Beginning shortly after the pandemic hit hard in March, out of nowhere and everywhere the phrase “in this together” has been used to poetically describe how we have to distance ourselves from one another while a deadly virus and possible economic disaster stalk all of us.
Months into the shutdown, George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis while three other officers cooperated. It took 8 excruciating minutes and 46 seconds for Derek Chauvin to crush the life out of Floyd on May 25.
Dozens of black people in the U.S.—including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks just in the months since the pandemic started—have also been killed by white present or past law enforcement officers. Time magazine filled the borders of a recent cover with the names of dozens of black Americans who have had that horrible fate over the years.
Jamaica Plain has been the site of two peaceful demonstrations against racial injustice since Floyd’s demise. The Black Lives Matter vigil held on Thursdays at the First Baptist Church across from the post office for years expanded on June 4 to include thousands stretched along South and Centre Streets and centered on the Civil War Monument. Many from JP and other surrounding neighborhoods attended a die-in held at Franklin Park followed by a peaceful walk to Forest Hills T station on June 2.
Juneteenth was widely discussed and celebrated for the first time this year, with speeches, essays festivals and rallies. Mayor Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker as well as some in the US Congress proposed that June 19 become a national holiday. That was the day in 1865 when Texans got word that all slaves were freed. Up until now Juneteenth was little known or marked outside of the African American community.
People all over are responding to the killing of George Floyd—black people, people in this country, people in Europe, in the cities, in the suburbs, people in Africa, white people, Latinos, police officers, clergy, mayors and Congresspeople, Asians, old and young, athletes and head of professional sports leagues, business owners and more! The outpouring of grief and outrage as well as the search for solutions over recent weeks is unprecedented.
People march, hold vigils, carry signs, die-in, donate, give speeches, propose new policies—often repeating Floyd’s last terrified and terrifying words: “I can’t breathe.”
Millions are demanding change this time—from change of police behavior itself to upending the systems and policies that support racial injustice throughout society. Sad to have to use the word, but “usually” the uproar following police killings of black people has been followed by a massive silence followed by forgetfulness by the general public.
The continuing mostly peaceful protests all over the country and the world this month offer real hope that this time people won’t stop working for change, won’t forget or allow the people in charge of policies to forget either. Floyd’s killing did happen on Memorial Day.
Almost 70 percent of people in the U.S.— a representative sampling of Democrats, Republicans and others—polled the first week of June, said Floyd’s killing is indicative of larger problems with police, while only 43 percent agreed with that after white police shot 18-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014, according to a Washington Post/Schar School poll.
A Morning Consult poll the last weekend of May showed 54 percent of adults support ongoing protests following the death of George Floyd and other black Americans caused by police.
It also showed 61 percent of people view Black Lives Matter favorably compared to only 37 percent in August, 2017, less than three years ago.
Something has changed. Maybe it’s dawned on millions who have been hearing the phrase a lot during the pandemic that all races are among those “in this together.” And “this” is our shared humanity.
The larger perspective a contagious virus has given us may have inspired people to empathize with and pay attention to their black brothers and sisters. Having fewer places to go—including school, jobs and other events—we can attend multiple protests, some that start mid-afternoon. We can take time to think and talk about injustice. We can take positive action to start to fix it.
In the metaphorical shared space where we all find ourselves in the pandemic, we can’t help but notice that a lot of essential workers (another term made meaningful by covid-19) are black. Yet black people fall ill and die and lose their jobs and businesses at a much greater rate than whites. They have far less money and opportunity than white people. And black people have been killed almost routinely by white police for years for no good reason—and police have gotten away with it.
We have seen one part of the video of Floyd’s murder taken by Darnella Frazier, a determined 17-year-old high school student, again and again on the news. We watch as the officer gazes into space while he kneels down harder and harder on Floyd’s neck while the dying black man repeatedly says, groaning, “I can’t breathe,” until he goes silent and still. In the full-length video, he is heard saying something else to the officer pressing down on him.
“Let me up,” he pleads. Floyd was never allowed to get up.
Those of us who are still breathing are able, not only to see the racial injustice that’s been in our midst too long, but also work to end it. We know we are and always will be in this together.