Speak Now, or Forever be Complicit

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was brutally killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Once video footage of Floyd’s killing was released, an overwhelming majority of people were outraged. Protests spread like wildfire across the nation, all of them demanding justice.  For many Americans,  Floyd’s killing was the first time they witnessed racial injustice.  For Black Americans,  Floyd represented another person to add to the growing list of unarmed Black people killed by the police.


Long History of Black Americans Treated as Lesser Than

Since America’s inception, Black people have dealt with racism and inequality.  Even when policies and laws were passed to help Black people, no one truly enforced them.  For example, in 1865 the 13th Amendment was passed  to abolish slavery in America.  In 1868, the 14th Amendment gave black men citizenship and equal protection under the law.  Soon after, Jim Crow laws were implemented to ensure that newly freed black Americans did not have the same rights as white Americans.  

I believe this lack of enforcement of Black rights started with the Dred Scott case.  Dred Scott was a former slave who tried to first buy his family’s freedom.  When his owner refused, he sued for his freedom.  He based his argument on the fact that he lived in two free territories, Wisconsin and Illinois, with his owner.  At the time under Missouri law, if a slave owner lived in free territory with slaves, the slaves would be free when they returned to Missouri.

Scott’s argument was so persuasive, that he won his freedom after a jury trial in January 1850.  His then former owner was not happy about the decision and court battles continued until 1857 when the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court ruled with the owner, saying that the slaves were property.  Many say that this decision was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the Civil War.


Reality Becomes Expectation

In my life, I have had five interactions with police. Three times, I was working for a pool company and residents accused me of stealing furniture.  One time I got pulled over for allegedly speeding and one other time for allegedly running a red light.  Each time I was terrified and thought I may die if I made the “wrong” move.  Only once did the officer talk to me like I was a citizen and not a fugitive.  

The expectation of police mistreatment is entrenched in black society.  It’s not based on fairy tales, but actual personal stories passed down from parents to their children. Black parents are forced to teach their kids how to interact with police at a young age because of it.  I never participated in a lot of the “boys being boys” activities, like TP-ing houses, because of it.  That’s because for Black people, misdemeanors can be death sentences.


Need to Hold Ourselves Accountable

Right now, the dismantling of systemic race discrimination is focused on the criminal justice system.  This is the right starting point, but there are changes we can make in all areas of life.  In the workplace, if you hear someone make a racist joke, call them out.  If you find out you are making more money than your Black co-worker, call your employer out.  If you see your employer is consistently giving your Black co-worker bad reviews for no reason, call them out.  

It may be difficult or scary to speak out at first.  It may be uncomfortable or not “nice” to call someone out for saying or thinking something racist.  We have all heard, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  But it’s time to stop worrying about being nice, and speak up to end systemic racism in America.  Speak now, or forever be complicit.

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James J. Hux is the Owner and Sole Attorney at Hux Law Firm, LLC. His practice areas include employment discriminationpersonal injury, and general civil litigation throughout the State of Ohio.