A Year in Reflection and a Year Unchanged: George Floyd, Daunte Wright and the Struggle for Black Lives to Matter

To anybody listening: 

A year ago one video littered screens all around the world. Phones, TVs, and Tablets displayed a video of a black man calling for his mother while a police officer put his knee on his back. In those short minutes people became witness to the death of a man named George Floyd. In response people took to the streets. They broke and they burned in an attempt to release an all consuming anger. The angry were called ‘looters’ and ‘thugs’, while the cop was innocent until proven guilty. America showed that they cared more for property than they did human lives. 

But the anger was not only at the police officers, the anger was at the system and a society. The anger came from people proudly exclaiming that they had been aWOKEn, only adding salt to the wound. Black people have never had the privilege to rest, we were born awake. Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. For many people who never had to face the realities of police brutality, the video was a wake up call, but for black and brown people, mentally unstable people, unhoused people it was a brutal and painful reminder that police officers are only here to serve and protect a certain population.

When the Black Lives Matter protests blew up I was wary but hopeful. When George Floyd passed, I was locked at home an unable to leave because of lockdown. When all I could think about was his passing it had felt like I had too much time to think. For black people all around the world Floyd could have been our father, brother, uncle, or friend. Relative or not, we saw Floyd’s humanity and felt his family’s pain. I looked back the other day at a Facebook post I made this time last year where I wrote, 

“I have been stuck to my phone all day watching videos of the many protests going on around the United States. I don’t think I can put into words how I am feeling. I am angry, sad but most of all I am tired. The first hashtag I can remember came in 2012 with #trayvonmartin. His life, like so many others to follow was turned into a hastag. The names that follow the hashtag have been forced into history, and it is unfair that they have to die in order for us to acknowledge the systemic racism and mistreatment of brown and black people by the police.

I was reluctant to attend the Black Lives Matter protest yesterday in Toronto. I think it was a mixture of exhaustion and an overbearring sadness that felt neverending. It seems as if every week there is another hashtag memorializing another life unfairly lost. I did not know what another protest would come to, but I knew that staying at home would not release my anger, it would only let it fester.

I am so grateful to have a community around me that appreciates the importance of protest. Though I was hesitant to attend, I am happy I went. On my way to the protest I was feeling defeated, but walking up to Christie Pitts the defeat was overridden by hope. Looking at the various masked faces, I felt empowered. The lonliness that had been brought on by COVID and the recent news had subsided.”

I return to this Facebook post again and again, because right now it feels more than ever that I need this feeling to return. I need this sense of hope, this sense of community and solidarity. A year later I am back at my dads, in this same bed, locked inside and this time it’s not George Floyd, this time it’s Daunte Wright. Killed in the same town. This time maybe it’s even more painful, because he was one year my junior. His parents just got him his car as a present. He was a father. Yesterday I saw on the internet that George Floyd’s girlfriend was Wright’s teacher. Oh how the world goes round. How do you wrap your head around these events and remain hopeful when nothing seems to change? I ask you, do you think anything has changed? 

In high school my uncle passed away from Cancer and in response I developed an irrational fear of Cancer. It felt like everyone I knew both in my personal life and in the news was dying of it. As life continued, I grew up and understood that death was a natural part of life. I learned of the ways to prevent it, and the ways in which you can treat your body in order to limit your chances. I still don’t like Cancer as who does, but it doesn’t scare me as it once did. And like change and developing, I thought I had gotten over this fear, but this anxious nail biting, no sleep fear has come back and now police officers have become what cancer once was. But unlike Cancer, I refuse to accept it as fate. It isn’t fare and we shouldn’t treat it as such. Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States, and over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. The events following Floyd’s death have made me hyper aware of what my skin means to police officers. In the year since Floyd, we need to look back and reflect but we also need to look forward and continue. 

Awake and ready,  

Kai 

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