A white police officer murdered unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, two years ago today.
The murder of Mr. Floyd broadened the Movement for Black Lives to a global reckoning, another cycle of history repeating itself over more than 400 years. In February 1965, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson was part of a protest in Marion, Alabama, against the arrest of a local civil rights activist. An Alabama state trooper shot Jackson, who was shielding his mother from attacks. The killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson was the spark that led to the march from Selma to Montgomery, said the late Congressman John Lewis.
Like Jimmie Lee Jackson, George Floyd forever changed the world. His sacrifice transformed our nation’s – and the world’s – consciousness on race. But we have far to go.
Central New Yorkers march today in Syracuse to mark the second anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s murder. This march was not planned as a commemoration of the lives of ten Black people murdered by a white supremacist. But May 14 changed that.
The broken system continues to disproportionately harm and kill so many: Black, Latinx and Native people, transgender people, and people with disabilities. Most of us have at least one family member, friend, or someone we care about who belongs to at least one of these groups or another group historically harmed or unprotected by the current system.
These truths weigh more heavily when we consider that those who protest in support of justice and safety and against police brutality are regularly arrested and charged for assembling. We saw hundreds and hundreds of protestors arrested in the year following Mr. Floyd’s death, while too many who commit murder in police uniform (and who attack the U.S. Capitol) walk free. A report last year showed that authorities had punished protestors of police misconduct more harshly than the January 6 insurrectionists.
We have far to go, but the movement has forced some change. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced as the first-ever bold, comprehensive approach to hold police accountable and change the culture of law enforcement. Still, although the U.S. House passed the measure, Republicans in the U.S. Senate continuously blocked its passage, even when the upper chamber passed into the control of the Democrats.
There was a lot of movement and promises made following Mr. Floyd’s murder, but it appears that we are still in much the same place. “I wish we could say [Floyd] was the catalyst to change,” said Jada Nutter of Minneapolis to The Washington Post. But “even two years now, we haven’t seen much change.”
So many elements of our democracy are falling apart. Black people are still being killed. Election deniers are winning primaries. The pandemic continues to disproportionately harm our BIPOC communities while dramatically increasing the wealth of the ultra-rich.
This brings us back to the words of the late Congressman John Lewis: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
We must fight on. We must remain engaged. Join the national movement to call attention to the June 9 hearings on the January 6 Capitol insurrection and get involved in efforts like the Aunties Coalition.
We can’t give up. George Floyd is looking down on us from above.
EQUAL JUSTICE SOCIETY
John Lewis: ‘Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation’
While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
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