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Living as a black man in the era of George Floyd | COMMENTARY

Tyje Ross covers his face along with other protesters as they take knees outside of the jail last week in wake of the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Tyje Ross covers his face along with other protesters as they take knees outside of the jail last week in wake of the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Since learning of the murder of George Floyd, I am struggling to process this latest incident of yet another black life lost too soon because someone in a position of authority, with a gun, thought that a black person's life did not matter.

As a black man living in America with a young son, nephews, cousins, mentees and friends who statistically are more likely to have a run-in with the law than a white person, I fear the inevitable. I have so many raw emotions, and as a father, I cannot help but wonder at what point my 11-year-old son becomes a threat.

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I have yet to watch the video, but I know what happened. I don’t want to hear apologies or laments that people understand my pain. Unless you are a black man in America, who has lived through years of seeing police violence in his community or watched neighborhoods lose hope because of very intentional disadvantages, I can promise you that you have no idea how I feel.

Things must change and not just through an uprising or protest but by first acknowledging that there are two worlds that continue to collide at an intersection that has never been modified. We have to not only acknowledge the differences we have, but we must find a way to put us on a path where we, black men, can pass a police car and not tense up; walk by an officer in uniform without feeling uneasy; or think about the gun on the side of an officer’s waist and not feel like we are doing anything wrong just by being present.

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For those who want to turn the conversation to black-on-black violence, I will simply say that when we make noise about murder at the hands of the police, it is because the police are the ones in a position of authority, sworn to protect us. For those officers who serve our country with pride and respect for the community, we thank you. But this is bigger than a few ‘bad apple’ officers, this is about a criminal justice system that aids and abets those bad apples. Together, we must reform this system, for my own son and daughter and all black children.

No time is greater than now to let your voice be heard; silence is translated as complicity. We need a real and uncomfortable conversation on race. Systemic racism is deeply rooted in our society and the actions we take must lead to solutions to the injustices experienced by black people in America daily. My expectation is that the people who protested the knee Colin Kaepernick took find a way to protest the knee that took a life.

The inaction of those who do not look like me and do not have my lived experience will prove to be the loudest scream of complicity. This is a transformative moment and what we do next will either improve the lives of future generations or put us further behind in forming a more just and equitable society.

In Baltimore, we have experienced the inequity of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights and we must work to adopt language that is just for all. We have seen bodycam footage show the planting of evidence, which is why we need passage of Senate Bill 1029 in the state General Assembly, which makes available police records of misconduct, discrimination, sexual misconduct and other infractions to public trust.

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Too often “bad apple” officers get a slap on the wrist from internal review boards, which is why we must support our Baltimore City civilian review board. In Annapolis, we also have Anton’s Law, racial profiling and other legislative solutions we must work on as we look at making a change in the criminal justice system. As a country, we need true change, so we do not lose another black life without justice being served. This is not about attacking officers, this is about saving black life by changing the systems that take it unjustly.

As a state delegate, I have knocked on thousands of doors unarmed and never knowing what I was walking into. I’ve had doors slammed in my face and in some cases been outright disrespected, but it is my duty to show restraint; it is my obligation to represent all of my constituents; it is my responsibility to lead by example. I am simply demanding that all our law enforcement be true to the task expressed in their pledge to serve and to protect — not harm.

Tony Bridges (tony.bridges@house.state.md.us) is a state delegate representing the 41st district in Baltimore City.

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