Change must come

By Dr. Alwin Spence

It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words and often tells a true story.

The first time we were introduced to George Floyd, he was on the ground with a policeman’s knee pressing on his neck.
He was calling out, begging for mercy, calling for his mother, and crying out that he couldn’t breathe. He was dying.
The cop, poised with his hands in his pockets, was deaf to all his pleas and continued to apply pressure on George’s neck until he died.
One wonders at that time, what kind of animal is this policeman? What were his intentions, is he happy to have achieved his goals to kill this black man?
The scene of George Floyd on the ground at the time of his arrest, and later pictures shown at the trial, tell an important story.
The picture of George in the store, eating a banana, tall George smilingly embracing a young woman – reveal to all of us the human George, the good, friendly George.
The next picture shown at the trial was his bruised distorted face as a result of being pushed vigorously against the hard concrete surface until it was swollen and disfigured.
The human George prior to the arrival of the police and the brutal treatment once they arrived must make you wonder why?
It was nine minutes and 29 seconds that a white policeman, Derek Chauvin, casually sat and squeezed the life out of a person he clearly considered to be non-human.
To us, George was as much as human being as the police, the only difference being the colour of his skin.
For the policeman, George was never a human being. George’s black skin placed him in a low rank, whereas Chauvin’s white skin elevated him to a higher category of humanity. But examine the behaviour of George and the police. Who is behaving more like a beast?

So this incident compels us to go back into history.

1. Emmett Till, a young black teenager who was accused of allegedly smiling at the salesgirl at the corner store, was found beaten and killed. Just the perception that Emmet would dare to look on this white girl with an innocent smile, was perceived as a step outside the boundaries of his caste and determined to be a crime punishable by death. Both of his killers were acquitted by an all-white jury.

2. Another teenager, Wilie James Howard, offered a Christmas card to a girl in his class in 1943. She showed it to her parents and a mob came looking for him. They took him to a bridge, tied him and threw him over, heinous acts committed in the presence of the boy’s father. Again, retaliation for stepping out of bounds. The criminal justice system failed his family at every level to indict the boy’s murderers.

3. Dr. King’s life was taken because he dared to stand up and seek a better life for African Americans. He was perceived as a threat and paid the ultimate price for it.

4. In her book, Caste, Isabelle Wilkerson documents the stories of many upward-bound black business people whose businesses were destroyed because they were doing “too well” and often better than some white competitors.

5. Even in sports, where some Black athletes have met some degree of financial success, they are still expected to tow the line and not try to change the landscape. We know what happened to Colin Kaepernick and the price he paid for speaking out against racial injustice.

So even though slavery might have been abolished, in the minds of some white people Blacks should continue to be chained and oppressed and are expected to support the success of the White man, but certainly not surpass him in any way.
Many of these atrocious acts and retaliations for perceived wrongs were audacious and public, setting an example to any others who may have the inclination to do likewise. Shunning, firings, public flogging, burnings and lynching, and more recently, excessive use of force by an officer of the law (while knowingly being filmed) sends a message to anyone who dares – you too will pay a price.

George Floyd died because he was perceived as daring to resist. While handcuffed, subdued and unable to defend himself, an officer of the law placed his full body weight, hands in pockets to show how easy it was, and used Floyd to set an example.
It is like the new plantation owner in the days of slavery whose first act, when he takes over the plantation, is to flog each and every black slave, establishing himself as a brute not to be toyed with.
It is hopeful that the new President Biden is trying to balance his Cabinet with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Blacks may be given better and more powerful positions. Opportunities for better education are there for many. But how does this change the mentality of police like Derek Chauvin who “chauvinistically” murder on the job?
If the story of George Floyd doesn’t change minds, what will change the mentality of those who believe that White is right and better, and white people have the God-given right to treat Black people as inferior.
Can Black people alone change the warped thinking of some White people by marching and demonstrating? No!
We need white people to take up the mantle or baton and publicly run alongside us and challenge the thinking that has led to circumstances like the terrible one in Minnesota last year.
We need to hear from white congressmen and women, from Senators, from international partners like our own Prime Minister and all those with legitimate power to enforce change. Let’s put the horse in front of the cart and get moving before more lives are jeopardized. Change must come!