Dear YWCA St. Paul Friends & Family,
I hope you are well during this incredibly difficult time. Our nation is facing one of the most challenging times in recent memory – a global pandemic that has taken more than 105,000 American lives, record unemployment and economic distress, and now the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the anger and despair it has unleashed.
George Floyd was one of ours. He participated in one of our employment training programs and, like many of those we partner with, he was taking steps to build a brighter future. His death, and the way it happened, hit us hard.
Witnessing Mr. Floyd’s killing, and the overwhelming feelings of outrage, anxiety, and grief it provoked has been a terrible shared experience for us all. For me, this anger and grief felt magnified by the seemingly endless list of unarmed African American men and women who have been killed by police, or who have been violently targeted because of their color. These killings keep happening, and often go unpunished.
Watching George Floyd die, with Officer Chauvin’s knee on his neck, was hard to endure. The brutality reflected by the officer’s casual posture, his indifference to Mr. Floyd’s pleas and those of bystanders, and his lack of concern that his actions were being videotaped, seemed symbolic of the devaluation of African American lives and suffering throughout our history. The inhumanity was both gut-wrenching and familiar.
In response, people of every race and background have taken to the streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul (and now across the world) to demand justice for Mr. Floyd. The protests show the depth of frustration and anger so many feel about police killings of unarmed African Americans, and the failure to reform police practices. The demands are important. There must be accountability. There must be justice. There must be change in police culture. All of our institutions and systems must support equal justice and opportunity.
Whether out of anger or opportunism, we’ve also witnessed looting, arson and destructive behavior that has shifted the focus from demands for justice; creating fear and anxiety, and wrecking economic damage that will hurt many communities for years to come. Violence cannot be excused or allowed to continue. It detracts from the message of the peaceful protestors, destroys businesses, hurts neighborhoods, and undermines the work for justice.
Our deepest sympathy goes out to George Floyd’s family. Please, honor his memory in whatever way you can. Protest peacefully. Take flowers to his memorial. Contact your elected officials to insist on accountability. Support efforts to reform police policies on use of force. Help with clean-up efforts. Call for efforts to promote community policing and reform of the justice system. Volunteer or donate to nonprofits working to address racial disparities in employment, income, health, education, housing, and incarceration. Encourage voting. Speak out against racism and injustice. Treat these issues as the emergency they are – don’t let them fade from view. Recognize the pain these killings inflict, and the toll chronic racism takes on communities of color. Listen deeply to people with different backgrounds and life experiences. Be kind to one another. Take care of yourself and create space to grieve and heal.
We have a long road ahead of us. Fighting racism and injustice is not easy. It will take all of us working together to seize the opportunity for transformation presented by this moment.
Please stay safe and well.
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela