If you have been watching the news or checking your social media today, you may have noticed the following: videos of protests, riots, posts and stories on how to help the Black Lives Matter movement, and blacked-out posts with either #blackouttuesday or #theshowmustbepaused. Quite honestly, if you haven’t seen these things, you have been living under a rock.
On the evening May 25th, 2020, George Perry Floyd was a living man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On the evening May 25th, 2020, George Perry Floyd was a dead man killed by police. Office Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, strangled Floyd with his knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was handcuffed and lying on the ground, pleading for his life, telling the office, “I can’t breathe.” Office Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But he was not alone. He was accompanied by three other officers – Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane. all of which (at the time of this post) have not been charged for allowing this cruel act to happen.
George Perry Floyd was arrested for using a forged $20 bill. George Perry Floyd died over a $20 bill.
Since then, protests have erupted all over the United States – all over the world – demanding justice, peace and the end to police brutality. From Minneapolis to Los Angeles, from Dallas to New York, from Paris to London to Berlin to Syria, protests in the form of peaceful marches, murals, freeway blockades and riots have risen from the simmering kettle pot of rage that blew off its lid.
Now, let me preface this by saying I am not white. I am a first generation Hispanic American. I do not fully know the black struggle. I know some things about the Hispanic struggle, but even then I have been fortunate enough to not experience the full struggle and have some privileges. Not full 100% privilege white people enjoy, but I have had the privilege to live in a nice neighborhood, attend good schools, see and live in nice houses with safe streets, experience little fear of the police, and have opportunities to pursue professions beyond the stereotypical Hispanic jobs. I am not here to preach on things I don’t know. I am here to express my thoughts and feelings, experience with this, and how this time, I am aware. So please, don’t expect some Karen to give some BS conjecture on this. Continuing on:
I will admit, I had become somewhat desensitized over the violence seen on news media outlets. I did not pretend they did not exist. I am well aware of the racial divides that exist. Austin’s divide was for a long time (and still sort of is) the I-35 corridor separating West Austin from East Austin. When I moved to Dallas, I saw racial segregation outside my apartment building within the first weekend of living there – white people at the arcade bar on one side of the street, black people at the bar/club across the street. A crosswalk divided them. In one city, it’s an interstate freeway. In another city, it’s a damn crosswalk. Funnily enough, it was this crosswalk that made me look into the history of my neighborhood in Dallas. My neighborhood, Uptown, for the longest time was considered a black neighborhood, from the Civil War era to around the 1980s. It was in the 1990s gentrification sparked a “renaissance” of sorts, much to the dismay of POCs, a literal/metaphorical black death. I’m happy to know the history yet filled with guilt that I am continuing the gentrification by paying overpriced rent for an apartment I hardly lived in. I would talk about race, socioeconomic issues, gentrification and police brutality with my family and friends, coworkers at my previous jobs, and within my classes at St. Ed’s. But it never amounted to anything except talk and Google research. This instance, this killing, however, is different.
There were two things that shook me to the core:
The video. Video was released of the arrest. It is gruesome to watch. It is mind-boggling how someone could strangle a man, a father, a human being, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It was heart-breaking to hear Floyd say “I can’t breathe.” I. Can’t. Breathe. Anybody with common sense and a drop of sanity would let go. But Chauvin didn’t. He kept going…and going…and going…and going until there was not a single ounce of life left. As you grow up, you learn the monsters in your bed or your closet weren’t real. They were figments of your imagination. That was a lie. Monsters are real and this a-hole is one of them. What in the actual F.
The protests. It was not the initial protests in Minneapolis that overwhelmed me. It was much closer than that. Last weekend my family and I went to Dallas to check the apartment. I had “moved” back to Austin due to the Co-vid pandemic and haven’t left since. In my part of Austin, you don’t see or hear protests. You watch the local news and see marches and protests at the Capitol building and that was pretty much it. Dallas, though, was very different.
We got in around 1 AM. It was Friday night. I expected to hear the usual noise of drunk folks and club-goers along with loud music from one of the DJs and a car that would zoom up and down the street. You know, usual Friday night noises in the city center, I didn’t hear that much music and there weren’t that many people out. I even laughed when I saw some folks hosting a BBQ cookout with their smoker and a table full of food at a bank parking lot near the club. I texted my friends what I saw and joked that the people at the clubs and bars were throwing an after-party.
Around 1:30, 1:45 AM, after unpacking the stuff, we opened the balcony door. It was a nice night. We heard people talking and shouting, again thinking it was coming from the bars. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. 4 shots were thrown in the air. People screamed and ran through the streets. My mom got scared, saying those were gun shots. I said that couldn’t be, that they had to be fireworks (fireworks are a frequent event on weekends in my neighborhood). We saw the people running. Again, we did not think it was a protest. Just craziness that was not uncommon on weekends.
On Saturday, we went out to the suburbs to get Peruvian food and do some shopping at Daiso. Things were completely normal. People were out with (and without) face masks, sort of social distancing, buying food and clothes and knick knacks. Later in the day, my mom and I went out to go shopping at The Shops in Park Lane. I had seen a post earlier on Instagram that NorthPark Mall was closed for the day, two hours after opening. My dad said it was fear of rioters from the protest. I brushed it off, saying it had to be pandemic-related.
