The heartbreaking deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are sadly nothing new for our country, but they have broken the straw on the proverbial camel's back.
All of their stories are tragic in their own right, but the match that lit this fire around the world was the public lynching of George Floyd. I heard about the murder before I ever got a chance to see it, and when clips were being shown I could only stand to digest a good five seconds of what was being captured.
For me, whatever crime George was being accused of before the video started rolling could not have warranted this treatment. An animal doesn't deserve to be subjected to that, much less a human being. I have yet to watch that video in it's entirety, and I doubt I ever will. I saw just enough to know how that story would end. Based on the history of our country we, unfortunately, have seen this same story play out over and over again, the same players in the same roles with the exact same outcome. At one point, I even began to fear that we would see so many acts of police brutality that we would begin to become numb to the sensation of violence against Black people, numb even to death, so numb that it becomes normalized.
Based on the history of this country we, unfortunately, have seen this same story play out over and over again, the same players in the same roles with the exact same outcome.
Despite all of this, the most discouraging part about George Floyd's death is the silence from those around me. I'm taken back to 2012 when we learned of a Black boy named Trayvon Martin who had been shot and killed at the tender age of 17 by the police. Although there was no video footage of his death, it sparked a lot of outrage. Followed by Eric Garner, a Black gentleman who was recorded while placed in a chokehold by the police uttering the chilling, now infamous words "I can't breathe." We sat and watched in disbelief as this man's life slipped through his murderer's literal fingers.
The conversations amongst my friends and family were ones of worry, anger, and disbelief. The energy shift was seismic; people noticed the people who were open to having certain conversations and those who were not.
Thinking back, I can recall a conversation with a coworker of mine on the topic of Trayvon Martin: a non-Black male serving alongside me who had a lot of police officers in his family. He just could not see the humanity of the young boy who had been slain. "What was he doing at that time of night?" "We weren't there so we can't jump to conclusions" "Let's look at the facts, not emotions." While I agree with the sentiment of basing our beliefs on facts, I couldn't help but feel the defensive, even, cold energy coming from this individual regarding this sensitive topic — as if Trayvon had not been human at all.
The energy shift was seismic; people noticed the people who were open to having certain conversations and those who were not.
Fast forward to now, June 2020, I am an African American woman deployed in Afghanistan and serving in the United States Army. I wondered if I would be better off staying in the war torn country of Afghanistan rather than going back to the country I'm fighting for. As a Soldier, I fight for the American people. But I wonder if some of those same people would fight for me in everyday situations. Internally, it's an extremely confusing space.
I am an African American woman deployed in Afghanistan and serving in the United States Army. I wondered if I would be better off staying in the war torn country of Afghanistan rather than going back to the country I'm fighting for.
I am confused because my leader doesn't seem to fight for Black people in situations like this; his silence and lack of willingness to speak on racial injustices is deafening. I am frustrated because as Black people we have been taught that if you get the degree, find a career, speak eloquently, dress in nicer clothes, straighten your hair, don't bring attention to yourself, remove any ounce of your Blackness then things like this won't happen. If we would just comply and keep our heads down, we would be okay. But that is not the truth, and that is not a way to live.
Most of all, I am disheartened by the men and women who I have right next to me who, once again, just do not want to have this conversation. Like COVID-19, police brutality in America is becoming a worldwide topic of conversation. You cannot scroll through a social media platform or watch a news channel and not see the ripple effect that George Floyd's untimely death has had on the world. From Iran to Japan, there have been marches and protests all around the world. People are standing together as one in a way I haven't seen since our country came together after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.
I am disheartened by the men and women who I have right next to me who, once again, just do not want to have this conversation.
However, on my side, in my military community, the lack of acknowledgment in general conversation hurts me, personally, the most. As the only Black woman here, I feel alienated and unsupported. Don't my fellow battle buddies feel the pain of seeing another American's life being taken? Do they not see the injustice in police brutality? Or is this another day and another problem for someone else?
Are we out here fighting for the same group of people — our whole country no matter what race, ethnicity, or identity — or are we each just fighting for the ones that we can identify with. If it was me being attacked and held down, would the fact that I wear the uniform as a soldier be enough for someone in a position of power to see my value? I am left with so many questions of life, death, and uncertainty. Meanwhile, so many around me are clearly unaffected and walking around without a care in the world. I am not surprised — just disheartened.
However, on my side, in my military community, the lack of acknowledgment in general conversation hurts me, personally, the most.
I can appreciate what that there is now a call to action, and I look forward to the change it will bring. Allies are speaking their mind regardless of their image, Black leaders are on loop 24/7 to help guide on how we can change the future. Voices that were once timid and shy are now finding the courage to speak out loud and share their messages of fairness and equality. Even those who avoid the topic of race are more willing and ready than ever to open their minds and hearts and educate themselves on the structure of systematic racism, which has been embedded in America since its inception.
There is an overall theme of togetherness that will cement itself in the history books of our future, regardless of those around me who are not reacting, and I am so proud to see this. I am hopeful for what this movement means for the future of humanity. We have a long way to go, but the dynamic of love that is shifting our country is already being felt all across the world.
This article was originally published June 8, 2020.
WRITTEN BYLakimbria Penn-White