Below is a note I sent to the SJSU College of Social Science on April 22, 2021.
Dear College of Social Sciences (CoSS) family-
We are all shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the past few days. As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created. As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we may feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions.
So began a message I sent to the college a few days after George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. Yesterday – April 21, 2021 – Mr. Floyd’s killer was convicted on all counts of murder and manslaughter. Three posts in my Facebook feed sum my reactions:
“Truthfully, the fact that we HAVE to be so on edge about the verdict, the very real possibility that killing an unarmed Black man in plain view of the world might go unpunished is what makes me sad. And mad.”
“When each count was read I started sobbing, and I felt all of this bittersweet grief, sadness, relief, disbelief, anger – all of it at once. This verdict is so small when you think about it, it should have felt like a slam dunk. The reaction of relief is such an indictment on our country that we have been forced to expect so little. Change needs to come faster. Not another Black or Brown person brutalized by police. Systemic racism needs to be addressed systemically.”
“Actions have consequences. If #DerekChauvin had only complied with #GeorgeFloyd‘s request to let him breathe, or if he complied with the requests of the crowd who told Chauvin that he was killing George Floyd, or if he only complied with the officer who suggested turning George Floyd over he wouldn’t be in jail tonight convicted of murder. So often the victims of police violence are blamed for their own deaths because they didn’t comply. Police officers have the ability to comply as well. They need to comply with their training. They need to comply with the law. They need to comply with basic humanity. They need to comply with their duty to care for those in their custody. I’d only he had complied.”
After reading these posts I decided to get a burger at a Black-owned place in Berkeley to continue to reflect on the day’s events in my spiritual hometown of Minneapolis. [Originally from Atlanta, I now live in Oakland. I am a Black man, for those new to the college who have never seen me while we are in the pandemic]. It was great, as usual, and my heart felt lighter on the drive home. Halfway there, however, I pulled into a left turn lane behind an old Nissan Maxima with temporary tags. Two Black men were the occupants. A new Audi Q3 slowly backed up in front of them when it could not get through the yellow light. The Nissan blew its horn, and the Audi blasted its horn in answer. When the light turned green the cars exchanged horn blasts again. The Audi’s back up lights were still on, so it occurred to me that the Audi would slam into the Nissan when the driver hit the gas. I steeled myself to bear witness and possibly take action if that happened and the police were called. Daunte Wright’s ghost flashed before my eyes. Luckily, however, the Audi shifted into drive, and sped off. I breathed a sigh of relief. At the next light the Nissan turned right, and the Audi and I kept going straight. I let out another sign of relief.
This incident and my reaction connect to a section of a message a BIPOC dean colleague at another institution sent to her college:
“For the Black members of our community [the verdict and other surrounding events] have deep and painful resonance to every aspect of their lived experience, down to the existential questions they ask themselves every minute that they move through the public sphere and navigate the very real possibility that they will experience violence and even death.
The verdict today represents a critical turning point in our reckoning at the intersections between policing, public safety, otherizing of Black Americans, racial and social justice, accountability, and the rule of law. But the work is very far from over. One verdict in one case does not change the broken system that is so ingrained in our 400 year history, in the very fabric of American life, and in the daily lives of Black people. There will be more lost, there will be future injustices, and there will be continued pain and grief.
But I remain hopeful that we are in a new moment in history. The arc of history is indeed very long but today it took one small bend towards justice.”
Let’s all hope that this moment will indeed be a significant turning point in efforts to make the USA live up to its ideals. This includes paying new attention to #StopAsianHate, as well as continuing other efforts to make American society more inclusive and equitable for those who are BIPOC, Jewish, LGBTQ+, and members of other marginalized groups. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and each other, and please do not hesitate to contact me with reactions to this message or ideas for SJSU to hasten its goal of becoming an anti-racist multicultural institution.
A couple of postscripts:
P.S. #1 Shortly after I got home I received a text message about the shipping of advance copies of my new book Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion. I co-edited this anthology with SJSU CoSS assistant professors Wendy Thompson Taiwo (African American Studies) and Amy August (Sociology & Interdisciplinary Social Sciences). It will be released to the general public on May 18. It may be of interest to those who’d like more information about the racial dynamics of Minnesota.
P.S. #2 After getting the text I re-watched a digital story by CoSS assistant professor Nikki Yeboah. “Sister, I’m OK” is powerful!