John Bartus

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

These are inspirational words … except for the fact that in modern America, all men are not “created equal.” Try explaining to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery about how they were treated “equally” by their fellow Americans. And how can their fellow Americans committed to equality not be angry about the fact that this is happening in the America of the 21st Century? 

How does an American committed to equality condone Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the back of George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds? How does an American committed to equality ignore Chauvin’s taunting of Floyd, telling him to get up while Floyd is pinned by the officer kneeling on his neck? How does an American committed to equality not be angry as a fellow American can’t breathe and dies at the hands of a law enforcement officer sworn to protect? 

How does an American committed to equality tolerate the de facto lynching of Ahmaud Arbery by white men in Brunswick, Georgia? How do Americans committed to equality accept the hunting down, assault and shooting of a black man jogging — all while being videorecorded by another white man? 

How can Americans committed to equality agree with a no-knock warrant that results in police officers barging into Breonna Taylor’s home in Louisville, Kentucky, in the middle of the night and discharging a spray of bullets that struck and killed the 26-year-old EMT? 

How is it that so many Americans — who profess to believe in equality — refuse to see that some aren’t as equal as others? 

Whether you want to admit it or not, racism is alive and well in these United States. White privilege exists, and many unarmed African-Americans have lost their lives for simply being black in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine the reaction by our fellow Americans if a white jogger was murdered on the street for just jogging in a neighborhood. Imagine the outrage if the Louisville no-knock warrant had been executed in a white neighborhood and cops had mistakenly killed a white EMT. 

This is why people of color and conscience have demonstrated for years. It’s why Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players peacefully protested by taking a knee during the National Anthem. A lot of people were outraged at this peaceful form of protest, one that didn’t involve looting or burning. So if this form of protest isn’t acceptable in bringing attention to the issue, what is?

If we as Americans can’t understand why other Americans just might be angry, then we have work to do. There are, however, no easy answers. In the somewhat segregated society we live in here in the Keys, these issues become way too easy to put aside. 

Perhaps the first thing we all can do is acknowledge that this is a deadly problem. Look for places we can help each other. If we see acts of bigotry and racism, don’t ignore them. Call them out. As Edmund Burke once wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Being more understanding of our fellow human beings is a great start. Instead of condemning those who stand up and protest, try to see their side of this issue. Be mindful of ways to challenge and change. Have the important conversations — but be sure and listen. 

It was encouraging to see Sheriff Rick Ramsay and Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg join the peaceful protest in the Southernmost City this past Monday — a stark contrast to some of our urban areas where protests were hijacked and turned into violent events. Nationwide, there is a lot of healing and a lot of work to be done. But that work has to start within each of us.

I’ll close with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who 57 years ago wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let’s keep this in mind if we truly are to be Americans committed to equality.

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