By Tony Spokojny
A fateful spark has ignited the tinderbox. Unlike the killings of black men at the hands of police officers that preceded the homicide of George Floyd, the video of his strained “I can’t breathe” pleas, cries to his dead mother, his final breath and the ultimate homicide of George Floyd before our eyes has unleashed emotions and spontaneous street demonstrations not seen since the civil unrest of the late 1960s. Public opinion has swayed. Recent polls reveal that a huge majority of Americans now believe that America is on the wrong track. Empathy has been awakened in formerly reluctant societal demographics and finally, a large number of people in power seem to be responding with something more that “thoughts and prayers.”
Since its inception, I have been a proponent of the phrase, "Black Lives Matter." Some reluctant woke white people have responded with "All Lives Matter" and even "Blue Lives Matter." But they miss the point. Black lives matter because to many, they don't. But I cannot be a spokesman for the cause. I’m not sure I can ever fully understand the cause. There are cries for the removal of Confederate statues from the public square and the names of confederate generals from U.S. military installations. I am not a child of the South, black or white, but it’s easy to understand how honoring those who fought the institution of slavery would be an anathema to the descendants of those slaves. The thought of Germany – or any country – honoring Nazis is an unimaginable abomination to me. That train of thought has, in turn, led to discussing the elimination of statues of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and other heroes of the Revolutionary War because those leaders owned slaves. I’m less clear on that thinking. But recently, there was an attack on the statue of a Union soldier in Wisconsin. I asked “Why?” on friend’s Facebook page. The reply from another reader:
Good, if you’re white you won’t EVER understand and I doubt you ever will. I’m so sick of you racist thinking idiots. Makes me sick.
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be inside the skin of a black man or woman. It’s clear to them that their lives haven’t mattered. They haven't. And the numbers, both on the right side of the law and the wrong, bear it out: Disproportionate arrests, convictions, prison sentences, wealth/income/poverty disparity, corporate leadership, health and wellness disparity. Even the coronavirus has an impact on a significantly high disproportionate number of African-Americans due, in part, to the lack of access to adequate medical care and other systemic racist social policies. I can only observe that those issues are finally being amplified through the megaphone of a somewhat awakened American conscious.
Those in power have seen the painful videos, reviewed the painful health statistics, have been made aware that there are only four black men leading Fortune 500 companies. People of all races and ages are marching en masse across the country, around the world. Finally there is some momentum for change. Progress? There is no room for those who advocate for the status quo. Stand in the way and you may get run over. I may have been unwittingly sideswiped by that moving train
Tony Spokojny has been practicing law in Michigan for over 40 years.