A quick anecdote…
In the 1940s my grandfather and his younger brother traveled from Montana to China to bury their father. During their return journey they stopped in Hong Kong, then occupied by the Imperial Japanese military.
One day in the streets, Japanese soldiers began to beat my grandfather, mistaking him for a Chinese citizen. My great-uncle said that the soldiers probably would have killed my grandfather, but between shouting, “I’m American!” and pulling out a passport, the soldiers finally stopped beating him.
War is horrific. Beating people is horrific. Killing people is horrific. All of this is horrific regardless of nationality or any other classifier. My grandfather shouldn’t have needed to prove anything for soldiers to stop beating him. But this detail is significant. Because of it, somehow, something got through to the soldiers to see his humanity and exercise mercy.
Japanese soldiers stopped beating my Chinese-American grandfather and didn’t kill him. If these soldiers could do that then in a time of world war, why can’t our people do the same now?
Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and now George Floyd have all been killed at the hands of fellow Americans in a matter of weeks. Where was our recognition of our shared humanity? Where was our mercy?
One more anecdote: My great-uncle shared this story of his time in Hong Kong when I was visiting him in a nursing home in Oregon. By this point, he was in his 90s. The events of that day he described occurred when he and my grandfather were teenagers. My great-uncle lamented that he’d been frozen by fear to inaction that day. “I always regretted that I didn’t help your grandfather,” he said. It breaks my heart that my great-uncle carried this regret for a lifetime.
So enough inaction. Enough not speaking out. We must stop racist policies that cause our community to be killed by the people we’ve entrusted with protecting us. We must each elevate each other’s humanity, recognize that we all have the right to live and love and have the courage to uphold that for each other.
If that is too lofty, we must at least look within ourselves to find our own humanity and compassion.
The tragedies of Breonna, Ahmaud and George are the ones that we have most recently heard about, but there are countless more similar atrocities that have occurred in the same period that we haven’t heard about, and too many more that preceded them. It’s up to us to stop this from happening again, before more Americans kill other Americans.