There are common threads among the police killing of George Floyd, the coronavirus, the climate crisis and the need for truth and reconciliation in the United States.
The killing of Floyd has laid bare, once again, the victimization of Black men by law enforcement officers who have exercised excessive and lethal force. A Black man is three times more likely to die from police force than a white man.
In recent years, the names of Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Stephon Clark, Charles Vaughn Sr. and George Floyd represent just some of those who died in circumstances where police used excessive force.
The disparate treatment of Black men by police is rooted in centuries of racism that continue to manifest as a systemic virus in our society, economy and culture.
Another virus, the Covid-19 pandemic, has also impacted African Americans at higher rates than others; 23 percent of deaths among the first 100,000 dead from Covid-19 are African Americans, who represent just 13 percent of the population.
Underlying these disparities is racism. And, these disparities are also evident with the ravages of the growing climate crisis. Environmental racism is present and those living in poverty are more likely to suffer the adverse health impacts of poor air quality, contaminated water and limited access to nutritious food.
The predominantly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests have included eruptions of violence, an outgrowth of deep-seated anger and historic disenfranchisement. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Currently, there is no single Martin Luther King Jr. to speak for the unheard. It is time for all of us to raise our voices against racial inequities. The broad, cross-cultural participation in the protests shows that many Americans of all races are ready to speak out.
We need the participation of white leaders in politics, business, law enforcement, sports and the arts to step forward in partnership with leaders of color.
There is a model for this. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu led South Africa out of apartheid in a peaceful transition of power following decades of suffering and sacrifice. They were the architects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought victims of brutality and surviving family members of those killed face to face in forums of reconciliation.
For centuries, America has postponed its reckoning with the genocide of Native Americans and the forcible importation and brutal subjugation of African slaves. If our national leadership is unwilling to lead, then state and local leaders must initiate a process of truth and reconciliation – a process that is long overdue.