In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
It is often said that there is more that binds us than divides us. After watching with utter disgust the murder of George Floyd and events surrounding his death, it has become apparent that after 400 years, there is still quite a bit that divides us. Race and religious bigotry are still an indelible line in the sand when it comes to education, social status, income and health disparities. I agree with Dr. King, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
For all the progress we have made in America, many are still stuck in the same mindset that lifting oneself first requires bringing another down. This tragedy is our opportunity as a nation, to feel the pulse of our own sense of decency. If Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were not enough, the old wounds from Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson have been reopened. This issue before us is one of humanity. The soul of this nation is at stake. What legacy do we want to leave for our grandchildren? We have to peel back the layers of injustice by communicating openly in order to understand the perspective of all of our brothers and sisters. What lens are you viewing these events through?
Here’s what I see through my lens:
– The killing of George Floyd was murder.
– All four officers should have been charged with murder at the outset because the “hands of one are the hands of all,” as the legal doctrine goes.
– All four officers should have been arrested immediately because only probable cause, as evidenced by the video, was required.
– The failure of the state to step in quickly and make the arrests speaks volumes.
– COVID-19 protections are important, but relaxing precautions are socio-economic, race-based decisions because minorities are the essential workers who will be disproportionately impacted.
The protests continue because many feel their voices are not being heard. Concerns over destroyed property continue to trump concerns over black lives and liberties. And while I don’t condone it, I do understand and share the pain and devastation that my black and brown brothers and sisters are feeling in this moment.
Where was the concern for loss of property when Colin Kaepernick kneeled in silent protest to bring awareness to this very cause? Where was the concern when he was blackballed by the NFL and lost millions? Yet, we let him down because we kept supporting the NFL. We sat back and allowed some of the owners to antagonize those players who dared to kneel. I admit that I should have done more. We silently ignored the president when he labeled Colin “un-American” and disrespectful to the flag.
Where was that same concern for property loss when Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months for his part in an inhumane dog fighting ring? Through the lens of many black Americans, Michael Vick’s treatment shows how the system views his right to earn a living versus the treatment of an animal.
It is through many black Americans’ lenses that we only see the Confederate flag or Confederacy statutes as anything other than symbolic shackles of hatred. That flag and all it represents belong in a museum. Black people cannot comprehend why someone would want to celebrate a heritage that is offensive and oppressive to others.
With the recent rise of prominence of the Confederate flag and the heightened scrutiny of the Second Amendment, South Carolina suffered tragedies such as the loss of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other beautiful souls in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. This tragedy should have been enough to not only relocate the flag, but pass hate crimes and gun reform bills and close the Charleston loophole. Sadly, it didn’t happen. South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia and Wyoming are the only states to turn a blind eye to hate crimes.
Why have we not heard from those running for office on this issue of police brutality against minorities? What is their position on requiring a statewide database for officers with prior bad conduct? Why do we overlook hiring officers with PTSD and failing to give them proper psychiatric care? Other professions have a reporting system to protect employers and the public. Our officers have been allowed to jump from agency to agency. This system is not fair to good officers who are out there fighting to keep us safe.
Where is the voice of the very vocal anti-abortion groups who supported personhood and fetal heartbeat bills? If you believe in every life, what is your position on the merciless killing of the already born, like George Floyd? You should be standing and marching with us to protect the right to life in all instances.
To my fellow legislators and elected officials, let your voices be heard. We have to seize this moment to make humanity our primary issue in 2020. There is no more time for making promises and looking into the future. Stop kicking this can down the road. Let us all live up to the true meaning of our religious principles. Let us honor our oath to uphold the Constitution and be courageous enough to speak out without fear of retaliation. Let’s put down party agendas and reform the criminal justice system, pass a hate crimes bill and repeal laws which place property rights over human rights.
To my friends, neighbors and constituents of all shades: If you don’t know what to say, speak from the heart first; acknowledge our pain; try to understand the pain caused by this scab of hatred that has been ripped off; do what you can to speak to and denounce these types of injustices. Know that we appreciate your support and stay in the fight with us. We were all created to endure and overcome. As King said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, represents District 45 in the South Carolina Senate.