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I am sad and heartbroken at what is happening in our society, cities, and communities right now.
I watched the brutal and unjustified killing of George Floyd this past week by a few corrupt police officers in Minneapolis, MN, in a state of anguish and anger.
I felt the same way as I watched and read about other similar events over the past few years: Trayvon Martin (Sanford, FL), Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO), Laquan McDonald (Chicago, IL), Eric Garner (Staten Island, NY), Freddie Gray (Baltimore, MD), Samuel Dubose (Cincinnati, OH), William Chapman (Portsmouth, VA), Walter Scott (North Charleston, SC), Philando Castile (St. Paul, MN), Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA), Ahmaud Arbery (Glynn County, GA), and Breonna Taylor (Louisville, KY).
These are the names and incidents I remember—and yet, they leave out the hundreds, maybe thousands, of unjustified killings of (mostly) Black men and women that don’t have videos or media coverage accompanying their deaths.
I watched this weekend, as citizens took to the streets of Chicago and across the country, to protest the unnecessary use of deadly force and violence by police and vigilantes in our society. I also witnessed firsthand, the looting and destruction of stores, businesses, buildings, and city landmarks.
To that say my heart is broken for my city and country right now, would be an understatement.
I have heard many friends, pundits, leaders, and politicians quickly jump to comment on the horror of the destruction and looting taking place. And I call bullshit.
The physical destruction of stores and businesses, the out-of-control looting and robbing, and the defacing of historical landmarks are unjust, immoral, wrong, and intolerable. Let there be no question, those who have engaged in these unlawful acts should be arrested and prosecuted under the law.
However, to focus on the looting and robbing as one’s primary and immediate point of view is missing the point and lesson inside this tragic moment.
First, and most importantly, we have a serious and sick problem in our society that is not being addressed. It starts with Black men (primarily) being indeterminately killed for petty offenses, and in some cases no offenses at all, by corrupt and/or poorly trained police officers. Don’t get me wrong, bad cops are bad cops that unjustly kill whites, Hispanics and Asians, too—but Black men are killed at more than twice the per capita rate than white men.
Second, American society is structured around systemic oppression and discrimination of minorities, with Black citizens bearing the heaviest load.
As hard as it is for me to witness looting and destruction in my city, it would be immoral and irresponsible of me to direct my focus, anger, and judgment toward these perpetrators, while ignoring the decades of abuse, incarceration, and injustice that have led us to the current civil unrest and disobedience.
I’m troubled when I see social media posts or talk to people, and the first thing they focus on is the horror of the looting and destruction. My response is, “Where were your Instagram and Facebook posts, and outrage over racial injustice the last few decades? Now that the long simmer of anger over oppression and abuse has reached a boiling point, and is spilling out into your neighborhood and directly affecting your neighborhood, business, or businesses you frequent—you’ve finally decided to become civically engaged, enraged, and publicize your opinion?”
I feel horrible for the businesses and the store owners that have been affected deeply. I know how hard it is to run any kind of business and this weekend has been devastating. It’s even more so when we factor in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and how catastrophic that impact has been to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
The violence, looting, and larceny is sickening and makes me physically ill. On Sunday morning, I walked around my neighborhood documenting the destruction. I’m not an emotional person but I cried on my walk, thinking about the historical events that led up to this moment—the pain and suffering of the business owners, the amount of work required to rebuild my city, and the extremely difficult jobs the good policemen and women of Chicago have right now.
Physical destruction is temporary. Buildings will get rebuilt. Windows will be restored. Merchandise will be replaced. Graffiti will be removed. The pain of systemic Black oppression, however, lasts generations.
I believe the vast majority of policemen and women are good people. They take their duty to serve and protect seriously. They care about you, your family, and doing all they can to protect our neighborhoods and communities. I find deep truth in the phrase, “No one hates bad cops more than good cops.” As with anything in life, it’s the small percentage of bad apples that ruin the image and reputation of the vast majority.
Just as it would be immoral and unjust to label, or define, all cops by the reprehensible actions of a few bad cops, it is also immoral and unjust to define the entire Black community and protestors by the heinous actions of the looters and criminals terrorizing our cities.
Now is a time where all good people must come together and stand on the side of justice, equality, and fairness in our society. It’s not okay to not pay attention or care about the plight of others, as long as an issue doesn’t directly affect you and or you pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s not okay to wait until your life, or community is personally impacted by the damaging and ruinous effects of police brutality and oppression and then, when it does, focus on the rioters and looters while choosing to ignore the compounding effects of what has led society to the moment we’re in.
Good cops need to call out bad cops. Good cops need to eradicate and eliminate bad cops from their ranks. Good protestors need to call out the criminals in their midst. Peaceful protestors need to stand on the side of law enforcement and call out, prevent, and thwart unlawful acts of violence and looting. The good outnumber the bad by multitudes, and the good should never allow themselves, their causes, or missions, to be defined by the bad with respect to cops and protestors.
So, what can we do?
