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By Mara J. Reynolds
In the short weeks since his murder, the world is transformed.
Streets that a week ago burned and filled with tear gas are today blanketed with altars, flowers and artwork. Seattle has an occupied autonomous zone spanning several city blocks and an abandoned precinct office, with more emerging in other cities. The Minneapolis City Council has vowed to defund the police department in favor of transformative community justice, a call echoing around the world. Calls for abolishing police are on the cover of the Times.
For the uninitiated, calls to defund or even to abolish the police may sound new, but this call has been around as long as police have.
In 2017, MPD150, a “participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists and activists,” released an exhaustive report analyzing the Minneapolis Police Department’s 150-year history, explaining in painstaking detail why their only possible conclusion was to advocate for a police-free future. In the days following the uprising, the group’s website notes a distinct change since beginning this work:
“One thing we’ve observed over the past week here in Minneapolis is that the conversation we’re having — in the streets, in the media, and with our families/friends, is very different than it was during previous protest movements against police brutality. We aren’t hearing much ‘reform now’ talk, or ‘cops should be nicer’ talk, or even ‘prosecute the police’ talk. We’re hearing calls to abolish the police — to defund them, and redistribute those resources directly to our communities.”
Again, while the uninitiated may believe defunding or even abolishing the police has nothing to do with the Movement for Black Lives, it is impossible to meaningfully discuss or address systemic racism without also discussing our criminal justice system, our global military presence, Indigenous rights, queer and trans rights, disability rights, education, housing, climate change, capitalism, colonialism — and the list goes on because some part of us is calling for more. It is an overwhelmingly interconnected and urgent puzzle.
Yet for the first time, it seems, we might actually be equipped with the tools and vocabulary we need to rise to this occasion. We’ve got the internet. We’re understanding trauma. The full picture grows more vivid by the hour and the deep-seated roots of the issues at hand are readily apparent and within our grasp.
Don’t look away now. Roll up your sleeves. If you’re not sure what to do or why, stick around and figure it out.
At least 19 people have died so far as a result of the protests; more than one per day since George Floyd’s death. The majority of them are Black men. More than 40 people — more than two per day — have been killed by American police since the protests began. Again, disproportionately Black men. The names of stolen Black (and Brown) lives flying through the headlines are heartbreaking to keep up with. Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, James Scurlock, “Ya Ya” David McAtee, Sean Monterrosa, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreasjon Reed, Manuel Ellis. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton. Rayshard Brooks. Robert L. Fuller. Malcom Harsch. Michael Thomas.
We are changing. It will take time. But time is lives.
And while the perspectives and calls to action are diverse, one of the most consistent and urgent requests of this now international uprising is for us each — especially non-Black allies — to focus inward on addressing anti-Black racism within ourselves and our own local communities first. Implicit bias cannot be addressed on a structural or political level if we’re not also fundamentally addressing it on a personal level.
And yet, in a sense, it’s not personal. The urgency of this work remains, irrespective of one’s opinions, personal values or political perspective. This is the world we live in, the trauma of generations we have collectively been born into; given the tools at our disposal, unlearning toxic patterns on both an individual and systemic level is our privilege as much as it is our responsibility. No one’s end-game here is looted strip mall swag or their neighborhood in ashes; we’re collectively reimagining, repurposing, metamorphosing the world. Pardon our dust.
When you get discouraged, when you get overwhelmed, remember this is the work of generations and that we can only show up for others when we’re doing well ourselves. And we must keep showing up, for ourselves and for each other. For George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, who already knows her daddy changed the world.
Remember her smile — her present, her future — in every action you take to honor her father.
Let us say his name. Again, together.
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