Column: A sad time and change has got to come!

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By ANNA STEVENS BRIGHT

Minister/Retired Educator/Journalist

As I look around each day, our world is constantly changing, but the sad song is that recently, it has not been changing for the better. For several months, we have been plagued by a pandemic that has claimed over 100,000 lives alone in the United States. Life, as we know it, has drastically changed as a result.

If that was not enough, an event that rocked our country, and ultimately the world, was a heinous act of police brutality perpetrated by four white police officers on an African-American man on May 25. This state of affairs has spiraled internationally. Consequently, my emotions are all over the place!

It’s a sad time in America that 155 years after the abolition of slavery, African-Americans, especially the males, are still not free. For a police officer to have murdered George Floyd on an American street, by putting his knee in this man’s neck, while comfortably relaxing his hands in his pockets, is beyond a travesty. What was so emotionally painful to me was that Mr. Floyd was suffering in such agony that he was calling on his deceased mother for help!

The protests, as a result, are not only about one African-American man’s death at the hands of four white police officers: they are also about decades of “visible epidemics” of rampant systemic racism, numerous other accounts of hushed police brutality, racial profiling, a broken criminal justice system and other injustices perpetrated upon people of color. People from all walks of life, religions, creeds, ethnicities, educational levels, and social statuses are protesting and speaking out for the cause. Although I will never condone the violence, burning, shooting and looting, I fully understand the protests. Those who are reacting violently have their own personal agendas, aside from the main agenda, and that’s sad and wrong! Therefore, a change has got to come!

As a result of this heinous act upon Mr. Floyd by this one law enforcement officer in particular — and the fact that it took four days to bring charges and arrest him — the United States has turned into an inferno of anger, pain and visible mistrust of law enforcement. It is 2020. There is no place in our society for this kind of brutality, or better still, no kind of it.

Yes, we are angry, but the violence is not going to get the immediate and long-term results that we seek. There is a difference between protesting and rioting. A “protest” is an organized public demonstration expressing strong objection to an official policy or course of action. However, a “riot” is a form of civil disorder commonly characterized by a group lashing out in a violent public disturbance against authority, property, or people.

Therefore, the protestors are within their constitutional right, but the rioters are agitators touting their agendas and are trying to make it seem as if the peaceful protestors are causing the trouble. If you notice, they have been showing up mostly at dusk or at night, disguised, in an effort not to be recognized. To sabotage peaceful protests in this manner is criminal and unconscionable. This same thing happened during some of the civil rights marches of the 1960s when outside agitators would disrupt the peaceful rallies.

Please don’t misinterpret any of the messages I am trying to convey in this communication, one in particular, about law enforcement officers. There are committed, devoted, fair, and compassionate law enforcement officers everywhere. I have encountered many of them. They serve and protect as this is what they are called to do. Further, I have several law enforcement officers in my family, some with over two decades of experience, with no plans to retire any time soon. Some law enforcement officers across the country have even joined the protests, and some have “taken a knee” in solidarity. Awesome! However, when you get one who acted in a manner such as Officer Derek Chauvin and his colleagues did on that fateful Monday, it puts a stain on law enforcement officers everywhere. This cannot continue to be tolerated. All lives matter. Consequently, a change has got to come!

I know all too well about the angry cries of those who are protesting. On a more personal note, my sons, several other members of my family, and I have experienced gut-wrenching, hurtful situations of racism. However, we have persevered. When I purchased my oldest son his first car, I remember sitting down and having a talk with him because of blatant racist situations that happened to two of my uncles. Besides the rules about driving, I told him if he were ever stopped by a cop, carefully pull over, and to put his hands at the top of the steering wheel, and not to move them until the cop was in plain view/asked for his license.

On his way home from work one night, he was pulled over because the officer noticed a problem with one of the lights on the front of the car. He said that when the cop approached the car, he was doing what I told him to do. My son went on to say that instead of immediately addressing the issue of the light, the cop asked him, “Do you have any drugs in this car?” Shaking my head! My child was still visibly shaken when he got home — he was only 16 years old at the time.

In many ways we have progressed in race relations in the United States, but we still have a long way to go. The events of this past week prove that. Not only was George Floyd kneed until he was unresponsive and almost three minutes afterwards, another video has surfaced showing that he was also beaten by the cops in the backseat of the police cruiser. In the place on the street where Mr. Floyd’s lifeless body lay prior to being removed, someone placed the novel, Invisible Man, penned by Ralph Ellison. In the prologue of this novel, he wrote, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.” Although this novel was published in 1952, it is definitely “a parable of our times.”

There are several leaders around our state who have spoken out about this atrocity perpetrated upon George Floyd and the protests:

Governor Henry McMaster: “South Carolinians are well within their rights to publicly and peacefully express anger over the inexcusable taking of George Floyd’s life. We should all be angry. There is no excuse for this.”

Senator Margie Bright Matthews: “We need you to fight with us. Each year I have filed bills to prevent officers with mental health issues such as PTSD from serving and to make their assaults against our citizens placed in the SLED database. The Hate Crimes Bills have been ignored too. Yes, we need to speak up. but, only by voting. Don’t let outsiders come in and speak for us. Too much is at stake. Vote, participate actively and let your voice be heard.”

Representative Marvin Pendarvis: “When I was downtown today, things were peaceful with the exception of a few incidents. I’m disappointed to see what has taken place tonight. Please don’t allow these outside agitators and opportunists [to] negate the good work done by so many people today.”

Representative Russell Ott: “We are at a very delicate crossroad. Every single one of us needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, before it’s too late. If you aren’t trying to come up with ways to heal these wounds, then you’re only making them worse.”

Ryan Alphin: “Cases like George Floyd must not only be condemned by the community but also by law enforcement leadership. While a full investigation will occur, there is no law enforcement training that teaches officers to kneel on a controlled suspect’s neck for minutes on end. Police officers should be held to the highest standard and the many diverse officers I know across South Carolina want it no other way. Law enforcement is a noble profession tarnished by a small percentage of officers who are not dedicated to upholding the oath they took to serve and protect their communities. We are better when police and the community they serve work together.” (Alphin is the executive director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association and South Carolina Police Chiefs Association.)

If we are going to effect change on these painful matters, we all must unite and become a part of the solution, rather than comfortably resorting to being a silent majority. People are protesting, not only in the U.S., but also in other countries. There cannot possibly be a household in America that has not been affected in some way, whatever it may be, by the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of those who were in authority to serve and protect. Ultimately, a change has got to come!

May the Lord comfort Mr. Floyd’s family and friends, in the days to come, as they continue to mourn such a harrowing loss of their loved one.

I leave with you Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s thought-provoking, insightful words:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

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