The tragic roll call continues: Trayvon Martin … Tamir Rice … Eric Garner … Michael Brown … Freddie Gray … Ahmaud Arbery … Breonna Taylor … George Floyd. All African-Americans. All senselessly killed, most of them by police.
When does it end? How does it end?
Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis sparked demonstrations in the streets of dozens of cities, not only throughout the U.S. but the world at large. Certainly that was because of the searing video that emerged, showing a police officer kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, as the handcuffed 46-year-old laid face-down on a street. (That officer, Derek Chauvin, was subsequently fired and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three officers accompanying him face lesser charges.)
And certainly it was because of Floyd’s plaintive cries as he was lying there: “I can’t breathe.” His words echo back six years, to the day Garner was choked out on a Staten Island sidewalk, also by a police officer.
Have we come no further? Are we just running in place?
I can’t pretend to know all the answers. All I know is that we can do better. We must do better.
I am sensitive to racial issues, in no small part because one of my daughters, Kelsey, is married to our defensive line coach here at Missouri State, L.D. Scott, who is African-American. They have four beautiful children, Braylon, Emmett, Brianna and Anissa. But because they are biracial, I have felt the sting of bigotry. I have received my share of malicious notes. As I told Wyatt Wheeler of the Springfield New-Leader, this sort of ugliness shouldn’t exist in our great nation, but it continues to fester.
I also talked with Wyatt about a virtual team meeting we had shortly after Floyd’s death. We discussed not only his passing and the protests that followed, but also a racially charged video and social media post attributed to current or incoming Missouri students.
Still fresh in my mind were some photos Kelsey posted on Facebook (and I subsequently tweeted). In one of them she is holding a sign that says, “I can’t breathe … Black Lives Matter.” Each of her children is displaying a sign as well:
“I am George Floyd.”
“I am Ahmaud Arbery.”
“I am Breonna Taylor.”
Anissa, the youngest, is holding the most poignant one of all: “Am I next?”
In the accompanying Facebook post, Kelsey writes about the discussions she had with her children about the incidents I mentioned above. How those incidents arose out of fear and ignorance. How there was also love between whites and African-Americans, as her marriage to L.D. shows. How being black is a beautiful thing.
They were still processing all that the next day, and decided to stage their own protest in front of their home. That’s when they made their signs, and that’s when Kelsey took a knee, as did three of her children. She outlined her reasoning in her post:
I take a knee, so that all of my black family and friends know — YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I SEE YOU — I see your struggle. I see your plight.
I FEEL YOU — I feel your anger. I feel your sorrow. I feel your frustrations.
I HEAR YOU — I hear your worries. I hear your fears.
As noted by Wyatt Wheeler, Missouri State’s athletic department has instituted diversity-related educational programs. And as I told him, we will continue to discuss with our players matters relating to the world at large.
Certainly there are no easy answers when it comes to matters of race. But we have to continue to talk. We have to continue to strive.
We have to do better. Period.