These are tense and scary days in America. But we may be starting to see a glimmer of hope.
The gruesome murder of an unarmed black man while in the custody of white police officers is a painful reminder that the promise of equal rights for all remains unfulfilled… and that racism, despite the best efforts of many Americans, has burrowed deep into the hearts and minds of many others.
There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chased down by officers in search of someone passing a phony $20 bill, he was brutally pinned facedown on the ground by a policeman who then pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
George Floyd — a man with a troubled past who had come to Minneapolis seeking a second chance — yelled out for his late mother, and as the life went out of him said simply “please, I can’t breathe.”
He was just the latest in a series of black men and women to die in a police chokehold or mistakenly in a burst of gunfire. For a nation already reeling from the twin evils of a pandemic and a steep economic slide, it was one loss too many.
“Big Floyd” — as he was known in his hometown of Houston, Texas — once told friends as a teenager that his dream was to change the world. They say he was probably talking about a future in professional sports. Instead, his murder launched a movement.
In the streets of America’s cities and small towns, people gathered to call his name, vent their rage and declare “no justice… no peace.”
There have been moments to be sure when the anger turned violent — times when law enforcement officers got tough with protestors who, ironically, were demonstrating against police brutality. There was also looting — some of it the result of frustrations gone wild, some the work of those just seeking to take advantage of the situation to steal everything from sunglasses to computers to prescription drugs.
But for every rogue element causing trouble, we have seen tens of thousands of Americans gathered in peaceful protest. They stand together: black and white… Asian and Latino… young and old.
Unlike the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s — which found its guiding light in the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. —- this nonviolent crusade for social change has evolved without one spokesman or leader. Instead, what we are witnessing is a chorus of voices singing in glorious harmony — what Dr. King might call the makings of a “beloved community.”
“It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends,” he wrote in 1957. “It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love that will bring miracles in the hearts of men.”
A miracle in the age of Trump? Can it really happen at a time when we have a president willing and eager to sow discord?
Maybe. Each day the protests go on, it seems more people are finding their voice and joining those demanding justice for all, regardless of the color of their skin.
Just take a look at the stretch of road leading to the White House. When President Trump went ballistic on twitter about the protestors gathered outside — sending in federal law enforcement officers to clear them out with tear gas and rubber bullets— the mayor of Washington, D.C. fought back.
Muriel Bowser – a technocrat known for her low key style— sent a big message to the White House.
She renamed the street “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and had the slogan painted in huge yellow letters covering three city blocks of asphalt.
How eye-catching were the letters? Big enough that they can be seen in satellite images.
The president was not pleased — he never is when he is faced with a smart, savvy black woman.
He wanted to take control of the D.C. police department and send federal active-duty troops into the streets of the nation’s capital city. She was having none of it and responded in a way that every man, woman and child could understand.
Bowser said she did it for her two-year-old daughter.
“I want her to grow up and know that her mother had a chance to say no, and she did,” the mayor explained, saying US soldiers should never be asked to move on American citizens.
“Today we say no,” she told a crowd of protesters, adding “In November, we say next.”
As in, we will vote for the next President of the United States.
Now, it is worth noting that George Floyd also has a little girl — a six-year-old named Gianna, who has suddenly been thrown into the spotlight.
On the eve of her father’s burial in Houston — as an endless line of mourners passed by his coffin — Gianna and the rest of the family met with former Vice President Joe Biden.
The meeting was private but it was obvious that Gianna — or Gigi as she is called — had a big impact on Biden, who has suffered numerous tragedies in his own life.
In a video played at the funeral, he spoke to her directly.
“Daddy is so proud of you,” he told the child. “You’re so brave.”
Then he said she shouldn’t have to ask the question that too many black children have had to ask for generations: “why is daddy gone?”
“And looking through your eyes we should also be asking ourselves why the answer is often too cruel and painful: why, in this nation, do black Americans wake up knowing they can lose their life just for living their life?” Biden said.
Why does this have to happen… again… and again… and again?
George Floyd was not a perfect man but his horrific death may be the catalyst that ultimately brings real change: not just in the way police and the public interact, but in the way all Americans see each other.
His teenage prediction may be coming true.
In a recent video, we see little Gigi perched on the shoulders of one of her father’s friends as demonstrators filled the streets of Minneapolis.
She looks around, smiles and says with certainly for all to hear: “Daddy changed the world!”