Michelle Quist: It is time to realize we have a problem in this country

I can’t breathe.

Because another black man has died.

I wonder if I said another child has died, if that would grab your attention more. Would it make a difference in how much you cared, or how much you feel, if I said another child has died?

It shouldn’t. Because another black man dying is reason enough to start realizing that we have a problem in this country. A big problem.

George Floyd. His name is George Floyd. George Floyd was killed by police earlier this week in Minneapolis. “I can’t breathe” was what he told the officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck on the pavement, long after he was subdued. A few minutes later, Floyd “appeared motionless, his eyes shut, his head against the pavement.

The officers have been fired. But it is not enough.

Protestors took to the streets in honor of Floyd Tuesday night. Police threw tear gas at them. Granted, protestors caused property damage at the police precinct. But in the face of repeated killings, what are they supposed to do? When police fail to protect them, and in fact kill them in the name peace and order, what are they supposed to do?

Protestors showed up in Madison, Wisconsin, last month to protest stay-at-home orders. They proudly waved Confederate flags and brazenly displayed AR-15s, AK-47s and other firearms. Police did not use tear gas or any other action to disperse the unruly crowd.

They’re white, after all.

If you think the problem is limited to police, you’re wrong. This week in New York City a white woman called the police on a black man in Central Park. What was the black man doing? Being black.

No really, he wasn’t doing anything other than asking her to leash her dog in an area that required dogs be on leashes.

The woman has been fired, and social media reports are starting to elicit sympathy for the unraveling of her life as a result of her actions in the park.

Don’t feel sorry for her. That may be harsh, but don’t. This woman called the police and reported that a black man was attacking her. Before she called, she told him to stop filming her, or else she would call police and report that a black man was attacking her.

She knew how such a phone call could end for him. She knew, and she purposefully took advantage of that to threaten him, and then to actually falsely report him to the police. For being black. Her nefarious actions and the consequences deserve no sympathy. None.

If you ever made snarky comments about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in protest, you have some thinking to do. If you ever boycotted an NFL game because of Kaepernick’s protest, you have some thinking to do.

Kaepernick was protesting the shooting of a black man — the Dec. 25 shooting of Mario Woods in San Francisco. Woods was shot 20 times after refusing police orders to drop a knife.

This past weekend marked the beginning of our nation’s annual period of celebration, honor and memorial — from Memorial Day to Independence Day to Labor Day. As we celebrate our rich heritage, we must commit to be better — because many Americans are still not free.

I’ve written about the inspiring words of Frederick Douglass before. His speech on the Fourth of July in 1852 is especially poignant:

Douglass admonished, “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.”

His words still ring true.

If you think Kaepernick was disrespecting this country by kneeling during the national anthem, then you’re blind to the systemic and personal racial inequalities happening every day. If you turned off a football game because Kaepernick took a knee, what are you going to do about police killing black men in broad daylight? Are you going to protest police with your fellow Americans? Are you going to demand justice? Are you going to do nothing?

If you claimed Kaepernick dishonored our country, and you do nothing now, you dishonor our country.

No more.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.