Now that George Floyd has been laid to rest, America must heed his call from heaven. His cry is our cry. We can’t breathe anymore.
In Apache, we say Ndąą Diłhił’í bi’idąą da’ilįį (Black Lives Matter). When one unarmed black person is killed, it affects us all, even out here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. All people of color – red, black, brown or yellow – are at risk and live in fear of what happened to Mr. Floyd – because it can happen just as easily to any one of us.
There is an open, gaping wound in America, one that we as tribal members have known all too well. The conquest of tribes and slavery have one thing in common – a 400-year-old fiction that people of color are lesser human beings, a belief that has justified the slaughter of millions, a belief that though unspoken largely persists in certain racist behaviors that cut us down every day.
Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police. In Minneapolis, it is seven times greater. The reality is in fact that police and racially motivated killings have become “tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal,” as President Obama has said.
In Arizona, the same day Mr. Floyd died, Dion Johnson was killed by a DPS trooper. His crime? He was passed out in his car, which was partially blocking traffic. Why he was killed is an all too familiar story.
A total of 1,023 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year. In Arizona, there have been 252 shootings since 2015. According to one study, for every 1 million Native Americans, an average of 2.9 died annually as a result of a “legal intervention.” All of us have to ask why?
Millions of people took to the streets to exercise the fundamental right of speech to protest the killing of Mr. Floyd. People are scared. They are scared of the coronavirus. They are afraid for their economic well-being. They are afraid that their concerns are not being heard by government officials. But overwhelmingly, people, and particularly people of color, are terrified that their family members will not come home because they were killed by a violent, uncontrolled law enforcement officer.
There are roughly 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. The rogue cops whose excessive force has led to killings represent a significant minority of the law-abiding law enforcement officers who steadfastly do their jobs.
What we ask for is that the Blue Wall of Silence be dismantled and that criminal cops be held accountable in the justice system like any other criminal. We also need to hold police accountable when they have committed crimes against persons exercising their First Amendment rights to protest.
No reasonable person condones looting or violence during the recent protests. The cause of justice for Mr. Floyd’s death gets lost in such chaos. The overwhelming majority of the people protesting are simply expressing a desire for justice – a justice that seemingly is harder and harder to find.
The police officers of Flint, Michigan, Houston and Phoenix are led by chiefs who have respected protesters and their First Amendment rights. Some even took a knee out of respect and solidarity. This is the standard of police conduct that should guide our country’s police departments.
America has to come together. What happened to Mr. Floyd has to stop. The era of the knee on the neck of people of color must end. Only when criminals, on either side of the protests, are held accountable will our nation advance toward a more perfect union.
Terry Rambler is chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.