THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES… “Silence is Acceptance” By Sherry Cannon

Three months ago, I received a message from Julie, who I had previously served with on a local non-profit board. Julie asked if I would consider speaking to a group of predominately white women about racism. The message caught me by surprise since I am not an expert on racism.

Julie explained that after watching the video of George Floyd’s murder, she felt compelled to do something. She had spoken to friends Sue and Tara, who also agreed they needed to do something, but they were not sure what to do. Julie began praying for guidance and was led to “gather the women.”

That’s when she reached out to me, a Black woman, she had some interaction with. So now I am thinking, what the heck do I have to say to a bunch of white women. Rather intrigued and never at a loss for words, I agreed to do it.

Julie, Tara, and I met to talk and flesh out our vision of what “gather the women” would look like. It became clear they were sincerely looking for ways to become allies in the space of justice and equity.

They shared how helpless they felt seeing Floyd’s murder, and knew doing nothing was no longer acceptable. They also felt hearing a Black woman’s perspective on racism would add some context and direction. We all agreed the real work had to be intentional and done by them.

We agreed to meet in a park and limit the number of participants to 50, to stay within the Covid19 guidelines. After everyone invited friends and acquaintances, the one talk quickly went to three talks.

Before I could give the first talk, on July 17th, we lost two Civil Rights giants, Rev. CT Vivian, and Rep John Lewis. I immediately edited my speech; there was no way I could give a presentation about racism without giving these two iconic men their just due.

Over 125 women met in Glen Oak Park for those three talks. Like Julie, Tara, and Sue, many of the women shared a certain amount of guilt for having “white privilege” and for being disconnected from the struggles of Black and brown people.

The women were emailed a list of words and definitions, along with a video link, that I asked that they watch, prior to the meetings. It was necessary that terms like racist, implicit bias, and white privilege true meanings were understood. The video was an Oprah Winfrey’s interview of 100 Black fathers. It was important to refute the myth that Black men were deadbeat dads.

My presentation began at 1619 when the first 20 Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, up to today, where Black and brown people continue our fight for full citizenship. I also shared my own personal challenges of navigating through a system that was not designed for me.

The murder of George Floyd was not only a catalyst for these women. Weeks after his murder, protests continued around the country seeking change in policing. In Peoria, young people took the lead and organized two of the largest protests this city has seen, with zero incidents.

Black Lives Matter went from being a hashtag to taking on real meaning for folks. White citizens in Pekin held their own Black Lives Matter protest.

People also began to challenge why men who fought a civil war to continue slavery would have statues and buildings honoring them. Some statues were torn down in the cover of darkness. Communities like Peoria began holding public forums to discuss whether these statues should come down.

The murder of Mr. Floyd also put a spotlight on other police killings of Black people around the country, whose families are still fighting for justice. Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own home in Louisville, KY, by officers who executed a no-knock warrant while she and her boyfriend were sleeping.

Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was killed last year by police in Aurora, Colorado. The police were responding to a call of a suspicious looking person walking down the street with a ski mask on. According to his sister, Elijah was wearing an open-face ski mask because he was anemic and was always cold.

Aurora police put Elijah in a chokehold and continued, even after he said that he could not breathe. Paramedics responding to the scene injected him with a powerful sedative. Elijah went into cardiac arrest and died a few days later in an Aurora hospital. The police officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

A video surfaced months later of Elijah’s arrest. A petition from change.org garnered nearly 2 million signatures demanding “Justice for Elijah McClain.” The Aurora City Manager committed on June 9th to authorize an independent investigation into Elijah’s death.

The Joliet Police released a videotape of Eric Lurry this past July. Lurry died while in police custody this past January. At one point in the video, an officer is seen pinching Mr. Lurry’s nose closed for one minute and thirty-eight seconds, while another officer inserted a baton in his mouth.

The existence of the videotape came to light after Sergeant Javier Esqueda blew the whistle on the Joliet PD. In retaliation for Sergeant Esqueda exposing this cover-up, he has been stripped of his police powers and put on administrative leave.

Trayford Pellerin was shot in the back on August 21st by a Lafayette, Louisiana police officer. He was shot while walking away from police while attempting to enter a convenience store.

Police were responding to a call of a disturbance involving a man with a knife. News reports stated that police found him in the parking lot and when they attempted to apprehend Trayford, he left, and they followed him on foot.

This investigation, like so many have been turned over to the local State Police Bureau of Investigation. Attorney Ben Crump representing the family, stated they refuse to let this case resolve like so many others, quietly and without answers or justice.

Exactly one month after my first “gather the women” talk in the park, a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was videoed firing seven bullets into the back of 29-year-old Jacob Blake.

Walking away from the police, Jacob opened his car door and leaned in, where his three young sons were sitting in the back seat. While holding him by his shirt, an officer proceeded to shoot him seven times in his back. According to Jacob’s father, the bullets severed his spine and damaged several internal organs, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

There are conflicting stories by witnesses and the police officers as to what occurred. According to the witnesses, Jacob had just broken up a fight between two women. The police maintain they were responding to a call from a woman saying her boyfriend was on her premises and he was not supposed to be there.

A protest was held after people saw that another unarmed Black man had been shot by police. They demanded that the officer involved be arrested. Kenosha has been cited for being one of the worst places for African Americans to live because of its vast racial disparities in income and incarceration rates.

On the third night of the protest, a group of armed militias came to Kenosha and asked to be deputized. Although the police chief didn’t deputize them, they were allowed to engage with the protestors.

That night a 17-year old member of the militia shot and killed two protestors and injured a third. After shooting these three men, Kyle Rittenhouse is seen on video, being able to walk past police even while the crowd shouted, he’s the shooter. Rittenhouse was arrested the next day in Antioch, Illinois.

In the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s shooting, NBA and WNBA players refused to take the court. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and Tennis star Naomi Osaki also refused to play in their respective games. Osaki saying, “Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman, and as a Black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

It is proven that police know how to de-escalate situations. Their response to calls from other ethnic groups rarely, if ever, result in someone being killed.

It is time for everyone to speak up and declare that it is not okay for police to be the judge, jury, and executioner of our Black men.

Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”