We are all witnesses

Screen grab of witnesses to George Floyd’s murder from police bodycam video posted by CNN.

I have been deeply moved listening to the Derek Chauvin trial, hearing eye witnesses describe their experiences of watching George Floyd’s murder and trying desperately to intervene. Perhaps you could feel yourself transported to the intersection, too.

I watch in awe as the people on the sidewalk, young and old, express their outrage, doing everything they could to plead, cajole, and shame the officers to save Floyd’s life.

Then I hear them in court, distraught that they didn’t do more. It’s heartbreaking, especially given the incredible courage they showed.

And somewhere in that reflection, it strikes me that I am a witness everyday. There’s racism all around me. And like those who stood on the sidewalk, I have the opportunity to act.

Racism is pervasive. It might be a microaggression during a Zoom meeting, another traffic stop of a black man, the offensive art on the Minnesota State Capitol’s walls, the construction of Enbridge Line 3 in northern Minnesota, or the higher pollution levels in neighborhoods that are disproportionately black, Indigenous and people of color.

It won’t be as traumatic as seeing a police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man. But it’s still there.

I am a witness. I have to learn to see racism more clearly.

And I have to find the courage to act.

Do I stand on the metaphorical sidewalk and try reason? Do I go right up to the edge of the curb and shout? Do I go into the street and try to physically intervene? Do I work for broader systemic change?

I cannot allow myself to get paralyzed by not knowing if I’m making the right choice. Perhaps nothing I could do would change the outcome. I need to make my choice and act. If it doesn’t work, I will know better next time.

I will carry with me the inspiration of those on the sidewalk at 38th and Chicago who did their best to save a man’s life, and, even though they didn’t know it at the time, to change history.

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