Christian Cooper. George Floyd. Archie Williams.
The news on the day after Memorial Day included three incidents that are troubling and indicative of the deep strains of racism in the United States today. The news reports about them are numerous, so I will not repeat the details. You can easily find those detailed reports about all three.
Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper are not related. She is white and he is black. Both happened to be in Central Park, New York City, at the same time on Memorial Day. They were in a section for birdwatching. Dogs must be leashed. Mr. Cooper, a veteran birdwatcher, asked Ms. Cooper to leash her unleashed dog. Next thing, she is on her phone calling 911, reporting that an African-American man is threatening her. Calls like this, with racial overtones, happen frequently.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN, the same day. Floyd was unarmed. A white police officer, backed up by several more white officers, hand-cuffed Floyd, held him on the pavement, and pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over five minutes, until Floyd was dead. The mayor of Minneapolis announced the next day that four police officers were fired. A video of what happened is available. It is graphic.
Archie Williams, a black man, was on “America’s Got Talent,” a TV talent hunt that runs in the late spring and summer and gets high ratings. He has a very good voice, but it is his story that is compelling. He served over 36 years in a prison in Louisiana for a crime he didn’t commit. A white woman had been violently raped. Law and order demanded that someone be convicted and imprisoned. A young, black man would be ideal. Though there was no evidence that Williams committed the crime, and though he had witnesses about where he was at the time of the crime, he was found guilty. After nearly four decades in a prison known as the bloodiest in the country, The Innocence Project finally got him justice. How Williams was received on “America’s Got Talent” was moving. People, including the judges, were wiping tears from their eyes. But it is not a feel good moment when one realizes that this man had 36 years of his life taken from him, and many more innocent blacks languish in our prisons every day, perhaps wondering if The Innocence Project or The Equal Justice Initiative will be able to free them before they die.
What do these stories have in common? They show how black men are seen as threats. Whether there is a reason or not, black men are seen as threatening to whites in America. What do these stories have in common? These things happen all the time in America. And when a patriotic black American named Colin Kaepernick jeopardizes his career as an NFL quarterback to call attention to our racial sins, he is vilified and blacklisted. Even the President of the United States criticizes him in public. These things happen in America all the time.
There is trouble in America today. Our four centuries of racism are not over. My heart is heavy for my native land. My heart is heavy for the millions of Americans with black and brown skin, for the immigrant, for the alien, for the native peoples, for all the others among us. My heart is heavy for America.