Justice for George

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I headed down to the capitol on Saturday to get some photos of the Justice for George protest and was there most of the afternoon. Of course I had an N95 masks and sanitizer with me, but as soon as I got close to the capitol building, I noticed that about 90 percent of the people had masks on. This put me a little at ease, and I immediately felt much safer than at the Safer at Home protest, which I have deemed “The haircut protest.”

I also felt much safer at the George Floyd protest because I didn’t see anyone toting a semi-automatic weapon, something that makes me incredibly uneasy. I am of the opinion that those who feel the need to carry a weapon in public, should probably stay home if they are that scared of their fellow Americans.

I made my way around the square and it wasn’t long before I noticed some other stark differences about the two protests. For one thing, Black Lives Matter was handing out masks to those who didn’t have one, and Care Bears were there with water and snacks to keep everyone hydrated and fueled as well as medical care. At the haircut protest people were collected on the lawn and driving around the statehouse honking. At the Justice for George protest, people took to the streets and marched to the police station and through downtown Madison. Finally, I noticed that the crowd was much, much more diverse. While the haircut crowd was mostly middle aged or older and white, this group was represented by all races, ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

I talked to a couple of people, asking them why they were there, and one of the women I talked to was Jazzman Brown, of Madison, who was protesting with her young daughter, Jalynn. I had taken a photo of Jalynn sitting at the base of the Justice statue in front of the scapitol, but as is often the case at such events, the pair disappeared into the crowd before I got their names.

As I walked through the streets with the protesters, I came upon Jazzman and Jalynn. I walked up and told her I had taken their photo and asked their names for the newspaper. I then asked her some questions about her participation in the protest.

She told me that this was not about race, but racism. “I was raised by white women. Her dad is white,” she said gesturing toward Jalynn.

“My main reason for being here is hurt. I don’t want to raise her to fear the people who are supposed to protect her. I hope one day things will be better and she doesn’t have to live like this,” she told me.

It was at that moment that I broke my longstanding first rule for reporters, “There’s no crying in journalism.” A phrase that I have repeated over and over to writers throughout my career.

As my eyes welled up with tears, I replied, “I hope that, too.” 

Then I said, “I wish I could hug you.”

In that instant, she opened her arms to hug me, and I broke my current rule of not touching strangers during a pandemic and we embraced in the middle of Doty Street.

I will never know what is like to be a person of color, and my opinion on how they should act, react, speak, protest and feel is not relevant. I can, however, have empathy. I can report on the systematic racism that has prevented advancement for many people of color and seen others cut down in the street for petty crimes while unarmed. I can stand with them when they protest. I can call out racism when I see or hear it, but most of all I can listen to the pain and hurt that they feel. I can be an ally and stand for their freedom.

My brother is Asian, adopted from Korean, and I have seen racism firsthand his whole life. The hurt and fear are his to feel and express, not mine. All I can do is attempt to comfort him and try to help him come to terms with why in this country that is supposed to be free and all people equal, that might not apply to him because of the color of his skin.

The United States will never be free from the binds of slavery, it is a permanent black eye on our society. Our treatment of people of color, and particularly black people, will continue to hold us back and knock us down as a nation until we afford them the same level of freedom that white people enjoy. We can never erase the pain and destruction their families have felt at the hands of white people. Pain and destruction that has morphed into the unequal, unequitable and dangerous society that people of color must navigate every day of their lives in 2020.

I am privileged. I know that. The color of my skin dictates my privilege. I will never be denied a job or apartment because of my skin color. I will never be profiled by police because of my skin color. I will never be followed in a store because of my skin color. I will never be shot down in the street for selling cigarettes (Eric Garner), taken to jail for a simple traffic violation where I will later die at the hands of police in a jail cell (Sandra Bland), and I will never be choked to death in broad daylight because I am suspected of forgery (George Floyd) because of my skin color.

That is the reason it important for me and other white folks to work with people of color whenever we can, by standing with them, not dictating their narrative. I ask you, please, do not turn a blind eye as we have done for 400 years because none of us are free until we all are free.

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