In an effort to educate myself and hopefully some of my friends who are reading my blog, I’ve commited to do more research. I can’t pretend to know the half of what’s going on, but I can join the conversation by listening, reading, and educating myself. I’ll probably never understand the depth and breadth of the racial injustice that’s occurring in our country, but I can start by listening to the stories of the oppressed. So, here are just a few of the stories of our black brothers and sisters who’ve been persecuted and discriminated against to the point of death because of their skin color. Because I can’t share every story of injustice in this one blogpost, I would encourage you to do the work.
Research. Read. Listen. Pray.
Earlier this week, I was listening to an episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast entitled “A Decade of Watching Black People Die”. And they described the issue of racial injustice as an “evergreen” issue: always relevant and always in-season. We like to think that racial injustice is trending, however it’s NOT a new issue for our country. It’s a centuries-long battle that DAILY needs our attention. And I’m the first to say, I haven’t given it due attention. I haven’t been fighting for POC like I should be. I haven’t been loving God’s children like he loves does. I haven’t been acknowledging the prejudices and biases of my own heart. So as this narrative of racial justice continues to unfold in our communities, nation, and world, my prayer is that each of us be burdened by the weighty truth that we’re not doing enough. I’m not doing enough. But rather than sitting in silence, let’s stumble over our words until we find the right ones to say. Conversation and action are better than silence and passivity.
Let’s remember the stories of those POC who’ve died at the hand of injustice
Ahmaud Arbery (25) was jogging near his mother’s home in Brunswick, Georgia when two white men (Gregory and Travis McMichael) saw him and misidentified him as the suspect of a series of local break-ins. The two men continued to pursue him in their truck and eventually cornered Arbery with a shotgun in hand. Shots were fired and Arbery was killed. Gregory and Travis McMichael were not arrested until months after.
Sandra Bland (28) was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Hempstead, Texas by State Trooper Brian Encinia. An altercation ensued, Encinia forced her to the ground and arrested her. However, Encinia had a history of performing pretextual traffic stops having issued 1,600 tickets in less than 12 months. Later, Bland was taken to a county jail and hung herself in the jail cell. Protests occured after her death claiming racial violence and discrimination caused her death. State Trooper Encinia’s perjury charge was later dropped after agreeing to permanently end his law enforcement career.
Michael Brown (18) was walking out of a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri. Surveillance video showed him stealing some cigarillos. A police officer, Darren Wilson, reported to the scene in his police vehicle and confronted Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson. An altercation ensued, Officer Wilson fired two shots from his police vehicle before Brown fled on foot. Brown turned around and moved forward toward Officer Wilson and Officer Wilson proceeded to fire more shots against unarmed Michael Brown. Mr. Wilson was subsequently not indicted by the St. Louis Grand Jury and weeks of extreme protests and riots occurred.
Philandro Castile (32) was driving with his girlfriend and her daughter after going grocery shopping in a suburb of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Officers Jeronimo Yanez and Jospeh Kauser thought the driver looked like a suspect in a recent robbery, so they planned to pull them over to check IDs and car insurance. After showing the officers his proof of insurance, Castile stated, “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” Yanez proceeded to tell Castile not to pull his gun out, Castile obeyed his demands, yet Yanez proceeded to fire his gun in point blank range at Castile seven times. Yanez was acquitted of all charges made against him.
Jamar Clark (24) was leaving a birthday party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He got into an altercation after his girlfriend and one of her friends instigated it. Paramedics were called to the scene, and the reports state that he interfered with the paramedics. Unclear whether or not he was handcuffed when we was shot by police.
Manuel Ellis (33) was a musician and father of two from Tacoma, Washington. He was stopped at an intersection after police saw him banging on the window of another vehicle. When police officers approached him, Ellis threw an officer to the ground. Detective Troyer and three other officers then proceeded to handcuff him on the ground. He too yelled, “I can’t breathe,” which prompted the officers to call for EMT support. 40 minutes later he was pronounced dead due to oxygen deprivation.
