The Color of Justice

Last week, my daughter unknowingly passed a counterfeit $100 bill. Yes, she passed a counterfeit bill. The bill she used to buy some hair products was unfortunately fake. Some 30 minutes later she was called by the store and informed that the police were on route to her room. Panicked, she did what many young people do if they are able: She called her mother. From miles away, I encouraged her to stay calm and explain the situation. Shortly thereafter, frightened, she greeted the police officers, who knocked on her door. She explained that the bill was a Christmas present from her grandmother, and that she was completely unaware that it might be counterfeit. 

The officers’ response: “Well, miss, you don’t need to tell your grandmother as I am sure it would upset her. She couldn’t have known. Now go on down to the store, pay for your products and everything will be cleared up.This is a common problem and don’t you feel bad.”

My daughter’s benign experience with law enforcement stands in stark contrast to what happened to George Floyd’s almost a year ago. My blonde, blue-eyed, middle class White daughter was treated with respect and support. For the same infraction, one resulted in a deadly outcome and one resulted in reassurance.  

This week, as I have braced myself — forced myself to watch and listen to the Derek Chauvin trial, I am sick. Sick of the fact that his murder has required an overabundance of court testimony. Sick that “deadly force” was used when experts have testified that none was appropriate to use. And, sickened that George Floyd suffered a knee on his neck for 10 minutes, suffocating him.

At the same time, I have been grateful that protests broke out all over the United States and the world to decry the death of Mr.Floyd; that bystanders, as an act of brave activism were keen enough to record this atrocity to confirm the indisputable fact of his murder. I have been grateful that, unlike the unjust killings of other named and nameless individuals, this murder will be prosecuted for the world to see. Most, I was grateful that after hundreds of years of unacknowledged, unlitigated, morally reprehensible acts, George Floyd’s death will not be in vain. 

May it be so.

Still, as a mother, I remember this week the life, and death, of Breonna Taylor. As I have watched the Chauvin trial, it has become strikingly clear that Breonna Taylor, a young woman the exact same age as my daughter, lacked the  body cameras, eyewitnesses, and videos to corroborate her case. The killings of Breonna, and countless others, were not able to be proven by the five shots in her body that came from a policeman’s gun. Breonna Taylor’s death lacked the copious and documented “proof” to make her case. In the investigation, there was a single witness who provided inconsistent, weak statements to the authorities. Her case could not be a “He said, She said”: Breonna was dead. Shot five times and left for 20 minutes before any medical aid was rendered. Ultimately a grand jury returned no wrongful death charges, and determined to charge only one of the officers with three counts of reckless endangerment.

Like my daughter, Breonna, was finding her way as a young woman, navigating first jobs, and planning for the future. Like my daughter, her life was not without a few hiccups. At age 26, her mother described her as possessing “big dreams, and in pursuit of a lifelong career in health care after serving as an EMT.”

Breonna’s mother further described Breonna as a better version of herself, “Full of life, full of love.” 

Isn’t that the wish of every mother?

Let Breonna’s death not be in vain. Let my daughter transform her own safety and advantage into a force to dismantle systemic racism — each day. Let Breonna’s life, and death, serve as a daily guide for her, and others like her, to #say her name.

May she use her unearned privilege as a lever for justice. In her quest for a full life, one of hope and love, may she choose to dedicate herself to Breonna and the many Breonnas whose names we will never know. For her, it is a choice. May she choose wisely. 

Allow Breonna’s life to be a mandate for activism, using our voice and our actions to fight for racial justice, every day.  

Let her death not be in vain, but shine and show us the path toward justice.

May it be so.

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