Dear JCCA Colleagues,
Last weekend, a video went viral of a woman named Amy Cooper in Central Park shouting at a birdwatcher who asked her to leash her dog, as park rules require. “I’m going to tell the cops an African American man is threatening my life,” she yells at him, before calling 911 to make a report to the police. The video ends when she finally leashes her dog and the birdwatcher, Christian Cooper (no relation), thanks her and walks away calmly.
A day later, another video emerged: George Floyd, an African American man in Minnesota, pleading for his life as a Minneapolis police officer bears down on Mr. Floyd’s neck with his knee. Like Eric Garner in 2014, Floyd protested that he could not breathe, and died. Protests and riots have erupted nationwide, notably in Minneapolis last night after the Hennepin County Attorney was quoted saying that he was unsure a criminal charge could be brought against the police officers who killed Mr. Floyd.
We are in a moment of national collective trauma, trauma that is inordinately borne by people of color. The institution and culture of white supremacy and the weapon of white privilege are completely unmasked by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and the police violence we witness in George Floyd’s death, the recently publicized shooting of Breonna Taylor, and the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery, among far too many others.
These deaths are not anomalies in a system that prioritizes power over justice. The reason that the Central Park video is so viscerally disturbing is because Amy Cooper, under the guise of self-protection, is threatening Christian Cooper’s life by calling the police. She feels entitled to a form of justice she implies Christian Cooper cannot access because of the color of his skin. The Central Park video demonstrates how insidious, pervasive, and commonplace structural racism is, and how closely white privilege is connected to violence.
As an organization, we must leverage our privilege to advance the critical interests of our clients, to work toward equity and justice for everyone in our community. Those among us who are white have a higher obligation to be vigilant in our lives to change our direction, to reflect on our actions – from micro-aggressions to perpetuating institutional racism. It is on us. We cannot tolerate a world where our brothers and sisters of color are gasping for their last breath because of our shameless fear of equality.