On Sunday, June 7th, 2020, I headed out to Leicht park with a friend to photograph the peaceful protest that was organized in response to the murder of George Floyd. Floyd was the most recent victim of police brutality, and lost his life after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd took his last breath. Among Floyd’s last words were “mama” and “I can’t breathe”. Three other officers stood by.
This is not a rare occurrence in America. So many names flood my mind when I think of this crisis that has stained our country’s reputation for hundreds of years. Floyd’s death, however, seemed to strike a new nerve with how we are reacting. The anger and outrage that usually runs the course of a 24-48 hour news cycle, produces a hashtag, and gets a short excerpt on the evening news has transformed into something different this time. As Killer Mike would put it, we are finally beginning to “plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize.” There has been a sense of personal responsibility acknowledged by all of us who are continually sickened by these injustices, yet never put our words into real-life action to make any substantive difference.
So, why now? Well… maybe it’s because 8 minutes and 46 seconds is an excruciating amount of time. It’s enough time for your conscience or morals to step in as you’re making the decision to end another’s life. It’s enough time to pray to God on what you’re doing. It’s enough time for a change of heart. It’s enough time to come to terms with the life and future you are stealing from another human being. It’s enough time to think about their family. It’s enough time for a lot of things, yet Derek Chauvin’s knee remained, and his fellow cops stood idly by. And that really, really did not sit well with the world.
Now that millions of people have seen the video, race is at the forefront of an international conversation. I wish it wasn’t at the expense of another life. But we can honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and the countless others who have died unjustly at the hands of police by getting up and taking action. Educating ourselves. Being an ally. Marching. Donating. Identifying and confronting our own biases and shortcomings on issues of race. Listening. Learning. Reading. Amplifying silenced voices. Looking inward. Standing up to racism when we see it in plain sight. I may be a wedding and portrait photographer, but I feel a sense of personal obligation to use my abilities to document this moment in time for history to remember. These are such deep wounds that need healing, and though it feels incredibly overwhelming and beyond the capacity of our abilities as individuals to tackle, the small daily actions that we can take really do matter and make a difference to create the shift that we need. Changes of policy… changes of leadership… changes of heart. We’re in this together.
We didn’t know what to expect on Sunday as far as turnout would go. As some of the first to arrive to the gathering, we watched in complete awe as people filtered nonstop into Leicht park from all directions, until the crowd went as far as the eye could see. Every race, every age. It was honestly the most beautiful, inspiring and hopeful thing I’ve ever seen and been a part of in Green Bay. I ran around like a sweaty maniac trying to capture everything around me. The powerful messages on the signs. The faces of the children, so aware of what they were a part of. The grief and the heartbreak, the hope and the love between us. Organizers led us through speeches, prayer, and 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence. We marched, chanted, interacted, cried, laughed and engaged… we showed up in peaceful solidarity with a collective mission for progress and racial justice, and we were heard.
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t anti-police. It’s anti-police brutality. It’s pro-equal treatment under the law. It doesn’t support rioting and looting of businesses, and it’s unfortunate that those occurrences have impacted the message of this movement. I think the most important thing moving forward is that we stop painting entire groups of people with a broad brush. Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. Not all protesting is violent. And to put it plainly, this movement is about a lot more than police brutality and excessive force. This is about the way we interact with each other in our communities, the way we truly view and treat one another. This is about equal footing, opportunity and treatment under the law. It’s a humanitarian issue that we can and should all get behind. Because Black Lives Matter.
20 Must-Read Books to Learn More about Black history, Racism and Social Justice
Donate to Black Lives Matter
Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement
Donate to the Equal Justice Initiative
Start the Conversation