George Floyd: Don’t Look Away (Part One)

June 1, 2020

By Heather Iliff, President & CEO, and Carmen Marshall, Director of Consulting

The horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis seen on video worldwide has laid bare the state of systemic white violence and oppression toward Black and Brown people in America. It’s so painful that some may experience the temptation to look away.

We might be tempted to look away from:

  • The murder and implications of a Black man being ruthlessly murdered by a police officer
  • The systems that perpetuate pain and violence against Black and Brown bodies
  • The history of slavery, racial tensions in America, and its impact on what is happening in 2020
  • The deeper national conversations that are being held in red and blue states
  • Those who don’t see anything wrong with the killing of Black and Brown people as though it is justified
  • Those who think being Black is synonymous with being criminal or suspicious
  • What doesn’t seem to touch us personally, or your own personal discomfort

The lack of ambiguity of violence in the video of George Floyd being killed has galvanized recognition of the atrocity by people across the political spectrum, as well as by the Fraternal Order of Police. Other incidents came to light this week including two cases where white people lied to weaponize police against Black people. Amy Cooper falsely claimed an African American man was “threatening” her in Central Park. Patricia Ripley, a white woman in Florida, lied to police by claiming two Black men kidnapped her son, but police found evidence that Ripley had pushed her son into a lake to drown. There are other recent cases of police brutality, including the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot and killed by police who broke into her home in Kentucky. What might feel overwhelming to people living safely in white skin is inconceivably worse for Black and Brown people whose lives are threatened and affected by racism every day. What comes next is critical.

DON’T LOOK AWAY.  The truth is, America is anti-Black and has a penchant for “othering” people. This isn’t the first time these atrocities have been caught on video.  And yet, video for some is not even proof enough that the issue is far more widespread than any theory of a few “bad apples” could explain. 

DON’T LOOK AWAY.  Only when these cases get caught on video do they become part of the national consciousness, revealing racism for what it is, a system of violence.

DON’T LOOK AWAY. The murder of George Floyd signals that we are all a part – either victim or perpetrator – of a system of oppression. That system, like all systems of oppression, are efficient at focusing the need for change on the oppressed rather than the oppressors. Whether the justice system, banking and financial systems, education, employment, or healthcare systems; they are each designed to lift some up and keep others down. By design, they dominate, control, and determine your future and well-being. These systems – if you’re Black or Brown – demand your compliance and silence even to your detriment and without any value of your humanity. The system is designed for one group to experience privilege and advantage, and another to be discounted and disregarded.

DON’T LOOK AWAY.  For all the African American mothers and fathers who have had to have the “talk” with their sons about what to do if you get pulled over; “10 and 2 on the wheel, yes, sir.”

DON’T LOOK AWAY.  For all the Black men who have been incarcerated en masse. For all of the Black men who have to think twice before leaving the house, due to the ever-present danger of deliberate acts of racism and violence. For all of the partners, parents, children, and loved ones who worry about them.

DON’T LOOK AWAY.  Keep shining a light on this atrocious set of circumstances. We will not abandon you as we call to action the required changes so that you, Black men, are cared for and honored by society.

WE REFUSE TO LOOK AWAY.  We will continue to lift up this conversation until every eye is seeing and every ear, hearing. In not looking away, we open ourselves to taking action at a time when little things don’t seem like enough, but every step we take counts.

For example, white people, supporters, and allies might consider the following:

  • Listening to the voices of Black people, listening to the historic context, hearing the pain, and being open to the solutions being offered
  • Educating themselves about the system of oppression that has killed so many Black and Brown people in America through violence, through COVID-19, and the many underlying systemic inequities that have been quiet killers all along
  • Reviewing your organizational values and considering what we meant when we said we value diversity, inclusion, and equity in our organizations. What does it mean now to put those values into action? What does that mean for our mission today? What statement can we make? What help can we offer? 
  • Open the conversation in settings you are in – understand that this is the context of all of our work whether we are planning for a virtual event, considering how to re-open programs, developing financial forecasts, or planning a board meeting. Create an open space for listening to people processing these events and be open to actions that come out of these discussions.


Read Part Two:

George Floyd: Don't Look Away - Part Two