Let’s Make This Time Truly Different
The inhumane execution of George Floyd in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic graphically revealed that lost lives are the price of racial oppression at the hands of broken law enforcement, health and economic systems. George Floyd survived a bout with deadly COVID-19 but not the Minneapolis Police Department sworn to protect him.
Until now, arguably little has changed since 1964 when James Powell, a 15-year old African American boy was killed by white police lieutenant, Thomas Gilligan. Powell was shot twice in front of many witnesses including his junior high school classmates. Powell’s death led to almost a week of riots in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant. Of course, since Powell many other African American men and women have suffered street executions and cruel beatings often followed by days of riots. The same systems of discrimination that place African Americans at jeopardy with the justice system stymies their economic standing which also has not improved since the mid-1960s. Historical economic data establishes that the gap between the finances of African Americans and whites is actually wider in 2020 than in the mid-1960s when landmark civil rights legislation was enacted purportedly to improve the economic standing of African Americans.
Systemic change is clearly overdue. Over the past several days many of us have wondered whether this moment could be truly different as we listened to President Obama’s call for law enforcement reform and social activism, Attorney General Keith Ellison’s announcement of charges against the four Minneapolis police officers who participated in the execution of George Floyd, and Congressman John Lewis’ message of hope, perseverance, and global unity.
In fact, this time is different. This time the protests in Bedford Stuyvesant were peaceful. Young African Americans protected stores and other businesses throughout Central Brooklyn and many other cities across the nation. This time George Floyd’s murder witnessed around the world has invoked mass interracial and intergenerational demonstrations evidencing global common cause. Today momentum exists to be harnessed for social and economic change that respects and uplifts the human dignity of every person regardless of race.
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration) strives to uplift the dignity of every person by relentlessly pursuing strategies to close gaps in household and community wealth so that all families in Central Brooklyn are healthy and prosperous. The racial wealth gap is at the root of today’s racial disparities in health, homeownership, educational attainment, incarceration rates and wealth. This gap is a product of systemic practices that continue to strip African Americans of the value of their labor and confiscate their assets.
Restoration pledges to be a leader in the national movement to close the racial wealth gap. Restoration Plaza will always be a safe and welcoming place for peaceful protest and freedom of expression, artistic and otherwise, while generating economic opportunity and upward mobility for African Americans and other people of color. In addition to marching and protesting police abuses, we challenge each African American to take action to have themselves counted in the 2020 Census — money, power, respect. At stake are political power, representation in Congress, and the amount of funding our communities will receive for education, youth development, job training and health care, among other vital services. Each African American who is eligible to vote must register and do so in local, state and national elections. The outcome of November’s national elections likely will determine the pace of progress on issues of racial justice. The most lasting tribute we can pay to Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd is to wage a comprehensive and relentless campaign to guarantee that their lives make a difference. Join us in taking action to make this time different.
Stay safe and be well.
Colvin W. Grannum for the Board and Staff of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation