First and Foremost:
They saw a black man
By Lester Enoch
Sun June 7, 2020
(Diversity Spotlight) – What started off as a traditional global celebration of a new year, quickly turned into a storm that no one ever expected. Just days into our new year, talks of a pandemic emerged, the likes of which no one has seen in more than 100 years. Globally, by June 1, 2020 there were 6,080,963 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 370,160 deaths. Here in the United States, businesses across many industries began to fail, unemployment rose to the highest levels since the great depression, our health care system suffered, schools and churches closed their doors, stay at home orders were put into place, and just when we needed each other the most – necessary social distancing recommendations created additional stress and formed a physical barrier between family, friends and loved ones. Concerns in how our country’s leadership was handling the crisis were starting to be heard, and it became clear that these unfortunate circumstances were on a collision course to creating a perfect storm. We were only one event away from reaching that tipping point.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered while in the custody of four officers with the Minneapolis Police Department. When video surfaced of the murder capturing the way in which Mr. Floyd died, all of the officers involved were fired, and eventually arrested and charged in the murder. What happened to George Floyd was horrific and frightening. And many people to include some people of color see this incident completely different than I do. First and foremost, they saw a black man. They saw a black man with a criminal record, they saw a black man who used drugs, they saw a black man rejected by our society, and in that very moment the police took action that contradicts their oath to serve and protect. They decided that humane treatment within our criminal-justice system doesn’t apply to Mr. Floyd because his life didn’t matter.
As protest erupt all over the world to end racism, some people still don’t understand how George Floyd became a victim in all of this. George Floyd’s life is a representation of the struggles and frustration of many black people. Like other minorities throughout our country’s history, George Floyd was a victim of a system designed to favor and dominate one race over another. We are a society of many systems and the criminal justice system is only one in which systemic racism exist. Other systems in which systemic racism exist include; education, employment, housing, healthcare, wealth, and elsewhere. I would argue that Mr. Floyd was a victim many times over. Racism in all forms is a threat to our society, our constitution, and even our national security.
As a country, we must first listen in order to understand and process what we have all witnessed. Efforts to end racism should be inclusive of people who are different and look different regardless of position within our government, community, and workforce. Difficult conversations, and I do mean difficult conversations must take place. I am extremely proud of our young people and the diversity they represent as they exercise their constitutional right to protest peacefully. This is their time, just as my generation and the generation before me. And even if some have not experienced racism directly, they know the stories of racism from their black friends, and the racism experienced by the parents and grandparents of their black friends. We need to hear the words “I am sorry” for a history and system of systemic racism that still exist today. This process must eventually lead us all to a place of forgiveness, healing, and understanding so that we may begin working together in an effort that leads to reform and social change.
Throughout our history, men and women both black skin and white skin gave their lives in the name of freedom, justice, and equality. George Floyd’s life mattered and we the people did this to him by our actions and inactions. We cannot lose our humanity by engaging in acts of cruelty. We must do better. And not all contributions will be equal but all contributions will be equally important. We must fight this injustice but we can’t do it alone. George Floyd’s life mattered to his friends, his life mattered to his family, his life mattered to his children. And his story will hopefully one day live inside the walls of our museums and classrooms, on street signs in our cities, and in the artistic expressions seen on murals, in cinema, and in music. George Floyd was seen as an outcast within our society and yet, George Floyd changed the world.
Lester Enoch is the founder of DiversitySpotlight.com, a senior diversity consultant within the Department of Defense, and a retired member of the U.S. Air Force.
About Diversity Spotlight: Diversity Spotlight is a community-based media website located just outside of our Nation's Capital. We were founded in 2006 by a member of the U.S. Air Force, whose intent was to use the site within the military community. Today, Diversity Spotlight reaches a much broader audience by using social media to help drive the conversation.
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