citizen should fear being shot to death as they lay down to sleep in their own apartment. And no U.S. citizen should die in the streets begging for his life with a knee buried in his neck while he laid handcuffed.
Burning buildings and looting is not the answer. The answer lies within each of us. First, we must acknowledge our own weaknesses and prejudices and then we must begin to recognize that beyond race, gender and nationality, we are all so much more alike than we are different.
And then we must be held accountable. All of us. We cannot continue to allow these types of things to happen without consequences. We cannot just move on.
“Devastating,” is how a lifelong police officer described Floyd’s death.
It is devastating. And we are all accountable.