Fear, frustration, anger, and helplessness are some of the emotions many are experiencing as events unfold surrounding the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protests erupt and many turned violent, including some in Des Moines. For people of color, African Americans specifically, this is not a one-off moment, it is how life is most of the time. The fear of a traffic stop, someone else weaponizing law enforcement or simply going for a jog. Fearing doing life while living.
Learning of more death and delayed justice triggers flashbacks for so many who experienced pain because of the color of their skin.
I am not black. I cannot say I fully understand the black struggle because I am brown. Without a doubt, black and brown experiences intersect, but I will not dare pretend I know what it is like to be black in America.
In this stirring up of past racially-driven experience, I could not help but recall a trip to Chicago. On our drive back, on Interstate 80, we were followed by another vehicle that got too close to us in a threatening manner. In our car was my daughter and a good friend of mine. The situation became so tense and menacing that we decided to call the state patrol for help. In our call, we explained what was going on and provided them with our location.
A patrol car showed up and pulled both cars over. The officer first spent a minute or less talking to the aggressive driver and let him go right away.
The officer approached our vehicle and asked my friend, a Latino, to step out while yelling, getting in his face. This public servant wanted to know why we dared called them for “no reason.”
During this exchange, the patrolman asked for a driver’s license and as my friend reached for it the officer noticed my friend had a law enforcement badge. This led him to question whether the badge was fake or not. He had his partner check and confirm it was a real badge. The ordeal ended with a final provocation to which we did not respond and were able to leave.
We called the state patrol because we did not feel safe to begin with. At the end, we felt we were in danger, threatened and with fear of my friend going to jail. We drove off, my daughter was safe, we were safe.
We filed a formal complaint with The Professional Standards Bureau, and it was concluded that our complaint was founded.
We were lucky. Black men and women do not always get to go home, and in the case of Breonna Taylor, she was not even safe at home.
Recent events were brought to light because they were video recorded. Now we are witnessing aggressions on TV, cell phones, and computers. We see injustice, anger and no solutions in sight.
In our usually quiet city of Des Moines, we see protests and riots, some which have ended in violence. Many wonder, what does Iowa have to do with what happened in Minneapolis? I guess they ignore the ripple effects of generational oppression and long-awaited change.
Racial disparities and discrimination are not exclusive to law enforcement; they are alive and present in everyday life for African Americans and other people of color. From board rooms to private businesses, the public sector to family circles, and the political arena.
One underlying issue is that we fail to admit and recognize that racism exists, that many remain silent and complicit. Organizations make small investments in often-empty diversity and inclusion efforts. People of color are called to participate in dialogue and leave disappointed. Others recruit “diversity” as a window dressing, yet remain racist at their core.
Systemic racism needs systemic change. All this takes time and effort, while many are desperate for change now.
As an activist, I have witnessed white leaders attempting to create change and failing, not because they are bad people, but because it takes all of us to do so.
I have friends in multiple sectors who have and are working against racism. They too are tired and sometimes hopeless because progress is slow.
Two days ago, I saw a posting in social media from a police officer I got to know and respect. In his post, he talked about leaving for work and how his young kids cried because they were afraid for him after watching the unrest taking place in the city. I fear for him and many others that I consider my friends. I have collaborated with the police department for a long time in order to be a bridge between my community and law enforcement.
At the same time, I have many friends who are hurt and live in fear for their own kids and grandchildren. One of those friends talked about his young son crying because he is afraid of being black. They had “the talk” with their children, specifically with their sons. Why do they have to have that talk about the risk of being a black male in this country?
Tears roll down my face and I ache for those who hurt and live in fear. I also cried when I saw images of DMPD officers kneeling with protesters. That is a good start. That gave me hope. Let’s not allow this to be a mere symbolic gesture, but a step forward toward real change.
by Claudia Thrane
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