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Viewing the video of George Floyd’s gruesome murder, one word from him stuck in my head, one painful human utterance that conveys the horror of it all: “Momma,” Mr. Floyd cried out in desperation and disbelief as his life was cruelly and senselessly suffocated in yet another White-on-Black slaying by so-called “officers of the law.”
This can’t be America. Can it?
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Yes and no. Certainly it can’t be the America we accept, one totally antithetical to our people’s deeply-held democratic values of justice for all. Yet, from the founding of the nation forward, the official knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd has been a common experience for African-Americans, and also for Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color.
It’s that stark separation between the American ideal and reality – now so vividly and violently thrust in our faces – that has ignited such a diverse, massive, and furious protest from coast to coast.
To me, this outpouring of public anguish feels different than previous ones, for the protesters are not only angry about what the power establishment did to George Floyd, they’re also angry for themselves. The intentional spread of inequality in America is now swamping the once-middle-class majority. So, more and more people – especially among the young – are feeling the establishment’s knee crushing their opportunities, rights, and lives, too. More than empathy for the Black community, there’s now a shared inkling that the rise of autocracy and plutocracy is engulfing all but the moneyed elites, threatening the existence of America itself.
There’s a rising political awareness that today’s social order is corrupt and the system itself must be changed – not tinkered with, but fundamentally changed. And there’s a growing understanding that we really are “all in this together,” so we’ve got to stand up for George Floyd, each other… and the America we want.