Hard Truths

“...I question America.” Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer (1917-1977) American Activist

We begin with a hard truth: In the United States, Black people are two and a half times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts. Darnella Frazier, who is 17 years old, filmed the graphic video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck as he cried out “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd died before our eyes. The words George Floyd said in the last minutes before his life was taken is a verbatim echo of another moment in New York City, when police officer Daniel Pantaleo held Eric Garner in a chokehold until he died. “I can’t breathe.”

For too long, we have been an unwilling audience for police violence that ends the lives of unarmed Black men and women on our screens, large and small. What we see and hear provides a clue as to how many such stories are unknown to us. George Floyd died just as news spread that Breonna Taylor had been killed by the police of Louisville, Kentucky in the course of a raid without a warrant that took place in the middle of the night on March 13th. By the time a global movement had coalesced around George Floyd, Tony McDade, a Black transmasculine person, had been shot and killed by Tallahassee police- in the latest police killing that did not receive significant media coverage. The video of George Floyd’s death is approximately nine minutes long. Those nine minutes left Darnella Frazier and a great many people around the globe traumatized. The words in italics are her own.

“I don’t expect anyone who wasn’t placed in my position to understand why and how I feel the way that I do!! MIND YOU I am a minor! 17 years old, of course I’m not about to fight off a cop. I’m SCARED.”

Perhaps you teach high school or are the parent of a teenager. We have all been seventeen and at some point we have each been scared. Remember being seventeen and imagine what that moment and the week since must have been like for Darnella Frazier.

Let’s challenge ourselves to show up for young people the way that Darnella Frazier was present and bore witness to the life and death of George Floyd, to the heinous crime she captured on film. We choose– to speak or to keep silence, to step forward or to hide. To engage or to sit on the sidelines as our neighbors, our students, our friends live terrified about an interaction with the police because 

“I was the one that was recording the whole thing. I’ve seen him die…And everybody’s asking me how I feel. I don’t know how to feel ‘cause it’s so sad, bro. They killed this man and I was right there. I was five feet away. It’s so traumatizing.”

Like Darnella, children across this nation are facing this chilling violence in a vacuum of silence that incubates systemic racism and white supremacy. At the same time, young people are well aware that we’ve lost at least 100,000 people in the coronavirus pandemic that in America has left poor people, Black people, Indigenous people and other people of colour more likely to be found amongst those who have died.

As educators, adults, and citizens we have a moral imperative to show up and be honest. We are afraid, distraught, we might be tearful. We may be feeling helpless or guilty or enraged. We have no words. We do know that our students need a safe space and time to process what this moment means. If I were Darnella’s parent I’d be beside myself. I’d hope for another adult who could step in. As a teacher, I always want to be that other adult.  

This is a critical conversation, let’s have it together. Below are some tools that will help.

Imani Wilson and the TeachRock Team

Petition

Text FLOYD to 55156 or sign this Change.org petition

Conversation Tools

  1. Campaign Zero
  2. Equal Justice Initiative
  3. Equality Labs
  4. Facing History and Ourselves
  5. Poor People’s Campaign
  6. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi Discussion Guides for Download

Follow

  1. Check Your Privilege
  2. The Conscious Kid
  3. Facing History and Ourselves
  4. The Great Unlearn
  5. Rachel Cargle
  6. She Can Win
  7. Teach and Transform
  8. Transgender Law Center
  9. https://8cantwait.org/

Donate & Organize

  1. Black Lives Matter
  2. Black Visions Collective
  3. Justice for Breonna Taylor
  4. The Colin Kaepernick Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative
  5. Color of Change
  6. George Floyd memorial fund
  7. Minnesota chapter of the ACLU
  8. National Bail Out
  9. Reclaim the Block
  10. The Movement for Black Lives

Read/Listen 

  1. United States Policing and “Gun Rights” Began With Slave Patrols by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  2. Equal Justice Initiative: “Tragic Death of George Floyd Reveals Continuing Problem of Police Violence”
  3. National Public Radio: “A History Book That Isn’t: Finding A Way To Teach Racism To A New Generation
  4. The Guardian: “The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why”

Books

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  by Michelle Alexander
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  3. Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
  4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks
  6. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  7. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
  8. Is Everyone Really Equal? By Özlem Sensoy, Robin DiAngelo
  9. Teach and Transform: Social Justice Reading Lists for students and adults