Opinion: This is no time for fence-sitting

My shift from being a pacifist to taking a stance

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Penelope Waterbury, has always been a pacifist; however, the death of George Floyd and the protest that followed, for the first time in her life, compelled her to take a stance and try to make her voice heard. (Photograph courtesy of Penelope Waterbury)

I’ve always been a pacifist. I try to avoid all conflict, all arguments, and I usually don’t take sides on anything. 

However, the horrific death of George Floyd and the protests that followed have caused me, for one of the first times in my life, to take a side and try to make my voice heard.

At first, I was skeptical. While I was shocked and deeply saddened by the video of George Floyd being killed by Derek Chauvin, an officer of the law, I can’t say I supported the events that followed. Peaceful protests are understandable and justified, but rioting? Looting stores and burning police cars? It made me uncomfortable. 

One side of my family is very conservative. They’re proud Trump supporters. While spending time with them during the weekend after Floyd’s death, I noticed they too were extremely disturbed by the footage. They expressed this sympathy to me on Friday night. But, by the time Sunday night arrived, the Fox News coverage of the protests and riots that had been on all weekend had completely diminished their sympathy. Now they asked, why are these thugs and criminals being allowed to destroy our country over the death of one black man? To them, it was no longer about George Floyd, but a natural desire for crime and violence. 

This was a sad shift to witness. Americans were united under the belief that what was done to Floyd was unacceptable, whether they were conservative or liberal. Why did riots have to spoil that?

The other side of my family, and the side I spend more time with, is liberal. We had many conversations on the topic that dove deeper into what we saw and heard on the news. The perspective was far different from the one I heard over the weekend and from Fox News. There was something neither of them had mentioned that was now being brought to my attention.

The death of George Floyd was only the tip of the iceberg. The protests were never just about Floyd, but about the injustice black Americans have faced for centuries in this country. 

America has a long history of discrimination, police brutality, lack of opportunity, racist politicians, and now a president who calls protesters “thugs” in a casual tweet — the list goes on, all targeted at America’s black citizens. And now, amid the coronavirus crisis that caused more financial instability and unemployment than America has seen in years, George Floyd is murdered by a policeman. It then took nearly a week for Chauvin to be arrested — for murdering a man. Why?

It’s common knowledge that in order to solve a problem, you look for the root of it. If a person is displaying questionable symptoms, you look for the cause, the reason they are feeling sick. 

Why is that same principle not being applied here when it is such a common procedure? 

Why is it that when white protesters come out with their AR-15s to protest against coronavirus restrictions, police feel no need to enact brutality? But as soon as black protesters take to the streets, it’s tear gas and rubber bullets?

This is not justified, and I cannot just sit on the fence about it.

After years of built-up pain and anger stemming from the suffering caused by the discrimination that takes place in this country, what were we expecting? There is no modern-day Martin Luther King Jr. to guide protesters down a peaceful path. Rioting is the only way some black Americans feel their voices can be heard. That in itself should speak volumes.

It is my opinion that it is okay to feel conflicted about such topics at first. It’s okay to still feel conflicted, as I cannot comfortably refer to all cops as “pigs,” considering my own grandfather was one for many years.

However, I also realize I am lucky to have the privilege of feeling conflicted. 

Ultimately though, the voices in this country that have been hushed until now will be heard, and change will have to be made.

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Martin Luther King Jr., no longer here in body but still here in word.

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