George Floyd (46) was arrested by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota after using a counterfeit $20 bill. Officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground after resisting arrest and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The autopsy report revealed Floyd died from mechanical asphyxiation due to neck compression. Bystanders video recordings show Floyd yelling “I can’t breathe” repeatedly prior to his death. Charges of manslaughter and murder have been filed against Officer Chauvin.
Eric Garner (43) was arrested on Staten Island, New York after being accused of selling individual cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Garner refused to cooperate which led Officer Daniel Pantaleo to wrestle him to the ground and place him in a chokehold. Garner repeatedly stated “I can’t breathe”. He eventually lost consciousness and was left on the sidewalk for seven minute before EMS arrived. He was brought to a nearby hospital and an hour later pronounced dead. Pantaleo was never indicted, but was later fired from the NYPD 5 years after Garner’s death.
Oscar Grant (22) was believed to have been involved in a gang fight on a train in Oakland, California in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. Officer Anthony Pirone kneed Grant in the head and forcibly threw him to the ground. Officer Johannes Mehserle pulled out his gun while Pirone kept pinned him to the ground and shot him in the back. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital later that day. Officer Mehserle served 11 months in prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Freddie Gray (25) was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland after running from the police on a street corner that was being targeted for drug trafficking. He made eye contact with the officers before running away on foot. The officers officially charged him with possession of an illegal switch knife, however it was later ruled that Gray’s knife was in fact legal under Maryland Law. It is believed that the officers involved used an unnecessary amount of force when arresting Gray causing him severe spinal cord damage that led to his eventual coma and death. The six Baltimore police officers were never brought up on federal charges.
Quanice Hayes (17) was a suspect in an armed robbery and attempted carjacking in Portland, Oregon. Police found him in an alcove in front of his home and asked him to put his hands in the arm while crawling to the officers. Hayes was said to have reached toward his waistband and Officer Andrew Hearst fired three shots: one in his forehead, one in his left rib cage, and one in his torso. Hayes was later found to be unarmed.
Trayvon Martin (17) was walking around his father’s neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, thought Martin was engaging in “suspicious activity,” approached him, and shot Martin in “self-defense”. Mr. Zimmerman has since been acquited.
Tamir Rice (12) was playing with an airsoft replica in a Recreation Center in Cleveland, OH. Police responded to a dispatch call that said the gun is “probably fake” and “he is probably a juvenile.” Reports said he was “pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people.” Officer Loehmann and Garmback asked Rice repeatedly to put his hands in the air, and when Rice appeared to be trying to draw his firearm, they shot him.
Walter Scott (50) was stopped by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina due to a non-functioning third brake light. Scott fled his vehicle on foot and was pursued by Officer Slager who proceeded to tase him before firing eight rounds and five fatal shots. Slager pleaded guilt to deprivation of right under color of law and was sentenced to 20 years in prison following Scott’s murder.
Alton Sterling (37) was selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Reports were made that he was using a gun to threaten a man to buy some of his CDs. Police came to the scene and when Sterling resisted, he was subsequently tasered, forced on the hood of a car, and pinned to the ground. Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake thought Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket while pinned to the ground, so they fired at Sterling. Six times. Neither Officer Salamoni or Officer Lake were brought up on charges.
I share these stories painfully and dishearteningly. And unfortunately, I’m only scratching the surface. There are far too many stories of men and women who’ve lost their lives cruelly and unfairly at the hands of our own police force. I’m not proud of the way our country has dealt with differences in race. I’m not proud of the way I’ve brushed aside my own biases and prejudices. But the only way we can even begin to sow seeds of peace and reconciliation is by trying. By immersing ourselves in the history and listening to the stories of oppression, we can begin the journey to better understand. It will involve learning and unlearning, but I can’t lay silent any longer. And I pray that you feel the same tugs to take action on your heart too!
Some books that I’m delving into to deepen my understanding of racism and anti-racism are Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People and The Hate U Give. White Fragility and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America are also on my list.