From the national magazine of the Sierra Club, the Sierra
June 8, 2020
Article by Hop Hopkins
Last week, my family and I attended an interfaith rally in Los Angeles in defense of Black life. We performed a group ritual in which we made noise for nine minutes to mark the last moments of George Floyd’s life. My wife, my oldest daughter, and I played African drums to mark those nine minutes with the rhythm of a beating heart. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, over and over again.
While we drummed, I realized how difficult it is to keep up any physical activity for nine minutes straight. Most of us can’t even sit completely still on our butts for nine minutes; if you’ve ever meditated, you understand why they refer to sitting as practice.
As I struggled to maintain my posture and keep up the rhythm, I thought about the level of commitment it takes to hold someone down for nine minutes straight. The realization horrified me. The cop who has been charged with murdering George Floyd had to have been deeply committed to taking his life. The police officer had so many chances to let up the pressure, to let George live. Yet the officer made the choice not to.
To spend nine minutes taking the life-breath from another person: That is what white supremacy does to white people. That is what white supremacy does to the rest of us too. White supremacy robs each of us of our humanity. It causes white people to view Black people as less than human. Every one of those cops watching George die was convinced that the man pinned to the ground was less than human, was in some way disposable.
Otherwise, how could they hold him down for nine whole minutes? How could they bring themselves to do it?
During the street protests and marches of the past two weeks, many people carried signs that read “Racism Is Killing Us.” It’s no exaggeration to say that racism and white supremacy harm all of us, because in addition to robbing us of our humanity, racism is also killing the planet we all share.
An idea—a long-overdue realization—is growing in the environmental movement. It goes something like this: “We’ll never stop climate change without ending white supremacy.” This argument has entered the outdoor recreation and conservation space thanks to the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the climate justice movement. The idea has taken on new force as folks in the mainstream environmental movement do our best to show up for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and all the Black people still living and subject to police violence.
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PHOTO BY MARK PETERSON/REDUX