Letter from Jon: The Tip of the Iceberg

Like many people around the world, I have struggled deeply since watching the murder of George Floyd. On this issue, there can be no “statement from The Joinery.” This is too personal for that.

For me, there are several layers to this latest outrage. The outermost layer is the most obvious: A handcuffed, defenseless black man was brutally murdered in broad daylight on a public street, once again at the hands of a white police officer.

That in and of itself was horrific. But as we all know, this was not an isolated incident. We have seen video footage of the deaths of countless of black people over the last several years at the hands of white police officers. And as we all know, these killings did not start with the advent of cell phone video technology. They have been taking place for 400 years.  Advances in technology have simply brought it more to light, undeniably, in all its brutality.

And even as the videos continue to mount, we know that what we see on TV is only a tiny fraction of what is really happening. This behavior – and its deadly results for black Americans – is far more widespread.

Getting to the core – and what shakes me the most – is the underlying beliefs that white Americans have about blacks that lead us to the point where a police officer could murder a defenseless black man in broad daylight with complete impunity. His fellow officers did nothing as he knelt on George Floyd’s throat for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The passersby taking cell phone video and imploring the officer to stop did not give him pause. How could someone act with such heartlessness, with such disregard for human life, with such confidence that he would face no repercussions?

Yes, we know that police brutality against African Americans is widespread and deadly. But this problem did not start with attitudes of white police officers. These beliefs have permeated deeply into white subconsciousness and are pervasive throughout our country in all aspects of society. We watch these murders with horror. But they are the tip of the iceberg. They are the most visible, undeniable and obviously reprehensible actions. But like an iceberg, much more lies below the surface. The overwhelming mountain of injustices that black Americans face on a daily basis are still largely unseen and unacknowledged by white people. While most of these injustices are far less serious than murder, their cumulative impact is no less deadly; their psychological toll no less severe.

On a very personal level, I see how my African American wife bears the scars that are inflicted on her on a daily basis, and how witnessing each new killing on TV weighs her down. How she reacts when she sees a pickup truck with a confederate flag. How she won’t keep the second-floor windows open on summer nights when it’s 80 degrees in the house.

And I worry about my beautiful brown-skinned children, particularly my son. How can I help him overcome the institutional bias that is stacked against him? What steps must I take to protect him from white people? How can I help keep him safe when he encounters police? When he goes for a jog in the neighborhood? When he goes to a park to look at some birds?

At the very core of this issue is a simple truth: to solve this problem, together, we white people must own it. We must learn about and acknowledge the reality lived by people of color. We must acknowledge that their experiences are real. We must use our privileged voices to fight for change. We white people must acknowledge that this isn’t “a few bad apples” on the police force. And that, indeed, it’s not really about the police force at all. It is about so much more.

– Jon Blumenauer, owner of The Joinery