When You Have To Choose Between Social Distancing And Social Justice

We Can't Breathe Rally at Mount Vernon City Hall, Friday, May 29, 2020 [Black Westchester]

We are living in an unprecedented time, having to navigate the uncharted waters of a new normal. But not even the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic could stop the need to continue fighting for social justice as more African-Americans are killed at the hands of law enforcement. Most notably the summary executions of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor has many having to make the choice of obeying social distancing protocols or hitting the streets to protest and continuing the fight for social justice. In a perfect world, one would never have to make such a decision, but we do not live in a perfect world and this is our new normal.

From the blatant actions of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed face down in the street, while three other officers – Tou Thao, age 34, J. Alexander Kueng, age 26, and Thomas K. Lane, age 37 – participated and/or watched as Floyd cried for his mama and narrated his own death on video. ‘I can’t breathe’ would be his last words, reminding us of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner. Another life lost on livestream.

Then we have an unarmed 25-year-old African-American man, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot near Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia, Arbery was sentenced to death for Jogging While Black with three good ‘ole boys – Gregory McMichael, 64, and son Travis, 34 and William Bryan Jr playing judge, jury, and executioner, while they videotaped it.

And let’s not forget Breonna Taylor, a young Black Woman, who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers. Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Brett Hankison, and Detective Myles Cosgrove who entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, while serving a “no-knock warrant.” While I’m writing these very words, Friday, June 5th, would have been her 27th birthday. Happy Birthday, Breonna, we will continue to Say Your Name!

While they hit the streets for Breonna in Louisville, one of the 18 states with an increase in newly reported cases of COVID-19, we may not know for another 10-14 days just how much was risked to make their voices heard around the county for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and all the others like Kenneth Chamberlain Sr, here in Westchester County. Risking becoming sick because they were sick and tired of being sick and tired. Risking not only possible arrest and physical violence from the police, but risking their very lives by breaking all social distances protocols recommended to stand up and fight for social justice.

We reached a moment where to need to fight for social justice far outweighs the risk of not social distancing. Now more than ever, we are fighting for the health of our community while risking our personal health. The COVID-19 pandemic that has grabbed our community by the shoulders and shaken the shit out of us, was not enough to stop the ongoing struggle for justice, freedom, and equality as many take to the streets nationwide to protest the killing of African-Americans by law enforcement. It wasn’t enough to stop other communities coming out to join us in our protest and the world from following and protesting the killing of George Floyd a black man they never met and most likely may not have ever heard of if not for his horrific murder.

Witnessing the effects of the novel coronavirus in the Black Community has made national and international headlines while the killing of George Floyd has pushed many white people to confront their privilege in ways they had never imagined. While the whole social justice-vs-social distancing can be a bit overwhelming, I am encouraged by a community that continues to respond to injustices with resilience and courage at the risk of their health and the health of their family members, especially the elders in our families and those with pre-existing conditions – the most vulnerable among us.

All four officers are charged for the killing of George Floyd, but now we need convictions. The City Council has legislated making banning choke-holds and kneeling on the neck of individuals, several other cities are reviewing policies and procedures, but now we need real legislation. The people have made this a national discussion. But this is bigger than the killings of the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, this is about a racist system that allows these cops to even have badges.

Police brutality and unjust killings of black men and women by police have become more American than Apple Pie.

We must recognize the need for oversight of policy and procedure and accountability of law enforcement when it comes to “Use of Force” policies and legislation. We must put pressure on our elected officials to pass police criminality laws. We must also elect local District Attorneys who have the testicular fortitude to prosecute police criminality.

If an officer certified by the state and is a trained professional, intentionally or unintentionally violates policies, procedures, and training that results in severe injury or death, it should be a crime. If we genuinely want policing to change, there must be real accountability laws. Violations of departmental policies and training must be recognized as criminal actions. We should not accept anything less!

Let’s keep in mind, Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer, who choked the life out of Eric Garner while arresting him broke the policies of the department who banned the chokehold, but it was not against the law.

Local, county, state, and federal elected officials can also negotiate accountability measures in police union collective bargaining agreements. Cities and states have paid out millions in lawsuits and judgments and still give out raises to unions that have defended racist criminal officers. If elected officials are not willing or unable to do so, we much take our anger, our frustration, our protest to the ballot box, and vote them out and vote for candidates that will do the job. We must remember the words of Malcolm X from 56-years-ago about racial inequality, voting rights, and civil rights in his speech the ‘Ballot or The Bullet.’ Its time to stop resting on the laurels of the 60s and reclaim that attitude today.

There is still, however, a lot more work to do. We must move beyond surface-layer responses. Gone are the days of being pacified by promises of training and body cams, political propaganda and campaign promises to get our vote. Now more than ever, there’s a spotlight shining a big bright international light on the equity in our systems. This pandemic is calling us to work toward systemic change that is grounded in the dignity of all people. I hope that we will answer the call. I hope that we will do better. We need to do better, if we do not seize the opportunity and let this moment pass there will always be a Knee on the Neck of the Black Community and that’s Real Talk!