Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”—Malcolm X
Daunte Wright. Asè.
Millions of Americans know his name by now. Not for something great that Daunte did. He didn’t have the chance. At 20 years old, he was yet another victim of police violence.
On April 11, Daunte was fatally shot in a traffic stop by a Minnesota police officer—a 26-year veteran—who claims she mistook her handgun for a taser.
Yeah, take a breath on that.
Daunte’s death happened just miles down the road from the courthouse where the case in the police killing of George Floyd is being heard.
I struggle to write about the police killing of Daunte Wright. I’ve written this story multiple times: fill-in-the-blank city, state police officer kills insert new name, on new date, for fill-in-the-blank-reason—reported stories, data stories, analyses, commentaries, infographics, illustrations. You name it. We’ve said it eloquently at times and ranted at others, with sadness, with rage, with frustration, with exhaustion. What more can be said that hasn’t already been said? Not only by me but also by hundreds of others.
Similarly, I struggled with what to write about the most recent mass shooting in Colorado. So, I did not. And with the increase in violent attacks happening to Asian Americans since the COVID outbreak, I decided not to write, but to support Asian voices that were saying what needed to be said.
Clearly, I’ve been struggling. … A lot lately, in fact. I know that I’m not alone. But this misery does not love company. At least not complacent company. Not sad company. Not passive company. Not so overwhelmed by all the problems in the world that I’m not going to do anything company.
I do welcome, however, angry company—angry to the point of bringing about change company! Real change. No more reforms. True transformation. I mean, how long is this going to be allowed to go on? The level of unnecessary violence happening in all of our communities across these United States is unacceptable. From state violence to community violence to corporate violence.
The violence that happens in this country is allowed because of the violence upon which this country was built.
I can’t help but wonder sometimes: If these acts of violence were happening in mostly White affluent communities, would we not have solved the problems by now? Would we have not dismantled the system of injustice under which we live? If little White boys and little White girls, and teens, and dads and moms, and grandparents were being killed at the same magnitude by police, by each other, by environmental pollution, do you honestly believe we’d be having the same conversation, fighting tooth-and-nail for meager, surface-level “reform?”
Come on, now, y’all.
We can’t point fingers at individuals any longer. As Jennifer Ho poignantly posits in her article “Race-Related Violence in the U.S. Stems From White Supremacy,” it’s a system that we’re up against. The violence that happens in this country is allowed because of the violence upon which this country was built.
Let me repeat that: The violence that happens in this country is allowed because of the violence upon which this country was built.
Until the system changes, nothing will change. The tweaks in reforms are not the answer. Those who believe that they are need to stop kidding yourselves.
I wrote nearly two years ago, in response to the harm “oozing” from the Oval Office by the 45th president, that most folks focus on the “pursuit of happiness” line in the Declaration of Independence, when what we should be uplifting—especially now—is this part:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”
Lots of us like to point to Donald Trump as the bringer of harm, trauma, and chaos, and are now breathing a sigh of relief that he’s gone. But as I said then, Trump was not the cause of the harm we all experience in the United States—nor the harm caused by the United States government that others experience elsewhere in the world. Trump is out of office, and still here we are. Dealing with the same traumas we were dealing with long before he became president.
We have a police system predicated on othering and violence toward others. It’s unconscionable that some of us live in and with so much fear and harm that we still, knowing this history, cannot see another way of community safety without police.
We’ve been so damaged by the systems and institutions in this country that the only manifestation of “safety” we seem to know and trust is that of violence.
But those who live on the receiving end of harm and violence day in and day out are clear: We are calling for transformation, for transformative justice.
Why is no one heeding that call? Why are those who have access to power—and those in power themselves—refusing to use their influence toward a solution that works for all?
The solution isn’t as complicated as some are trying to make it. It’s really simple. But some are so addicted to the ease and comfort in which they find themselves that working toward that solution means they’ll have to give up that luxury. If that’s you, then ask yourself: how committed am I, then, to well-being for all?
Those who seek to sow hatred and division stand up for what they believe in. They support their candidates, they get them elected, and then they make demands of them, and threaten to rescind that support if representatives don’t pass laws they feel benefit them. That history is documented in cities throughout the U.S.
Meanwhile, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian demands for justice, for equity, for a recognition of our very humanity is up for “discussion.” In progressive and liberal spaces, we’re having “conversations.” And yet there are bills in both Houses of Congress we can be actively supporting. One being the decades-old reparations bill, best known as H.R. 40, that was just advanced out of the Judiciary Committee to the full House, as I’m writing this.
I’m reminded yet again of something I wrote a few years back: “It’s the discomfort of privilege and the resulting cognitive dissonance that make folks avoid the pain and anger still brewing in oppressed communities. They cannot see how ineffective are their attempts at building bridges—that are still burning. … Even Dr. King saw this tendency of White people to too quickly and with too much relief declare success and head home smiling.”
Trump is out of office! We have our vaccine! Now we can go back to normal. But normal has been anything but. Do you really consider all the violence, injustice, and inequity to be normal?
In his oft-quoted Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
This part, however, is rarely summoned. Despite centuries of advocacy, storytelling, public grief, and patience, we are still surrounded by shallow understanding and superficial alliance from people who claim to be of good will.
It brings to mind the words of James Baldwin in his book, The Fire Next Time:
“The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”
The violence that continues to harm each and every one of us is at our feet. Cowardice is no longer acceptable. When you don’t know what to do, do anything. Ignorance is not a defense. And at this period in our history, with all the technological advances we have at our fingertips and voice commands, it is neither an excuse.
If you’re not actively doing something to prevent the violence from occurring, then you’re part of the problem. This is not a condemnation; it is a demand for true transformation, a call to ignite a fire in you that burns so hot and so high and so bright that you will not settle for anything less.
Zenobia Jeffries Warfield is the former executive editor at YES!, where she directed editorial coverage for YES! Magazine, YES! Media’s editorial partnerships, and served as chair of the YES! Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. A Detroit native, Zenobia is an award-winning journalist who joined YES! in 2016 to build and grow YES!’s racial justice beat, and continues to write columns on racial justice. In addition to writing and editing, she has produced, directed, and edited a variety of short documentaries spotlighting community movements to international democracy. Zenobia earned a BA in Mass Communication from Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan, and an MA in Communication with an emphasis in media studies from Wayne State University in Detroit. Zenobia has also taught the college course “The Effects of Media on Social Justice,” as an adjunct professor in Detroit. Zenobia is a member of NABJ, SABJ, SPJ, and the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She lives in Seattle, and speaks English and AAVE.