“I CAN’T BREATHE:” A YEAR OF RACIAL RECKONING IN AMERICA

Nearly a year after the murder of George Floyd, 20-year-old Black father Daunte Wrightwas also killed by a cop. Both men were in some of the likeliest demographics in America, by race and gender, to die in a police encounter.

The killing of Daunte Wright marked nearly a decade into the Black Lives Matter movement, catalyzed by the 2012 vigilante killing of 17-year-old Black boy Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida.

When former President Barack Obama spoke out on this killing, it was the first time that a Black man, occupying the Office of the President, discussed race publicly in such starkly personal terms:

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Nine years later, it is outrageously senseless that Black people in America are still chanting “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” demanding that their humanity be recognized by their fellow countrymen. Black people are still callously criminalized, dehumanized, and slaughtered by an American justice system indifferent to their existence.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in response to George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests, chose to introduce, sponsor, and sign into law during the state’s 2021 legislative session a bill that blatantly attacks Black Floridians who exercise their First Amendment right to protest by criminalizing peaceful assembly. The law also grants the governor and their Cabinet authority to override municipal budgets for allocating resources away from police.

DeSantis and his supportive legislators targeted the First Amendment protections of free speech, assembly, and protest (adopted 1789); and voting rights protections guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment (1870); and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In response to Gov. DeSantis’ attacks on protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and Floridians’ voting rights, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic said:

“Instead of passing—or even holding committee hearings on—the myriad of bills related to police accountability that were introduced this session, legislators responded to the Black Lives Matter movement in Florida with a bill that criminalizes protesters and chills free speech. Before the session even ended, the Governor signed into law HB1, which has a chilling effect on the fundamental right to peacefully protest and assemble. They passed SB90, which will make it harder for Floridians to vote by mail and create unnecessary administrative hurdles to access the ballot box.”

The generational Black grief of the 1960s, experienced again during last year, is still unbearable. The fact that it was made worse by the malicious actions of Tallahassee leadership against Floridians who earnestly seek redress for their grievances is deplorable.

The callous disregard these leaders have shown toward their constituents, fellow human beings in their time of collective grief amid a once in a century pandemic, is appalling.

This past year of unending trauma, trial, and tribulation, particularly for Black Americans, was bookended by the Minneapolis area police killings of Floyd and Wright and showcased in the grossly negative public health and socioeconomic outcomes for Black and brown people amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year also revealed that white nationalism and white supremacist ideology still flourish in America, illustrated most clearly by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead. It demonstrated that still, to some, the lives of Black people in America simply do not matter.

Racism still exists in America, because racism is structurally ingrained in American society. We must accept this as our vital truth, because it is the only way we will make it better for future generations.

Americans cannot accept the continued repression of our fellow citizens. Black Americans, in particular, cannot be denied access to the ballot box. Over-policing of Black, brown, and low-income communities must end, especially since it comes at the expense of programs that could provide real safety and economic opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups.

More than a half century has passed since the 1960s civil rights movement. The mantle has passed to a new generation of Americans who have the responsibility to protect access to liberty for all people, including and especially Black, brown, Indigenious, and low-income people in America. We must all work to expand the ability to participate in our democracy in order to evolve the vision of a “more perfect union.”