Two years ago, the multi-talented Donald Glover, aka “Childish Gambino” made history and controversy with his hit song “This Is America.” The song, which requires the accompanying video to fully appreciate the underlying complexity of the verses, won a Grammy, Best Music Video and Best Rap/Performance. The lyrics which delved into gun violence, race and America’s struggle to deal with her history, also became the first rap song to be named Record of the Year.
In trying to understand the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, MN police officers, that song keeps rattling around in my head. I, like so many of you, watched the video of life leaving the body of Mr. Floyd. As a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of the handcuffed African American victim, the faint words of “I can’t breathe” could be heard. Instead of offering help, the officer continued to kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck until he ended his life. This is America.
The image of former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling, to protest the very situation Mr. Floyd experienced, was not lost on me or others. Side by side photos of the Minneapolis officer and Kaepernick kneeling were tweeted and retweeted millions of times. One man kneeling to take life and Kaepernick kneeling to save lives. Kaepernick was called a SOB by the President of the United States, was threatened by football fans,and lost his NFL career. This is America.
Unrest has permeated the streets of Minneapolis, as the city struggles to deal with a response to Mr. Floyd’s death. However, it is the nation that should be uneasy. Afterall, we’ve been here before. Black Codes. Jim Crow. Freedom Summer. Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rodney King. Dontrae Hamilton. We’ve heard “No Justice, No Peace” or the contemporary “Black Lives Matter.” We’ve listened to counter chants and seen a resurgence of hate groups. We remember officers being encouraged to “Please, don’t be too nice” by Donald Trump when he talked about arresting people.
Speaking at a law enforcement event in 2017, Trump said “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” The President of the United States encouraged officers not to worry about harming someone being arrested. After saying those remarks, a few officers clapped and cheered.
We all need to remember is that we are one nation, one people. Our futures are inextricably tied to one another. When we devalue the life of one group, we devalue everything that America represents.