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Remembering George Floyd’s death 1 year later

Remembering George Floyd’s death 1 year later

Remembering George Floyd’s death 1 year later
June 10
13:30 2021

As a child, I was taught about the African American trailblazers who made it possible for me to play sports, go to school and enjoy freedoms similar to my non-Black peers. As I grew into a teen and young adult, I began to recognize the unfair reality that my survival depends on my willingness to be an ardent advocate for my rights.

My parents blatantly explained how a Black person’s experiences differ from a white person’s. You can do everything in your power — literally plead for your life and still fall victim to a system built for just that: the victimization of Black people.

I was reminded of the system’s brutal underbelly when the video of George Floyd’s senseless murder went viral over the summer of 2020. Then-cop Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, resulting in the murder that sparked a flame in the U.S. and around the world.

One year later, the nation is reflecting on Floyd’s tragic murder. Floyd’s family, including his 7-year-old daughter Gianna Floyd were invited to visit the White House on Wednesday, May 26 to commemorate his death. One of the internet’s major talking points following the visit was the now-viral image of a Marine holding the door open as Gianna walked into the West Wing of the White House.

Typically, watching a Black child step into the most exclusive White House wing would fill me with utmost pride. It’s the circumstances that leave me disenfranchised, rather than inspired.

CNN reporter Chris Cillizza dubs the image a silver lining following “a year of protests for racial justice.” Although he acknowledges the grim reality behind the image, viewing it as symbolic hope runs the risk of detrimentally labeling a grieving child a mouthpiece for racial justice.

Not to mention, Black people have been fighting injustice since this country’s infancy. If people believe an image is enough to mend a nation with such a troubled history, the Black community is being severely misheard.

The White House visit is not evidence of a unified and anti-racist America coming to fruition. While the visit is not problematic in nature, it is not the progress Black people crave. In fact, it is another example of the U.S. government being reactive to Black pain instead of proactive.

If the visit is not followed up by discernable nationwide change and the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the gesture will just fall into the performative wayside.

Despite President Joe Biden urging Congress to pass the bill, it remains stalled in the Senate, delaying provisions such as the establishment of a national police misconduct registry.

Cilizza writes that Gianna had a “grand time” with Biden in the Oval Office, but I fear this description lingers in the dangerous territory of romanticization. Perhaps Gianna was smiling and seemed happy, but the reality is no one enjoys commemorating the death of a loved one — especially when they lost their life in a tragic manner.

I do not take pride in Black trauma, but in this instance, there is no bright side. George Floyd’s life was stolen from Gianna and the rest of his family during an absurd act of racism and abuse of power. What has the U.S. government really done about it besides the bare minimum of convicting Chauvin?

Until the George Floyd Act is passed and the issues it addresses are resolved, progress is not being made. Chauvin being convicted for a murder he obviously committed is not progressive, and it is not a victory for the Black community. Black Americans have such little faith in the U.S. justice system that they did not have full confidence Chavin would be held accountable — that in itself is indicative of a bigger problem.

Passing the bill won’t instantaneously heal the U.S., but Black Lives Matter allies, especially those in powerful positions and political office, should not let up the pressure until Black people feel safe and protected in America. It may take years of protests, fundraising and calling for reform. It’s hard work, but it is necessary, and Black people should not carry the weight alone.

There is not much sacrifice in releasing a statement expressing thoughts and prayers every time an innocent Black person is killed or victimized. Changing a logo or profile picture to incorporate the Black Lives Matter fist doesn’t do much beyond increasing visibility, which is only one of many steps necessary to facilitate change.

Interpreting the White House visit and the viral image of Gianna as progress validifies the performative measures many organizations and people have taken in response to police brutality and racism in general.

Over the last year, I have seen an influx of gestures intended to spark unity that failed to be met with actual offensive effort. Lack of accountability has allowed disingenuous efforts to become the norm.

It is why the NBA felt deserting their league-wide Black Lives Matter imagery after only a few months was appropriate. It is why popular TV shows like “The Bachelor” use racism as a prop to further ratings (you can’t convince me they actually care about representation when it took them almost 20 years and 25 seasons to cast a Black bachelor).

The fact remains: an innocent man had his life stolen from him as he pled for mercy. There is powerful imagery behind the photo of Gianna walking into the West Wing, and the video of her leading a chilling “say his name” chant outside the White House that same day — but it is not representative of real progression.

Instead, it is another example of an innocent Black child being subjected to a situation they would not be in if it weren’t for their skin tone.

Think of Trayvon Martin, who was 17-years-old when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, and Tamir Rice, who was 12-years-old when he was shot and killed by former police officer Timothy Loehmann. Their deaths have become the backbone of a fight against injustices they played no part in creating. Those young boys and all victims of racist killings deserved a chance to have their names known for their accomplishments, not a hate crime.

When I take a look at the bigger picture, the image of Gianna draws an eerie similarity to the photographs of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S Marshals. Bridges was 6-years-old, one year younger than Gianna, when she became a Civil Rights pioneer as the first African American student to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in November 1960.

Although Bridges’ sacrifice was necessary, a Black child should never bear the weight of a racial reckoning. We must break the cycle of holding Black people accountable for problems they did not create.

George Floyd is just one of many Black Americans targeted by this country’s faulty systems because of their race. The White House visit was not endearing, Gianna and the Floyd family have only begun on a lifelong journey of grief. It is not their duty to mend the scars caused by an inherently racist country.

As the nation reflects on George Floyd and other victims of racist wrongdoings, we must not become anesthetized. Passing the George Floyd Act is a detrimental factor in honoring his death. It is up to BLM allies, politicians and the privileged to push for reform and continue advocating on Black people’s behalf.

It is not Gianna’s responsibility to inspire hope or facilitate change. We must be intentional not to label her as a figurehead for the movement, at least until she is old enough to control how her name is used in the narrative. It is our obligation to protect her, not only as a grieving victim of police brutality but because the U.S. systems designed to uphold peace neglected to protect her father and Black people just like him far too often.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Rhema Joy Bell

Rhema Joy Bell

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