No Longer Can We Hear the Words ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and Do Nothing

George_Floyd_Memorial_Lorie Shaull

Mourners remember George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo by Lorie Shaull, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

Tears

“Black America feels like it cannot breathe,” said Trymaine Lee, Host of NBC’s Into America podcast in a CNN interview.

On the same channel, Brooke Baldwin wept. “I’m so angry, and I cannot even begin….” As Andrea Jenkins, who represents Mr. Floyd’s ward on City Council, said, “What sparks so much outrage, is that there seemed no regard to humanity or for human life.”

And Bakari Sellers, author of My Vanishing Country, in another CNN interview sobbed as he said, “There’s so much pain…. It’s hard to be black in this country when your life is not valued. And people are worried about the protesters and the looters. It’s people who are frustrated, who for far too long have not had their voices heard.”

“It’s not an isolated incident. It is a continuum of cases and situations that has been going on for decades…. These are just chapters in a book. And the title of the book is ‘Continuing Injustice and Inequality in America.’ That’s why the outrage. It’s not about one situation. It’s about the same situation happening again and again and again and again.” Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. He pointed out the systemic racism that has led to more minorities being affected by COVID-19 than anyone else. “Nobody sanctions the violence and destruction, he said, “but the protests, the fear, the anger, and frustration, yes. And they demand is for justice…. How repugnant to the concept of America.”

The sentiments of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy were similar. “George Floyd should be alive today—not just as a matter of principle or justice, but as a matter of human dignity,” he said. “Too many times, we’ve gotten a national wake-up call and done nothing. Justice for George means acknowledging our nation’s centuries-old stain of racism.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden held a briefing. “No longer can we hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ and do nothing,” he said, adding that what happened to George Floyd was “an act of brutality so elemental … it denied him of his humanity, it denied him of his life.” It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound.

And yet…

One politician, the President, however, had a different view. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Donald Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, May 29. And he added, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter called the tweet out, adding that it violated the platform’s fules about glorifying violence.  Furthermore, the New York Times pointed out that the statement was unattributed quote of Walter Headley, Miami’s police chief in 1967, threatening citizens who were upset that police had terrorized a black teenager by holding him over a bridge.

 

A Gentle Giant

Christopher Harris, a close friend, remembered George Floyd as a gentle giant. “…You see he was like a big, soft teddy bear.”

“I’m never going to get my brother back,” said his brother, Philonise Floyd.

Like Bakari Sellers, mom and blogger Georgina Dukes thought about what the tragedy will mean for her young child. “When my beautiful black boy grows from cute to a threat” She spoke of having the Talk. “I wish I didn’t have to have this conversation with my brilliant son.”

 

We Can No Longer Do Nothing

Said John Pavlovitz in his blog, Stuff that Needs to Be Said, “As a white person, I am grieving how prolific the white hatred of people of color is right now, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it.”

So, we must act. “It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets,” said Michelle Obama. “I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.”

Among them: Amadou Diallou, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.

Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo had that dialogue. “And when [white people] see everyday racism, they don’t stand up for it. Imagine how that feels to people of color in this country,” said CNN host Don Lemon. “The only word I can use it ‘hurt.’ It all hurts. This is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee. That’s why people are protesting.” This, as Mr. Lemon pointed out, is in stark contrast with those groups shouting in state capitols, white guys who are armed, heavily armed. “I am so sick, as a person of color, a black man… my actions, whatever I do is seen as being more aggressive or somehow sinister, just because of this shell that I am in. I am sick of it…. And that is how people of color feel in this country.

Among “75 things white people can do for racial justice,” are organizations to join, African-American businesses to patronize, civil-rights charities to support, and issues to follow. And a storyteller offers ideas on how white people can be allies, such as important books to read to become more knowledgeable on institutional racism—and being an empathetic listener.

Four excellent organizations fighting systemic racism:

 

Seven must-read books addressing systemic racism:

  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
  • Ta-Nihisi Coates, Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power
  • Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
  • Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy
  • Ibrahim X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
  • Patrice Khan Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist, reviewed in this blog previously

    More books can be found in this article in British Vogue.

    If you are buying a copy of any these books, please go to Bookshop.org and support a struggling independent bookseller.

 

Other things you can do:

Black Lives Matter has produced a comprehensive list. Please take a look. And there is Anguish and Action, The Obama Foundation

 

Not being a bystander – speaking out:

Moreover, as I discussed earlier, everyone must speak out when they see or hear any kind of bigotry. To recap review the Southern Poverty Law Center’s four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful.

Observing Memorial Day During the Pandemic

First, I reflect on my gratitude for the tens of thousands of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so we can live in this great country.

Gratitude. If Memorial Day and this pandemic have taught us anything, it is gratitude.

So, today I have been at a loss as I strolled through my community today and could hear large numbers of people partying during a pandemic, the benefits of prudence and courtesy of social distancing dispensed with. Then, there were the pictures and videos of large crowds at the shore, in lakes and swimming pools, and at parks.

As is often the case, it is a child who has the best answer. Indeed, my fellow blogger, Ryland’s Newspaper published an excellent perspective. So, over to him….

Ryland's Newspaper

Crowds at Newport Beach, California. Photo: 24 May 2020
Newport Beach, California

Today is Memorial Day in the US! Many Americans consider Memorial Day weekend the start of summer and go to parties, go to the beach and hang out with friends. But due to Covid-19, we are supposed to practice social distancing and wear masks in even a small crowd.

