I have two sons but I have only had to have "the talk" once.
When you have a black son, you have to make sure he knows that there is a separate and unequal set of rules that exist outside of the written law that allegedly protects everyone equally.
As we were all reminded by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this week, being a black man can lead to a death sentence when the wrong police officer investigates a minor crime. It is unfair to criticize all law enforcement officers for the actions of very few. It is also unfair not to criticize law enforcement officers when this continues to happen.
This was avoidable, but it wasn't avoided. The fact that people - including at least one local law enforcement employee - can justify the horrific killing of Floyd keeps me up at night. He was one of those people who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. He hadn't committed a violent crime or fled from officers. Regardless, he ended up face down in the street, begging for a breath as he felt his life slipping away.
Rage washed over me as I watched a police officer casually cause a black man to die by needlessly kneeling on his neck for several minutes. Seeing his fellow officers fail to react, I was reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by bad people, but the silence over that by good people."
All four officers fired after the incident at one point assisted in taking Floyd down and restraining him. One of those officers kept bystanders back as the life left Floyd's body. Even as paramedics arrived and felt for a pulse, the officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck.
No one answered George Floyd's cries for help.
I know I have white privilege. I know my rights and I am confident they will be protected. Unfortunately, only one of my sons shares that privilege. The other is a black young man who knows he lives in the same house as his brother but in an entirely different world.
Despite that dark day shaking society, I see hope in another King quote.
"The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice," King said. His quote is from more than 50 years ago.
That arc is bending far more slowly than I would like and more slowly than King could have imagined. However, after the videos of events that claimed George Floyd's life entered the public domain, many law enforcement leaders and officers alike crossed over the thin blue line. Many have called for justice. Others more directly called for officers to be charged like other suspects would be. A police officer exerting excessive force is usually very different than other situations in which a life is taken.
George Floyd died with his neck pinned under the knee of an officer. Other officers watched him die. He wasn't the victim of excessive force. He was killed by a man who swore an oath to protect and serve.
My black son asked me if I had seen the video that he had seen on the news. I told him I had.
"Did they kill him because he was black?" he asked, hoping for fatherly wisdom to reassure him.
"It's more complicated than that," I answered.
"Would they have done that if he was white?" he asked, seeing through a fatherly smokescreen.
"No, son," I said. "I don't think so."
"I guess I better be careful," he said. "I don't want to be on the news."
That's not the conversation I wanted to have with my son a couple of days after he became a teenager. Is it too much to ask for the moral arc of the universe to bend a little faster?
The problem is simple.
There are too many people who can sleep at night because their teenagers don't share the same skin color as George Floyd. They rest easy knowing it will never be them or their children who are in the next video saying they can't breathe. Until people who know they are safe stand up for those who aren't, nothing will change.
The silence of allies is far more dangerous than the shouts of our enemies. It is time for us to raise our voices and call for justice.
Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.