I can remember the first time I heard the story of the Stonewall uprising — the night 50 years ago when Black drag queens led a revolt against police brutality in New York City.
The LGBTQ community was routinely victimized in raids of bars and clubs, and fearing being outed to family and co-workers, many kept quiet about the torture regularly handed out by law enforcement. But one late summer evening in 1969 something felt different.
This time, when the police rushed into the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, the patrons and employees overcame their fears and decided to fight back, kicking off six days of rioting and violent confrontations which launched the fight for LGBTQ civil rights and changed America forever.
After weeks of protests across the country following the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the outrage doesn’t seem to be waning. Everyone has an opinion about the need to reform policing in America, and story after story is being shared about racist police misbehavior.
Unfortunately, we have seen this happen before.
When television cameras broadcast the evil visited upon students and demonstrators attempting to integrate lunch counters in the South, people around the world were shocked by what they were seeing. As dogs tore at flesh, and fire hoses were turned on men and women marching for racial equality, some genuinely believed that the day of reckoning for this country’s racist past had finally arrived.
They were wrong.
For too many generations we have demanded equal education, fair job opportunities, and access to basic public services such as housing, shopping and eating wherever we choose. Just a few weeks ago, a Black woman and her child were not allowed to eat at an Ouzo Bay restaurant in Baltimore because of the way the child was dressed, while a white child casually walked by wearing similar attire. How far have we truly come?
Do you remember how people reacted in horror to the video of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991 and thousands took to the streets to vent their anger? There were cries of never again and calls for changes in police culture that resulted in absolutely nothing changing.
Now people of every race, political persuasion and age appear to have reached a tipping point in regard to racist police brutality. I’m convinced it is the fatigue brought on by the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, John Crawford III, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others whose deaths never made media headlines.
We’ve run out of patience for excuses and are demanding the resignations or firing of weak police leaders who say their officers feared for their lives from unarmed Black people. Politicians, who usually wait for focus groups to gauge public sentiment, are examining out-of-control police budgets in most cities and challenging powerful police unions while numerous prosecutors are charging and having officers arrested for their vicious and illegal behavior.
Just like the outrage that sparked Stonewall, today something feels different about what we’re witnessing in the streets of large cities and small towns alike. Young people of every color are leading the way, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Peaceful demonstrations are taking place every day but they are demanding more. They want laws changed and people held accountable.
Discussions are taking place around dinner tables and in living rooms, at churches, synagogues and mosques, and in corporate boardrooms about the legacy of white privilege and deeply entrenched institutional racism. Just as important, these young people are not afraid to call out the eerie silence and complicity by all races that follows the deaths of Black people by police.
Defunding police departments, changing immunity laws, rewriting use of force standards and abolishing choke holds are actually being considered by legislatures and city councils around the country. Both chambers of Mississippi’s legislature voted to change their state flag as the long shadow of Confederate monuments and bigoted Civil War-era symbols such as the Confederate flag are being questioned and challenged.
Maybe America will finally own up to the trauma it has inflicted on Black people for centuries. Perhaps we will begin to demonstrate zero tolerance for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation that we quote from our constitution and we arrogantly preach to other nations even as we find ourselves woefully lacking.
Someone said once you know the truth, you can no longer accept a lie.
This time, it appears our children will not let us go backward and are asking us to finally commit to creating the country we have professed to be for so very long. Let’s not let them down, again.
— ANTHONY MCCARTHY
The writer is an author, political consultant and ordained minister in Baltimore.