“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons,
We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
– Ella Baker, as quoted by Bernice Johnson Reagon in Ella’s Song
The events of this last week precipitated by the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis are now seared into our collective conscience as Americans. Our hearts go out to Mr. Floyd’s family and friends, the people of Minneapolis, and all who are afflicted by deadly racism.
All of us at Vermont Humanities are determined to respond. As our friend Rep. John Lewis says, “Just as people of all faiths and no faiths, and all backgrounds, creeds, and colors banded together decades ago to fight for equality and justice in a peaceful, orderly, non-violent fashion, we must do so again.”
Dozens of unarmed Black Americans have died in modern lynchings in recent years, including at least two others just during this pandemic. This violence is not new. Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia was shot to death in cold blood by a retired police officer while out jogging, and Breonna Taylor, an Emergency Medical Technician in Kentucky was killed in her own home by police looking for a suspect from a different neighborhood who had already been arrested.
Arguably, these killings of Black citizens have never stopped, and many scholars have written about the history of violence from Reconstruction to today. But the modern era of this violence might be pegged to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by “neighborhood watch” member George Zimmerman. Trayvon was just seventeen, walking home from the store with a bag of Skittles. One of our dear friends at Vermont Humanities, poet and scholar Reuben Jackson, wrote a poem at that time that still hangs with me today. Poet Danez Smith wrote another piece, called Not An Elegy for Mike Brown after Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The opening line of their poem? “I am sick of writing this poem.”