In myriad places across America, individuals and groups are lending their voices to an evolving movement for change regarding the disparate way law enforcement is applied in the U.S.
For some, it’s the next step in an ongoing journey. Others haven’t long gotten on the road. Still others — jarred and stimulated to act by a video of 46-year-old George Floyd’s killing on videotape by a Minneapolis policeman — are just pulling onto the highway.
One such collection of voices was put together earlier this week (Monday, June 1) by the Memphis Branch NAACP and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church at historic Mt. Olive CME Church on Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. CME First Episcopal District Bishop Henry M. Williamson Sr. hosted an interracial gathering, which aired live on digital platform Zoom.
There is chaos in the country, Williamson said, because American leadership ignored the pandemic of slavery and Jim Crow. Dr. King’s warning of the three great evils — racism, poverty and war — have been ignored, he added.
NAACP youth leaders Angela Redwing and Zachery Love appealed to the community to stand with young people because their lives could be taken in an instant and because they are protesting for change in policing.
Fifteen-year-old Angela Redwing, president of the NAACP Youth Council, “People are uncomfortable with the rioting that is going on…but I am uncomfortable with having to tell my two little, black brothers that if they wear a hoodie, or walk the wrong way, or if they…move their hand out of their pocket the wrong way, they could die instantly.”
Redwing said she also is uncomfortable with having to explain to her teenage brother that there are certain words he cannot say to a white policeman, or he could take his last breath.
Love, 21, said, “Don’t turn your back on the youth….
”They are rioting because they need someone. They need something to cling to… They need the black church. They need Jesus to step in and show them how to protest, to show them how to demonstrate.”
Young people, he said, are “the best weapon we’ve got. … “They have the energy to take us in to tomorrow. …We can’t talk about how they dress. We can’t talk about their lingo. Don’t let the media brand them as thugs. We want to stand up for our rights, and with the right leadership, we can do it peacefully.”
NAACP Executive Director Vickie Terry set the context for her message by repeating the chilling words Floyd spoke just before he died.
“I can’t breathe. Mama, I can’t breathe. Mama, I can’t breathe. Please, Mama, I can’t breathe,” Terry shouted.
“Oh my God, these words will forever resonate in my heart, in my mind, in my spirit.”
Young people, said Terry, are saying, “We can’t breathe.”
Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr., also a Shelby County commissioner, outlined a path forward with three points — protest, policy and protection.
“First, we must embrace the protests,” Turner said. “That policeman’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. The charge should be murder one. There was intent, there was deliberation, and there was malfeasance.”
Turner said there must be policy changes, with stronger citizen review boards warranted and all knee holds banned. And, he said, it is the duty of other officers to intervene if they see excessive or deadly force being used.
The Memphis Branch NAACP, said Turner, will represent nine defendants facing charges of obstruction, inciting a riot, assaulting a police officer and other alleged offenses associated with protest marches in Memphis against Floyd’s homicide.