By Denise Nicole-Stone
The year 2020 can be described by one word: unprecedented. On June 6, 2020, The Washington Post reported that protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers were held in all 50 states -in big cities and small towns, in the middle of a pandemic. The generation currently risking their health by taking to the streets en masse, has been propelled, as generations before them, by the brutal reality of life for Black Americans and a quest for freedom. This is the generation of viral police brutality.
For many, conversations with our parents about this nation’s opinion of us were underscored when Trayvon Martin’s killer walked free. We entered political consciousness to videos, inescapable on our Twitter feeds, featuring death, after death, after horrific death. We watched people who looked like us die, added to a seemingly endless list of hashtags, each a desperate attempt to hold space for a life gone too soon and a memory already shrinking to make space for the next tragedy. We watched flames, tear gas and tanks fill the streets ofBaltimore and Ferguson. When we watched George Floyd pinned on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we, like many before us, had seen too much. We are not the children we were when Trayvon Martin left his home in quest of Skittles. We have read the works of our ancestors, we have observed the continuity of oppression, we are angry and we want freedom. The simple fact is, we shouldn’t have to know Trayvon’s name, or Emmet Till’s, or Mike Brown’s, or Sandra Bland’s, or Breonna Taylor’s, or George Floyd’s. We should never have had to watch mother after mother– impossibly strong, impossibly sad– attempting to prove that their child was a human being on the nightly news. We should never have had to say that we matter. But we did, and we still do, and now we face this moment and the question: what next?
In a New York Times article published on June 8, Michelle Alexander linked this country’s reaction to the brutality unleashed on protesters today with that unleashed on protesters in Birmingham during the Civil Rights marches, in which “our nation suddenly caught a glimpse of itself in the mirror and people of all races poured into the streets to say ‘no more.’” On May 25, America saw itself reflected in the knee on the neck, the hand in the pocket, the callous unconcerned face – and it did not like what it saw. Implicit in this outpouring is rage, pain, and a hope that maybe this time we will be able to grasp that future, scale to the promised mountaintop for which so many have pined and died. Activists and organizers have been working for generations to prepare us for this moment, one that is bursting with radical imagination as people dream of a different normal. They have coined the language, allowing us to name goals of transformative change, social investment, abolition, and to envision what these efforts will entail. Such junctions are rare.
Seas of protesters march through the streets calling for a reckoning, the likes of which this country has never engaged. Out of this conversation has arisen a word that describes the dream of generations: Liberation. Liberation of all people from the violence of white supremacy. It is a dream of a community in which less harm is perpetuated by those in power, by those who crave power, and by the miseducation and dehumanization of our youth. The streets and internet buzz with a collective energy to build systems that are not only free from this nation’s white supremacy, but that are also actively anti-racist and insistent on liberating the whole human, in every aspect and in every space. As Arundhati Roy writes, “A new world is not only possible, she is on her way,” and we, lucky few in the scheme of history, get to help shape it.
While the question of what is next is urgent, it would be a mistake to rush. We should live in this moment, intentionally. We must allow the tension, uncertainty, and possibility to wash over us, giving us the courage to reach as high as we can dream. In this, we must be vigilant, guarding, and protecting in this movement so that when we act, our every move is worthy of this moment. It is often said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” However, maybe in this time, we should amend this to, “Don’t let easy be the enemy of freedom.” Whatever comes of this must be oriented towards liberation. Anything less would be a betrayal of the work of all who came before us and all who will come after us.
“What shall we build on the ashes of this nightmare? […] now is the time to think like poets, to envision and make visible a new society, a peaceful, cooperative, loving world without poverty and oppression, limited only by our imaginations.” – Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.
Denise-Nicole Stone is a Pittsburgh native and a recent graduate of Boston University.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 5. July/August, 2020. All rights reserved.