As America witnessed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, no one could argue that his blackness wasn’t the catalyst that led to his murder. His demise has returned the spotlight on racist policing and the dehumanization of African Americans in the criminal legal system. Floyd’s premature death reads like an installment in an ongoing tragedy, with intervals so short between chapters that one black life taken is followed by another and another in rapid succession. Say their names: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Stephon Clark, Mario Woods, Jessica Williams, Steven Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Amadou Diallo, and on and on and on.
This is the backdrop that frames our response to the death of George Floyd, along with the devastating effect of Covid-19 and its disparate impact on the black community. We share the grief and anger that’s spilling into the streets, calling for justice. We’re learning from members of the black community how systemic racism forces so many Americans to contain their sorrow and rage even when there isn’t a vessel large enough to hold it.
A Three-Step Process
We face myriad challenges. First, we need to ensure that the slew of hastily announced “curfews” imposed in several cities and counties across California are lifted, and those that have been lifted are not reinstated. The disruptions they cause are far broader than necessary and threaten free speech and the right to assemble, as well as preventing people from attending to their ordinary needs during this extraordinary time. Blanket closure of all public spaces gives police unfettered discretion, which has been shown to lead to selective and biased enforcement. This creates a high potential for the exact type of racialized abuses that are being protested. We must prevent the government—locally and nationally—from seizing upon the public health crisis and this time of protest against police violence to enact broad and limitless measures that strip us of our fundamental rights.
Second, we must advance urgently needed reforms of our local police departments. The repetition of unjustifiable homicides and shootings must cease, replaced by broad changes to law enforcement policies, practices, and cultures. Over the past decade, with the extraordinary leadership of people affected by police violence, California has passed meaningful legislation to gain access to racial profiling data, open misconduct records, and impose limits on police use of deadly force. Each of these laws must be faithfully and immediately implemented, which requires pressure from the public and leadership from elected officials. This year our focus is on continuing to hold police accountable, limiting the potential for abuse, and shifting resources away from police and toward community-based initiatives that support true safety, health, and well-being. To that end, the ACLU signed a letter by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) calling for defunding of police and reinvestment in communities.
Third, we call on members and supporters of civil liberties and civil rights organizations like the ACLU to proactively fight racism and to support and lift up black-led organizations with pro-black agendas. We must focus on the issues that bring us here today—the stark racial divide that persists in our social fabric and the current manifestation of white supremacy. Guided by our shared humanity, we must support black leadership in the quest for justice and power without expecting black people to “cure” or “fix” the racism imposed upon them. To people with financial means, and the many foundations in California, we urge you to donate to community-led organizations mobilizing to stem the impact of police violence. Just a few of those groups are listed below.
The Path Forward
At this moment, when government forces threaten those who dare to resist, including the press that reports on this resistance, we must continue to speak up unambiguously for racial justice and the right to protest. In honor of George Floyd and all black and brown people who have unjustly lost their lives to police violence, we must reaffirm our unequivocal stance against police brutality.
We’re living in an unprecedented time requiring us to make stark choices. How many more George Floyds can we watch die before us? How long can we tolerate a system that recycles fallacies about the value and worth of one human being compared with another? How long can we tolerate responses to crises that underscore the disparities that exist among us?
The answer is obvious, but the road to get there is unpaved. History is replete with examples of barriers so imposing, it wasn’t clear if they could ever be challenged—but somehow they were. It is now up to us to join forces and secure the monumental changes that are needed so that the George Floyds of the world can live out their natural lives in peace and with justice.