As the Riots Unfolded: My Thoughts As Black America Decided We’ve Had Enough
For the past week, a fire has been burning across America. After a month of news centered on the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Americans witnessed a viral video of Minneapolis police officers murdering George Floyd. His death changed the direction of the wind, and Black Americans stood up to declare that, “We Are Done Dying.”
Feel free to skip if you’re up to speed.
Ahmaud Arbery – 25-year-old man whose afternoon jog on February 23 ended with him being hunted and killed on video by three white vigilantes in Georgia. Collusion from the local District Attorney ensured that no arrests were made for his murder until news of his passing broke nationally two months later in early May. As of now, the father-son duo who killed Arbery and the accomplice who filmed the act have all been arrested and charged.
Breonna Taylor – 26-year-old woman murdered by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) when officers burst into her home to serve a no-knock warrant during the late night hours of March 13. The warrant – later exposed for reportedly being obtained with false information – was intended for a person who didn’t live at Taylor’s address and had already been arrested earlier that day. Her story had little local media attention and did not pick up more momentum until it come to light nationally in mid-May.
Kenneth Walker – Breonna’s boyfriend, who defended their home by firing back at the officers that had not announced themselves upon entry. An officer was injured as a result, and while attempts were made to charge Walker with attempted murder, charges have finally been dismissed against him and he has been freed from custody.
George Floyd – 46-year-old man murdered by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Floyd was lying handcuffed on the ground when former officer Derek Chauvin looked into the camera of a woman recording the arrest, and continuously kneeled on the back of his neck for nine minutes. After pleading for the officer to stop, screaming for his late mother, and begging for his life, George Floyd died on the pavement in front of an audience that included three other complicit officers.
Medical examiners blamed his cause of death on heart disease and hypertension, but yesterday, independent autopsy results proved what we all knew upon seeing the footage: George Floyd’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation. The officers involved in his death were all fired, but only Chauvin has been arrested.
Our Patience Runs Out
100 years after the NAACP first hung flags reading “A man was lynched yesterday,” these victims’ stories have been compared to modern-day lynchings. It’s easy to see how closely they fit the profile; these deaths were caused by racist white individuals choosing when, where, and how gruesomely Black life ends. The lies and shady actions surrounding both Arbery and Taylor’s deaths, mixed with the arrogance of Floyd’s murderers, have added immense weight to the load of repetitious trauma, abuse, and murder that Black Americans have witnessed to Black bodies over the past 15 years.
Floyd’s story, stacked on top of Taylor and Arbery’s, has been described as the tip of the iceberg; it was the rushing wave that finally caused a levee of patience, holding back Black America’s rage, to break.
Protests have arisen in streets all over the nation in their names. Buildings have burned and thousands have been arrested while many of us struggle to cope with the web of emotions tied to being Black and living under the siege of two pandemics: COVID-19 that is disproportionately infecting the Black community, and the racism that has plagued us since we unwillingly arrived in 1619.
The past week has had me mulling over everything from the intersections of my identity to my hometown’s romanticized history vs. the deep realities of its racist legacy. I’ve pondered both of these in relation to my views of American politics, policing, and the frequently blurred lines between the two. I have cried, screamed, and ended a 21-day stretch of 13-hour work shifts to go protest in the street. And like so many other Black professionals, I have shared the plight of pretending to be okay in more work-at-home interactions and online meetings than I can count. Breonna Taylor’s story and the lack of action taken to legally address or publicly apologize for her death has stung me in an unnerving way. I, too, am a Black woman from Louisville, KY and I wonder if this is any indication of how my story would play out if badged vigilantes ever decided to silence my voice. I’m aware of how dark that sounds, but it is a harsh reality that many of us clothed in the same beautiful melanin as Breonna, and the others, consider at one time or another. It’s the same thought and worry that has been reflected in our mothers’ eyes since slavery. It’s the same anxiety that keeps us awake at night.
Then, yesterday, the LMPD and National Guard killed another Black Louisvillian, David “YaYa” McAtee. I am undone. I am enraged. And I can’t give a damn about any of the buildings that will burn between now and the day that Black Americans finally get the justice we are due. I am finished.