A complete answer to the question would require a short novel as the list is endless and exhaustive of how we can make a difference individually and collectively. The following are a few thoughts on what we can do in our small circles and corners of society.
On an individual level, we need to take time and seek out where we are prejudiced, or in the case of the white majority, where we are racist. Everyone is prejudiced. I am prejudiced and racist. It’s impossible for all of us not to be prejudiced or racist in some way, shape or form.
Our individual work is not about eradicating and eliminating our prejudices or racism, but rather identifying where we are, so they move to our conscious state, versus them, living in our unconscious psyche. If anyone says, “I’m not prejudiced” or “I’m not racist,” it shows the prejudice and racism deeply rooted in one’s unconscious state. It’s not until we identify where we are prejudiced, are we then open and able to begin the work to understand, evaluate and determine how, and where, those prejudices show up in our thoughts, actions, and daily lives.
Once they are known and consciously identified, we can then objectively observe them, and catch them when they show up on a daily basis. Once they’re caught, it opens the door for us to counteract the prejudice thoughts, and we can begin to reprogram our thoughts and minds. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not realistic that we will ever fully eradicate all prejudices in our heads—but, the goal is to ensure we control our prejudices and not let our prejudices control us.
The most frustrating and disheartening part to me, relative to the protests and riots this week is that we are experiencing a failure in societal and political leadership. In a time when millions are suffering financially, mentally, or physically due to the coronavirus pandemic and/or the feeling of systemic abuse and oppression, it is a time for leaders to listen first, and then take action.
Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much of either. The first step to deescalating conflict and tension is to listen empathetically, with the intent to understand. When someone is hurting, before we can discuss ways to relieve their pain and suffering, we need to listen, and they need to know we not only heard them but also understand where they are coming from and we honor their right to feel the way they are feeling. At this moment, I’m seeing a lot of threats, condemnation, and blaming of the protestors and rioters, versus empathic listening with the intent to understand.
The next step is to take action and put forth a plan to improve the situation. In this case, what is our plan to reduce the number of unwarranted and unjust killings of innocent civilians or civilians who have committed petty crimes?
The only statement a leader needs to make is that they find these actions morally and lawfully reprehensible, unacceptable, and they are not going to continue under their watch. There needs to be a strict, well-organized, clearly defined, and well-publicized plan on how our elected officials, cabinet, and council members as well as law enforcement leaders are going to address this swiftly, judiciously, and with great force and momentum.
These merciless killings have been going on far too long in this country and the time for hollow words and empty promises are over. We need leaders with the authority to enact substantive changes to step up, put forth a plan, and then execute the plan.
Without a plan, this pattern of unjust killing followed by protests will continue to repeat itself with each instance becoming more and more violent, dangerous, and destructive.
Although corporations and businesses aren’t in as powerful a position as government leaders, there are many things we can do to improve the systemic oppression that exists in our country.
The first is to take Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) seriously in our companies. Each CEO needs to directly engage in understanding where their company is falling short, or where they can continue to improve and refine, their DEI initiatives.
DEI isn’t just about percentages of women, minorities, and LGBTQ team members inside of an organization, although that’s a great place to start. It’s about understanding the current culture and how open, welcoming, accepting, and integrative the culture is to minorities or people who don’t resemble the mean population.
It’s about setting high expectations with management and recruiting teams; to put in extra efforts and be proactive about hiring minority candidates. It’s about educating everyone in the company relative to their unconscious biases when interviewing candidates, so the best candidate doesn’t get passed by because they look different than the norm.
The more businesses can improve their hiring practices by creating an increased level of diversity, the better off the businesses will be, and, additionally, the better off society will be. No person of minority ever wants a handout or to feel they got a job because they are in a minority category. Rather, all they want is to know that they have as equal an opportunity as anyone else applying for the job, and then, may the best man or woman, win.
The events of this past weekend are sad, painful, and disheartening. I feel for the Black, and other minority groups, who have felt the pain of oppression for generations; I feel for the protestors who shouldn’t have to take to the streets to have their voices heard; I feel for the businesses who were disrupted and financially struggling before the riots and are now suffering crippling blows because of the riots, and I feel for the good policemen and women who uphold the oath to serve and protect as they are being defined by the crooked and corrupt officers in their ranks.
Mostly, I feel for society right now. We are hurting and divided more so than at any point in recent history. We are sick and unhealthy right now. There is no lack of big and important problems for us to work together on, to improve the lives of all Americans. Yet we spend our time demonizing, insulting, and ridiculing each other.
If there ever was a time to turn our swords into plowshares, it is now.
The faster we lay down our weapons, real or virtual, and start listening, understanding, empathizing, and working together to improve the lives of all of our friends and neighbors, near and far, the faster we will build a country and society we will feel proud of and safe in. Only then, will we know that each person, regardless of the color of their skin, the zip code they grew up in, the school they went to, the gender they identify as or romantically prefer, or the religion they choose to worship—America is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the country where dreams can, and do, come true—for everyone.