Updated: Jun 22, 2020
When does outrage turn into action?
I saw her lying on the ground unconscious, nose bleeding, assaulted by a man who ran off just as the police arrived on the scene. Without warning, an officer tackled and handcuffed me, ignoring my pleas to call for help. The crowd exited the nightclub into the humid Miami Beach night, two friends witnessed the encounter and quickly tried to intervene. I watched from the back seat of the police car as one of my friends tussled with one of the officers, before he too was pepper-sprayed and placed under arrest. That was my first violent encounter with law enforcement as a Black man in America. The events of this past week, along with countless other confrontations between Black men and the police, remind me of a grim reality; my friends and I were lucky to walk away alive that night.
America hates Black men. We are keenly aware that the degree to which this country embraces Black men is proportionate to our ability to make a 30-foot jump shot, run a sub-5-second 40-yard dash, or make the type of music that makes White suburban kids feel cool. It tolerates us, feels threatened by us, then they find ways to kill us. Botham Jean was murdered while having ice cream in his own home. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, enjoying an afternoon jog through the neighborhood. We live inside of what feels like a cage, designed to dehumanize, subjugate, and destroy our collective spirits; its only objective is to break our will and destroy our humanity completely. This cage of oppression holds not only Black and Brown people as prisoners; it holds all of us hostage to a construct of race and class that is tearing our society to shreds. Maya Angelou said, “no one of us can be free until everybody is free,” America can no longer hide from that truth. We have seen our leaders protest non-violently and by any means necessary and paid with their lives. We’ve heard athletes speak truth to power, risking their careers to kneel in support of a more significant cause. While confirmation of what we’ve assumed to be true — that the NFL blackballed Colin Kaepernick — begins to surface, one can’t help but scream, “I told you so!” There is no debating, however, that the paradigm has shifted. Like so many of us, America must look within and ask itself who it wants to be when the worst is over.
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” — African Proverb
We’ve witnessed an unrelenting wave of protests in all 50 states. At least 20 states and over 40 cities have imposed curfews in attempts to contain civil unrest. We see a collective purge of the suffering endured by a community whose bloody hands have woven the complex tapestry that is America. These protests aren’t just against police brutality; they represent an outpouring of frustrations, despair, and anger exacerbated by a global pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color globally. As the President of the United States continues to stoke the flames of discord, and as we take to the streets to declare that Black Lives Matter, consider the impossible choice of waging a battle with two enemies; one flanked by the invisible agents of greed and prejudice. Our anger is a rejection of a type of freedom that, today, is not yet a reality in this country.
“The most at-risk during a global pandemic have had to accept that to speak truth to one killer, they had to open the door to another. That is a sacrifice no image or prose can reconcile.” — Jonathan Priester
In the anthology ‘The Black Woman,’ Toni Cade Bambara writes, “what are we talking about when we speak of a revolution if not a free society made up of whole individuals?” Cade suggests that true revolutionary thinking can only be achieved by first reconciling the battle of ‘masculine’ vs. ‘feminine’ and establishing ourselves as equal soldiers in the Struggle. It would be irresponsible to write about this trauma without centering the lives of Black women in the fight for liberation. It is important to remember that police violence has not only claimed the lives of Black men; it has also taken Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, and countless other Black women. As we move forward in the fight for truth and equity, we must remember that our survival rests with our ability to recognize each other’s humanity.
As American cities burn and panic takes hold of our collective psyche, I’ve received countless calls, texts, and emails from allies offering sincere overtures of solidarity. They ask how they could lend their faculties to the cause. At the same time, I’ve seen allyship in action as people from diverse backgrounds take to the streets, demanding their voices heard in the name of justice. To my allies reading this, I do not need thoughts and prayers; I need you to take action. I do not need public displays of fellowship; I need you to take time and examine where you sit on the privilege continuum, privately, then channel your energies towards dismantling systemic injustice wherever you experience it. Better still, use that power to create pathways to success for underrepresented people and help even the playing field where disparity exists.
I do not need performative allyship. I need you to be an accomplice. I need your actions to match your outrage.
That night in Miami ended with a relatively short stay in county jail and, eventually, a dismissed court case. Every time I hear of another unarmed Black man die at the hands of police, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I realize I have a responsibility to use my voice and my platform to speak up against injustice, and in doing so, to contribute to making this country truly the “land of the free.”
Written by Jason Rosario