Even after all this, the white people inconvenienced by our outrage continue to blame us for our own trauma, police our anger and pretend that they can’t comprehend why Black Americans (and our allies) are so upset. They pretend not to see why we have been in the streets every day and night for the past week, despite being continuously abused by increased police and military presence. Most infuriating, they choose to deflect by arguing about businesses and structures that will come back, instead of the actual problem: the racism that is metastasized in every corner of America’s body, and that continues to claim irreplaceable Black health, Black futures, and Black lives.
I won’t waste my time explaining anything to them, but I will address those who have asked for my thoughts about the ongoing protests and riots across the nation. The following is a small collection of the writings I’ve recorded in the midst of all that has transpired from May 25th to June 1st. If you read this and still claim to be lost, then you and your forced naivety are part of the problem. No Justice, No Peace. Prosecute Racist A** Police. #BLACKLIVESMATTER
May 28, 2020 – Reply to a friend glorifying Civil Rights protesters in comparison to looters in Minneapolis:
“I once held a similar mindset, but now I see my internal rage reflected in the flames. We’ve tried peace and gotten nothing. We’ve tried grassroots advocacy and gotten nothing. We’ve tried conversations, think-pieces, patience, attaining elected offices, petitioning, protesting like Martin, speaking unapologetically like Malcolm, and everything in between. And we still get nothing, except more and more Black trauma and death. My mind has changed. For the first time, I feel the same numbness, rage, and sorrow WITHOUT also feeling helpless. I am exhausted with discussion and posing “constructive,” nicely packaged solutions that go unnoticed or unheard. So, finally, I understand the urge to burn it all to the ground. I’m not advocating for theft, but I’m also not bothered. Quite frankly, Target can come back; we cannot. #BLM”
May 30, 2020 – Unpublished Note
As I’ve said all week, and will continue to say again and again:
Until we want to talk about the collective issues that have caused this unrest, I do not want to talk about Target or any other damaged property. Businesses have insurance and can come back. Black lives lost to police violence, however, CANNOT.
While I don’t choose to go tear up buildings and burn things down, I certainly understand and share the rage. I don’t see menaces to society; I see people who are tired of being unseen and unheard where it counts. Screams for change don’t always look or sound pretty. If you can’t look past broken glass and spray paint to empathize with that, then we can agree to disagree. (Quite frankly, you’re also free to tootsie roll/slide your way off my friends list.)
Don’t get it twisted: this is not an endorsement of theft. But it is a declaration of understanding the pain that makes some want to break glass or burn it all to the ground.
June 1, 2020 – Written while watching live coverage from the site where David McAtee’s lay:
Last night, a man who looks like me was killed by officers at 26th & Broadway. I was awake when it happened. That man’s body was JUST removed from the street. I am writing this at 1:19pm. His body was left in the street like AN ANIMAL, for over 12 hours.
This comes on the tail end of a weekend full of protests, demonstrations, marches, and riots related to the killings of Breonna Taylor in my city, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and the countless other Black people who have been targeted and killed by law enforcement. Mayor Greg Fischer and other officials continue to be lax in addressing Breonna’s murder; her killers continue to be employed by LMPD, and are walking free. The mayor ignores citizens who question him on the street, imposed curfews this weekend that applied to some and not others, and has increased police presence in the city as a measure to calm things down, but seemingly also in an attempt to make us behave.
I am 25 years old. I am a Black woman born and raised in Louisville, KY and I have seen more Black men, women, and children killed by American law enforcement than I can even count. Even when I try my hardest, I can’t remember all of their names. And at this moment, as citizens on 26th & Broadway raise their fists in silence while this newest victim’s body is finally removed from the street, I am on my couch with my work laptop open, crying my eyes out, trying to figure out how in the world I can pull it together to attend a meeting in two minutes.
Because far too often that’s what being Black in America is – putting the mask back on to keep going, no matter what turmoil is going on around you or what is happening to people who look like you. I am TIRED of being expected to pull it together while living in this chaos. WE ARE TIRED.
UPDATE 4:07pm – David McAtee’s body was not actually removed from the scene until 2pm. A disgrace.
Reader, be part of the solution. Act now. #StayKultured