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Don’t Let the Outrage Subside as It Has in the Past

The murder of George Floyd has ignited a surge of activism and outrage across the United States and dozens of other countries. For many, Floyd’s brutal murder was an alarming point of clarity about the current state of racial injustice. Most American cities are still highly segregated, and in cities with a very small black minority like Wheeling, it’s painfully easy for white Americans to unintentionally ignore the blatant inequality. Therefore, Americans across the country and political spectrum were shocked by the brutal murder of Floyd.

Right now, Floyd’s murder appears to be an inflection point with the potential to be a turning point for racial injustice. Although activism for racial injustice has significant momentum now, my worry is that it will soon subside, and we will fail to achieve concrete, lasting change.

While many view the current moment as the breaking point, it’s important that we remember this has happened before. In 1992, Rodney King, a Black man living in Los Angeles, was viciously beaten by White police officers after an arrest for drunk driving. His brutal beating was caught on film, exposing not only the police officers’ violence but also the commentary of a group of bystander officers. The police officers were acquitted, inciting mass protests and violence.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder, I’ve been thinking about the fury King’s beating sparked. In 1992, many claimed that this had to be the last time. People had enough. Yet, we are presently in an eerily similar historical moment 28 years later.

Riots and protests also arose in 2014 after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson; in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore; and in Charlotte in 2016 after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. The protesting and rioting have persisted because police brutality has endured.

George Floyd’s murder should be a turning point for racial injustice and police brutality. It’s been a wake-up call for many, dominating the news cycle and triggering social media blackouts, protests, and violence. But the protests and police brutality aren’t going to cease unless citizens commit to long-term contributions and forms of activism. Everyone attending protests, posting on social media, and buying copies of White Fragility — the #1 bestselling book on Amazon — must view this as a long-distance race, not a sprint. The work to change government policies and societal norms is complicated and difficult.

Although there are civil rights advocates working tirelessly, the broader public’s attention tends to erupt after tragedy strikes and quickly fall dormant when the news cycle shifts.

I want this to be a turning point for racial injustice but knowing how long this battle has been waged, I’m worried that won’t be. I think that people should continue to educate themselves about the racial history of America, actively listen to black and other marginalized voices, and then evaluate how they can best utilize their skillset to help. Teachers can assign black authors, parents can commit to an on-going dialogue about race with their kids, and anyone can volunteer in some capacity. For this to be a watershed moment, Americans need to commit to the arduous work of sustaining this moment into a long-term movement.

Hannah Fuller is a Wheeling native and graduate of the Linsly School. This spring, she graduated from Emory University with a BA in history. At Emory, she studied 20th century American and Central European history, focusing on issues involving race and gender.

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