Our Nation’s Grief and the Death of Mr. George Floyd: A Message from the Dean
Renèe A. Middleton | June 3, 2020
Dear Patton College Students,
On May 29, we added another name to a painfully long list that is begging for justice. Since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,262 black people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post's database tracking police shootings. That doesn't even include those who died in police custody or were killed using other methods…like asphyxiation.
Like many of you, I have been struggling. For as long as I live, I will never forget the horrific video of Mr. George Floyd being deplorably asphyxiated by the knee of an officer of the law. As the aunt of young Black nephews, I can’t imagine how someone can devalue human life behaving in such a dehumanizing way. And I know that as students of education and human services, you are struggling too with how to comprehend that these actions of racism and hatred are still happening in our country…our world…today, in 2020.
The entire world is hurting as a result of the shocking brutality that happened last Monday, and the resulting protests. Many peaceful protests have occurred in U.S. cities and around the world. But behind that peace is a rage, a sadness, a grief that has sometimes erupted in violence.
The majority of these protestors are people your age. I am heartened by the fact that the protesters are a group of racially and ethnically diverse young people deciding what kind of world they want to live in. And I am encouraging those of different generations to try to understand why these protests—some of which retrogress into violence and destruction—are happening and what we can learn from them.
When people feel as if they don’t matter…their lives don’t matter…then buildings don’t matter either. What these young protestors are telling us by the destruction of “things” is that they believe a human life is more important than bricks and mortar. And while they may not be protesting in a more peaceful and sophisticated manner, they are protesting against racism, inequality, white supremacists, and the disregard of humanity. They are protesting excessive policing and the blatant and consistent disregard for human life.
For sure, there are opportunists out there—white and black—who come out in the dark for their own small-minded purposes to benefit self. They are there for themselves to steal, destroy, loot, and vandalize personal property, which unfortunately can overshadow the real message of those who are there for the right reasons of protesting brutality and the dehumanization of American people—disproportionately African Americans, and African American males in particular.
And what these opportunists don’t realize—or care to see—is what Esquire’s Jack Holmes reported the morning after a weekend in New York City that saw widespread protests and violence, is that the people sweeping up the glass, removing graffiti, and boarding up windows are mostly Black or Latino. “Because that’s who often does these jobs—the ones we lately have decided are ‘essential,’ the ones you have to show up every day to do, even in the age of pandemic disease,” he writes. “They will bear the brunt of this [cleanup work] now. They also bear the brunt of the relentless forces of American inequality at the root of all this.”
But as we seek to understand, we must acknowledge that mistakes may be made. We can forgive mistakes made by “good people” in an effort to fight for justice and humanity…mistakes made while exposing hatred and injustice.
Those who are offended by cars burning, buildings being burned, and bricks being defaced, should bring that outrage to the loss of life—the brutal loss of life of George Floyd and what his life has come to represent. And those who cannot at least match the outrage over property (“things”) with the loss of life, should seriously reflect on why that is.
In The Patton College, we say we are CALLED to Lead! We know one cannot rebel against hate and violence by engaging in hate and violence. We know we cannot become what we abhor. We know we honor these victims of justice with unity. With love over hate. By rebuilding the foundations of our democracy, not destroying them.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
As members of The Patton College, let’s stand for the values of being change agents for good, being advocates for social justice and change, and being committed to lifelong learning as we model what it means to be CALLED to Lead. If you feel compelled to protest this great injustice, please do so peacefully and with the best interest of all humankind.
I am committed to leading an organization filled with members whose aspirations are to do more than just say, “This Has To Stop.” We know that it is virtually impossible to avoid internalizing racist, anti-Black stereotypes. The actions we take in response to this is what matters most. In the coming days ahead, let’s all agree to being visibly committed to anti-racist work driven by the foundation that there is no middle ground; either we are actively combating racism, or we are passively enabling it.
I envision our College putting a stake in the ground and joining others at our University in leading this campus towards efforts aimed at infusing anti-racist work into all we do. That leadership will not be based on patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, racist practices that are commonly found in textbooks. We will engage in a new form of leadership in which strength is defined as communal, vulnerable, loving, and warm. I want us to push one another to be better, without the mental baggage that comes with the expectations that any individual has all the answers.
The only way to make sure this crisis doesn’t turn into another moment that is chronicled on social media but does not drive legitimate systemic change is to TAKE ACTION. I would like us—faculty, staff, students, and alumni—to engage in anti-racist teaching, service, and intersectional, decolonizing research in collaboration with other academic colleges, Centers, and community members in pursuit of social justice.
Go forward and voice your collective stance against injustice with vigor, passion, solidarity, and peace—in the true OHIO Proud and Patton Proud tradition.
To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for evil to rise is that good men and women sit and do nothing. Burke also added, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
So, please “associate” in this struggle—march, protest, sing, write, pray—do something! Below are links to helpful ideas and resources that you might consider in order to make your voice known. In The Patton College, WE are CALLED to Lead—we all must do something. We can't afford to “sit” and do nothing.
In Peace & Health,
Reneé A. Middleton