The Shops in Park Lane is across the 75 highway from NorthPark. Since I refuse to drive on Dallas freeways (Dallas drivers make New York drivers look like amateurs), I drove through the street. My mom and I passed by the NorhtPark mall and saw blockades at the entrances. Then we noticed police officers in golf carts driving around. Then, we saw them. At least 15 officers grouped together in front of the Nordstrom entrance. This was not about the pandemic. This was about the protest.
My lack of awareness didn’t stop there. I still had no clue as to how bad it got the night before in Downtown Dallas. It wasn’t until we got to The Shops on Park Lane, walked up to the doors of a store, and saw the sign, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we will be closed today,” that I finally Googled what was going on. My stomach dropped. Downtown Dallas was not just protesting. They were rioting. A couple of boutiques and a non-profit were looted. Gun shots were fired. Fights broke out. It was chaos. And I was hearing a part of it. I was seeing a part of it. And I dismissed it as drunk debauchery.
My mom and I left the shopping center. We saw some kids walk across the street, with bandannas wrapped around their knuckles. My mom pointed out that fighters (and robbers) use that to lessen the damage when punching someone (or through glass). I barely heard her. I was trying hard not to shake as I drove. My mind swirled with the sounds and screams and details of the events. I was confused and scared. Should they be rioting? Should they be looting? My philosophy/form of protest was to work hard and live well. I always thought that was enough to show white men (and women) that a Hispanic woman can do just as well, if not better, than them. Is it wrong? Is it not enough? Is violence the answer? Is it justified?
I remember my best friend getting nervous when a police officer pulled us over for driving the wrong way to make a U-turn in Downtown Austin (completely my bad. Sorry Siddiqi). I remember the police office was very nice and gave us a warning. I remember my best friend explaining that if I was not in the car with him, it may have been different.
I may have been more privileged than most people within my race and minority structure. That does not mean I have experienced smaller forms of discrimination or fear of discrimination. I remember seeing white people give funny looks at my parents when they spoke in Spanish. I remember how people would treat my family differently because of our Hispanic last names. I remember being a kid who recently moved to Austin, Texas and being told not to speak Spanish in public. I remember being called Mexican simply because I was Hispanic (nothing against Mexicans, but I’m South American. Big difference). I remember trying hard to white-wash myself to fit in. I remember experiencing guilt or shame of where I come from. Now that I think about it, why on earth would I ever want to do that to myself? Why would I ever want to be like them?
Though these things are minor compared to the struggles of black men, women, and children, it is also these small acts that are also racist. A racist is not just someone who kills a person of color because of their skin. A racist can be something on the inside, something within the subconscious. It is someone who ignores race and instances involving race. I was on a call with some coworkers the other day. One of the people – a white woman – asked how our weekends went and if things were opening up again. One person – a minority from LA – told us that things were still closed but it was not safe to go out due to the protests and riots. The white woman completely disregarded the protest comment and proceeded to talk about how she was happy to dine in at restaurants again. The white woman was from Dallas.
Racism can be silent. It especially can be silence. Silence is the worst killer.
Though I am not one for violence, I do think these acts are justified for the silenced to be heard. A protester protesting through peace, violence, noise is justified. An agitator using the protest as an excuse to commit crimes or blame POC for the violence is not justified. Now, I think it’s odd to loot a minority owned business in your neighborhood, but what do I know? I do wish for the protest to be peaceful, but again, what do I know? I know nothing. What I do know is that all of this could have been prevented. All of this could have been stopped. All of this could be been avoided. None of this would have happened if people treat each other like human beings with respect, dignity, love, compassion, and kindness. We are not one race. We are one species of many different races, colors, and backgrounds. I am not going to say all lives matter, though that is something I would have said before. George Perry Floyd of Minneapolis/Houston mattered. Michael Brown of Ferguson mattered. Freddie Gray of Baltimore mattered. Sandra Bland of Waller County, TX mattered. Botham Jean of Dallas mattered. Michael Ramos of Austin mattered. Eric Garner of New York City mattered. These people mattered and still matter. Black Lives Matter. POC Lives Matter. Without justice, there is no peace.
I encourage you to reflect on your actions, your biases, your thoughts, and educate yourself on what is going on. Talk to someone who will explain it well with the correct information. Donate to the cause and demand reform from your legislators. Here are some resources to help you become a better human being through demanding change, donating to the cause, and educating yourself:
- Campaign Zero: https://www.joincampaignzero.org/ – Demand reform
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund: https://www.naacpldf.org/ – Donate
- George Floyd Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd – Donate to help the Floyd family with funeral costs, expenses, etc.
- Black Lives Matter: https://blacklivesmatter.com/ – Educate and donate to the cause
- Justice for Mike Ramos: https://www.gofundme.com/f/justice-for-mike-ramos – GoFundMe set up by Brenda Ramos, Mike’s mom. Donate to help a local Austinite
- Support Black-owned businesses in Austin, TX (Austin Monthly): https://www.austinmonthly.com/black-owned-businesses-to-support-in-austin/
- How to support BLM focused organizations (Harper’s Bazaar UK): https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/culture/culture-news/a32740798/black-lives-matter-support/ – this gives a nice list of where to support if you’re in the UK and where to donate if you are in the US
- What is the Black Revolution – Malcolm X: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeAcQeyLX_U – Educate
- Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Bob Bullock Musem): https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/civil-rights-act-1968-spotlight-102414 – Educate