“Just take your knee off of our necks” – Rev. Al Sharpton
I don’t believe in making a statement just for the purpose of making a statement. Over the last 11 days, many people, businesses, and organizations have made statements condemning police brutality, disavowing systematic racism, and vowing to be more diverse and inclusive while understanding the black plight. However, to us, as African Americans, as blacks, our statement can not just be aspirational, because this is our life. This is our daily life.
Black Lives Matter is not a gimmick. The Black Lives Matter movement is not a cult. Black Lives Matter simply states that we as black people want to live. We want to live freely in a world where we can do the basic daily human functions – shop in a grocery store, walk down the street, drive in a car, or bird watch without the fear of being killed. We, too, are human beings. We bleed the same blood and breathe the same air as others. Yet, our eyes see the world differently — not because we want them to, but because we have to. We have to in order to navigate a world where, in 2020, we are still referred to with derogatory slurs; where we are still on a large scale stopped and questioned just because of the color of our skin; and where we, as lawyers, are still questioned, unlike our counterparts, when we walk suited into courtrooms to represent clients.
As I write this statement, I think about my role as a black woman in society, married to a black man, and awaiting the birth of a black child. I cannot explain the emotion of bringing a black child into this unrest, but I do so realizing that our people have done so for years. Our people did this in slavery. They did it in the civil rights era. And, when they did it, they instilled the core values of love and respect in those children. They encouraged them to speak up and out for what was right. They fought battles that were far worse physically than what we are encountering today. Yet, even today, our youth are taught that we have to be on our “Ps and Qs” at all times when we venture out into the world. Our youth are taught how to interact “properly” with the police (in hopes that they are able to walk away from the encounter). Our youth are taught to continue to shine their light even when others treat them as less than. As a result, we continue to press on, we tire, we re-energize, and this cycle continues throughout our adult lives.
Today, the bottom line is that we as a people are tired of being killed. We are downright exhausted from being mistreated. We fully recognize that our ability to walk away from these types of encounters is not even guaranteed based on our legal knowledge, financial status or positions held. We fully recognize that this is not a new fight. Further, making a statement just for the purpose of saying something will not fix the institutional racism and systematic oppression of black people that has existed in this country for over 400 years. We long for the day where we can move about and attain our goals as freely as our counterparts.
But all is not lost. President Obama instilled in us the mantra of hope. Watching people in many countries all over the world march, protest and hold up Black Lives Matter signs gives us a renewed courage. Knowing that the senseless, vile death of George Floyd has sickened the stomachs of many different races gives of inspiration to continue to press forward – to not only call for change, but to demand it and do what is necessary to effectuate it.
So what does this all mean? It means there is a lot to be done, and to be done NOW. We must support the Equal Justice movement. We must not stay in our homes watching the television while others protest for our human rights. We must VOTE in November. We must attend and actively become involved in community meetings and the government, seeking service on boards and commissions. We must not be silenced. We must thank those officers who have shown their disdain for the criminal behavior of some of their brothers and sisters in blue, and call for federal mandates and prohibitions for uses of force. We must seek justice for all at every turn. Equal justice calls for the arrest of those sworn to serve and protect victims and suspects, yet allow a heinous crime be committed right before their very eyes. We must see to it that their constitutional rights be exercised by a trier of fact while also allowing minority’s constitutional rights of liberty to be recognized and enforced.
Al Sharpton said it as directly and succinctly as it could be said during the Minnesota memorial of George Floyd yesterday. For all of those people who seek to keep us in a box, just take your knee off of our necks. For all of those who seek to silence us as we call for justice, just take your knee off of our necks. For all of those who remain silent as injustice carries the day against a whole group of people who are thought to have the same inalienable rights under the governing documents of this county, just take your knee off of our necks.
From the grass roots movements to those donning the black robe as we try to implement justice in a system meant to keep us at bay…
We just can’t breathe.
Stacy E. Lee,
President, Old Dominion Bar Association
June 5, 2020