Last night, my son was surrounded by gunfire, Molotov cocktails igniting buildings, restaurants going up in flames, and businesses being looted. He is not a soldier and he is not in the middle of a war. Or maybe he is.
The riots that have broken out in the days following the horrific murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers have shed light not just on the rampant racism across our nation, but also on the ensuing rage that results from decades of unjust treatment. From coast to coast, in almost every major city, peaceful protests have led to violent outbursts and a mob mentality that is both scary and uncontrollable.
Outside my son’s building in Atlanta, sirens wailed as streets filled with mostly young people consumed by rage and obviously feeling that the only way to release it is to destroy. My son, like most Millennials, has grown up in a highly diverse world where none of his friends would turn away a friend, date, or colleague based on the color of their skin. It’s not that they are naïve to the fact that racism exists; they just don’t embody it. To them, racism is unique to the older generation or people who have grown up in a small bubble, never exposed to those of different colors or cultures.
Then we see video of a man who by all accounts acquiesced and remained respectful to the police officers who were arresting him. He put up no fight. Hurled no threats. Allowed himself to be handcuffed and followed all commands. For no particular reason, one police officer forced him to the ground and knelt on his carotid artery, stopping all oxygen to his brain while he pleaded for his life, pleaded for his dead mama. Three other police officers stood by and did nothing. We all witnessed it. I wish I hadn’t. I don’t like to believe that that kind of evil exists in the world.
But rioting, destruction of innocent people’s property, and looting only draw attention away from the victim of this heinous crime. Those actions do nothing but confirm the stereotype that the ignorant cling to still, in 2020. “See!” they say. “This is exactly the kind of behavior that causes police officers to act the way they do.” But the vast majority of black people do not riot and do not in any way condone violent behavior. Those near my son during the riots were actually concerned for his well-being and shook their heads at the violence going on around them. These aren’t the actions of an entire race. They are the actions of people who are exploding from years of pent up resentment. Black leaders have stood up and begged young black men and women to protest peacefully, as Martin Luther King, Jr, espoused. So while the rage is 100% justifiable, the violent response is not.
Here in Houston, helicopters hovered overhead all night Friday. Four innocent Houston police officers were injured and 200 protestors were arrested. Freeways were shut down and businesses already hurt by Covid closures were vandalized and looted. And for what? Yes, it got everyone’s attention. But peaceful protests would have accomplished much more; voting, even more still.
As a white woman, I will never have the same perspective as a black woman who is reminded on a daily basis that she is black. I can’t, no matter how many black friends I have and no matter how hard I try. I’ve never had to think about the fact that I’m white. I’ve never felt unjust treatment because I am white. I’ve never been scared for my children because I’m white. I can’t imagine being black in America and feeling like you are walking around with a target on your back. I also can’t imagine thinking for a minute that attacking an innocent person or business will improve my situation.
When I woke up to the series of texts and videos my son recorded during the riots, it made me physically ill. My son could have been shot just for walking down his street. That is the closest I’ll ever come to understanding what it is like to be a black mother. I’ve had this feeling once, just this morning. Imagine having it every time your son walks out the door.