Lots of people are following the rules but unfortunately some people aren’t. In Florida, hundreds of people were gathered at Daytona Beach on Saturday. In Missouri, bars at the Lake of Ozarks were packed with people. And in California, huge crowds of people gathered at Newport Beach. As you can see in the picture, none of these people are practicing social distancing and most of them are not even wearing masks!

So why is this a problem? Well, Dr. Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus task force chief said, “We really want to be clear all the time that…

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A Loss Beyond Numbers, a Loss Beyond Words

NYT 100 000

 

“An incalculable loss.” That’s the headline on today’s New York Times. The rest of the page are the names of Americans who have died of COVID-19. (You can read about everything behind the project here.) Just words, no picture. Rather, these words, these names are the pictured. Yet, the 1,000 deaths on the cover and page 12, 13, and 14 are less than one percent of the total. An average of more than 1,100 a day.

 

Say their names. It’s a long-honored tradition in Judaism. The World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem is called Yad Vashem. It means “a memorial and a name.” The names of the Holocaust victims are remembered by name. Every year on September 11, the nearly 3,000 names of the victims are read aloud. The 2,400 deaths at Pearl Harbor was a day that would live in infamy. A columnist in the Boston Globe in 2016 urged everyone to say the names of the African Americans murdered by racial violence.

 

The additional cruelty of COVID-19 is that we cannot hug one another, be there in person to offer support.

 

President Trump has declared that the United States will have done a “very good job” if the death toll from coronavirus is 100,000 or fewer as he extended the shutdown by at least a month. That was on March 31, two weeks before Easter Sunday, when he wanted the country “opened up and raring to go.”

 

Even more sobering, Nicholas Kristof cited research in his May 13 column that the 100,000 marker had already been passed.

 

And how do we remember the many people mourning for each one of these 100,000? How do we remember the many people who risked their lives to save countless others from being added to this tally?

 

John Pavolovitz asked how we grieve 100,000 souls. So, yes, when we say their names, we honor the dead. But it is up to all of us to honor these each by doing our part. We choose to wear a mask, because we choose to say and show we care. We do so by being better human beings.

Bearing Witness, Children Create Newspapers

Maly Przegelad

As difficult as the current pandemic is for adults to comprehend, one can only imagine what it must be like for children. To help and inform children two large papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, created a section for and by their youngest audience.

 

Washington Post

Back in April 2000, the Washington Post conceived of its own section for and by children, KidsPost. With the current pandemic, children everywhere are asking questions, such as what will end the the quarantine and what social distancing is. (The previous post described three world leaders answering the questions and concerns of children.)

To mark the 20th anniversary of KidsPost, the editors profiled 12 children “from around the world who have noticed problems in their communities or countries and are working to solve them.” Continues Christina Barron, KidsPost editor, “They have fostered abandoned kittens, collected eyeglasses for those who can’t afford them and created artwork for the apartments of people moving out of homelessness. And they have raised awareness of countless issues, including hunger, gun violence and bullying.” The twelve are the following:

  • Shana Grant, Washington, DC. Gun control and nonviolence
  • Kauã Rodolfo, Brazil. Environmental awareness
  • Maimouna Ndiaye, Mali. Girls in programming
  • William Winslow, California. Childhood hunger
  • Haaziq Kazi, India. Ocean trash
  • Genesis Butler, California. Animal rights
  • Naudia Greenwalt and Linkin Eger, Wisconsin. Childhood cancer
  • Sidney Keys III, Illinois. Enhancing literacy among boys
  • Milena Radoytseva, Bulgaria. Improving online behavior
  • Demetri Sideva, Florida. Protecting Tampa Bay waterways
  • Alice Imbastari, Italy. Picking up trash

 

Children’s Newspapers

Adrian GrycukTablica_Mały_przegląd_Pałac_Mostowskich_Nowolipki

This plaque commemorates Maly Przeglad, the newspaper for and by children that Janusz Korczak started. Photo by Adrian Grycuk, in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most remarkably, KidsPost featured newspapers that children themselves have started. “There’s little chance you will forget the home quarantine of 2020. But the details will fade over time—unless you create something that lasts. Kids around the country are doing just that by making their own newspapers,” the authors say. “They’ve become reporters, photographers, editors, art directors, and even cartoonists. And they are doing what good journalists do: keeping their communities (or maybe just their families) informed and entertained.” The young creators discuss what they can do during the quarantine, find humor in writing about their siblings, advocate the purchase of fair-trade chocolate, tell about caring for a pet. One writer went a step further, creating a news website, Ryland’s Newspaper, with news, comics, and puzzles. This page is honored to follow this remarkable publication.

Their contributions offer a ray of positivity and hope. I am reminded of the efforts of Janusz Korczak (1878-1942). A Polish pediatrician and orphanage director who dedicated himself to the rights and dignity of children, he founded a newspaper, Mały Przegląd (Little Review), written and produced by children. Just as children are learning from caring adults, adults themselves can learn a lot by listening to the voices of children!

 

The New York Times

The former, for its Sunday, May 14, 2017, edition, created a special section, New York Times for Kids. Although the section has pieces by professional writers, Caitlin Roper, a school teacher who conceived the idea, “wanted to make sure to feature children’s voices, too … It captures where kids are at and what they’re caring about.” For the second edition, which appeared November, the paper hired its first junior columnist, Harper Ediger. To this day, the section comes with a warning: “Editors Note: This section should not be read by grown-ups!” Starting 2018, the Times for Kids became a monthly feature. It’s entertaining and informative. And, yes, there are fart jokes.