Darlene McDonald: How many times must Emmett Till die before we turn the mirror on ourselves?

On Sept. 6, 1955, Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, held an open-casket funeral so that the world could see the violence that murderous racists had inflicted on her son’s body. That was 65 years ago.

On Aug. 16, 2017, the League of Native American Voters organized a solidarity rally against racism after the president of the United States, Donald Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” after the Neo-Nazi’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally ended when fights broke out between the Neo-Nazis and the anti-fascist and anti-racism counter-protesters that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer and injured many others.

At that solidarity rally in Washington Square, I gave a speech. In that speech I said, “How many times must Emmett Till die before we turn the mirror on ourselves? How many more graves must we dig before America heals?”

Today, my heart is broken. I mourn the senseless murder of George Floyd. I also feel the deaths of the 100,000 Americans who’d lost the battle against a coronavirus that has disproportionately taken the lives of people of color. I also fume over the attempted murder of Christian Cooper in Central Park when a white woman named Amy Cooper called the police of him. It was a timely display for all of us to see how privilege allows mainly white people, and especially white women, to weaponize the police.

This was attempted murder. Why do we know that? We know because George Floyd is dead. We know because Atatiana Jefferson is dead. We know because John Crawford III is dead. We know because Tamir Rice is dead. We know because Trayvon Martin is dead. We know because Stephon Clark is dead. Yes, Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing when she placed that call. The lynch mob she called was the police.

How many times must Emmett Till die before American realize it has a problem?

Post-Reconstruction, racist lynch mobs stormed jail cells where accused black men were held before their trial. These lynch mobs had no intention of allowing these black men the benefit of justice. Their guilt had been predetermined. After the men had stormed the jails, oftentimes aided by the deputy or sheriff on duty, the gang would beat the men and lynch them. On occasions they’d set the men on fire, burning them alive. Most often the corpse of the dead men’s bodies were mutilated and left to set “an example.”

Today, almost everyone walking the streets has a camera on them. We get real-time videos of murders as they happen. We heard Eric Garner say, “I can’t breathe,” before he died. We heard George Floyd say, “I can’t breathe,” before he died. We saw the live-stream of the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile, before he died. We saw Sandra Bland being man-handled before she supposedly killed herself in a jail cell in Texas following her arrest.

These cameras haven’t brought justice to those killed. The police had the video of Ahmad Arbery’s murder two months before the video was leaked to the public to exonerate the murderers, not the victim. It was the public outrage that forced the police to arrest the three men responsible for his death.

These murders will not stop until there’s justice for the senseless murders and consequences for the attempted murder by the those who feel they have the privilege to question the presence of black people. These murders will not stop until our criminal justice system stops perpetuating white supremacy, racist stereotypes and tropes.

There will be no change until our criminal justice system stops hiring, shielding and then protecting un-hooded men and women who hide their racism behind a badge and silence collaborators behind a flawed code of honor. These murders will not stop until our criminal justice system believes, Black Lives Matter.

Darlene McDonald

Darlene McDonald, South South Lake, is an author and activist. She serves on the board of Alliance for a Better Utah and the American Friends Service Committee and is the chair of the Utah Black Roundtable.