On May 25, 2020, George Floyd—a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota—died while in police custody. Former police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with Floyd’s murder. In the United States, black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate
of white Americans, and are “incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”
This disparity is the modern manifestation of a long, cruel history of injustice. A sampling of black lives lost to police brutality in the past year, featured on NPR’s Code Switch
, exemplifies enduring violence:
“Philando Castile was driving home from dinner with his girlfriend.
Botham Jean was eating ice cream in his living room in Dallas.
Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her nephew at home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Eric Reason was pulling into a parking spot at a local chicken and fish shop.
Dominique Clayton was sleeping in her bed.
Breonna Taylor was also asleep in her bed.
And George Floyd was at the grocery store.”
Roger Brooks, the CEO of our partner organization Facing History and Ourselves, wrote in a recent position statement
about the “legacy of slave-holding”:
“Slaveholders believed that they could own the bodies of the enslaved, and so could ‘discipline’ them even to death. This is a legacy that leaped over a failed Reconstruction Era and passed into a century of racial terror lynchings. Now, contemporary police departments also must cope with this inheritance. I’m outraged that so many witness this without bearing witness to it; we all participate in it, even if only through our failure to effectively insist on change and progress.”
Dear writers, we need to “bear witness.” We need to act. And writing is a powerful mechanism for doing both—for capturing and reflecting current events, sharing our observations and opinions, and wielding our words to ignite action and change. Those words might be through song, as 12-year-old Keedron Bryant
so powerfully models; or a spoken word poem; or a letter to a legislator. Whatever your chosen format, respond to this prompt with a call to action. How can we come together to condemn racial violence and ignite change—wherever we are in the world? How can we demand or inspire lasting shifts in the structure of our society?
For an optional addition, include at the bottom of your response an addendum of resources related to racial justice that you find helpful; together, we can “build our stack” of texts, videos, and audio, knowing that critical consciousness and change begin with education.
1. Between the World and Me
, Ta-Nehisi Coates
2. How to Be an Anti-Racist,
Ibram X. Kendi
3. So You Want to Talk About Race?
, Ijeoma Oluo
4. Can We Talk About Race?
, Beverly Tatum
5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
, Michelle Alexander
6. White Fragility
, Robin DiAngelo
7. We Need Diverse Books (www.diversebooks.org)