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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Explaining racism and hatred to children is a difficult undertaking’

On May 31, a chilly Sunday, more than 100 people of all ages lined both sides of the road at the intersection of state Route 73 and Route 9N in Keene to protest the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police.

According to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office and an autopsy, Floyd’s death was a homicide; his heart stopped beating while police restrained him and police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.

Asphyxiation from the sustained pressure of Chavin’s knee on his neck was determined to have caused Floyd’s death. Weight on his back prevented his diaphragm from functioning. (The original police report called the death “a medical incident,” according to the “New York Times.”)

At 6 feet, 7 inches, Floyd was known as “a gentle giant.” He was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a delicatessen. He was in his car when the police arrived. They pulled him out of his car, and he fell, face down, on the ground.

The Keene demonstration was planned by Monique Weston and Martha Spear.

Demonstrators wore masks, standing and sometimes kneeling at a distance in deference to covid-19 restrictions. They were bundled up against the cold front that came as a surprise after recent temperatures in the 90-degree range. Most carried handmade signs.

I CAN’T BREATHE was the most common message on the signs, referring both to Floyd’s death and to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, also a black man, who was killed by New York City Police. Officer Daniel Pantaleo restrained Garner in a chokehold during the course of an arrest for the selling of singleton cigarettes on the street, causing Garner’s death.

Both Garner and Floyd can be heard on videotape begging for their lives. Floyd called out, “Mama!” (His mother died two years ago.) Both repeatedly told police, “I can’t breathe!” One officer told Floyd shortly before he became unresponsive, “You can talk fine.”

Other signs read BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK LIVES ARE SACRED, HEAR BLACK VOICES, WE’RE ONE HUMAN RACE, RACISM SUFFOCATES EVERYONE, NO MORE and ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Explaining racism and hatred to children is a difficult undertaking, sad enough to bring an adult to tears. My granddaughter, Emma, is almost 8 years old. When my daughter, Molly, told her what the protests were about, Emma was confused.

“I thought Martin Luther King made things fair for black people!” she said.

Yes, he did a lot, but, Molly told her, there is still a long way to go.

My friend Sherri is a Keene Valley native, whose family has lived in the town for generations. Sherri is blond and Irish; Sherwin, her 8-year-old daughter Maillie’s father, is from Trinidad and Tobago. He is black. When Maillie heard that there was going to be a demonstration the next day, she went off and created a sign to carry.

“I am not sure how she made it,” Sherri told me. “I didn’t guide it at all. Yeah, she really drew it with her heart.

“She was so matter of fact, like, ‘OK, I’m gonna draw two guys…’ and then she said ‘I’m gonna give the white one a gun-“ and the two yellow things are bullets, and the white man is smiling. The black man has a caption saying ‘Ahhh.’ It was powerful.

“My boys didn’t want to go (to the protest),” Sherri said, “but they changed their minds just before. I was proud of them.”

Her sons are young black men, and Sherri said, “I have no idea how they feel. I just know that I worry about them every day.

“I was so happy to see so many people there. We live in such a beautiful place. People in this community really rally for each other, and my family certainly appreciates the support.”

More signs: SILENCE IS CONSENT, WHEN INJUSTICE BECOMES LAW RESISTANCE BECOMES DUTY, FIGHT SYSTEMIC RACISM, NO JUSTICE NO PEACE, JUSTICE FOR GEORGE, HATE HAS NEVER MADE US GREAT and DREAM IN COLOR.

The messages on some signs were enlightening, but too wordy to be easily read by drive-by motorists:

I AM NOT BLACK BUT I SEE YOU

I AM NOT BLACK BUT I HEAR YOU

I AM NOT BLACK BUT I MOURN FOR YOU

I AM NOT BLACK BUT I WILL FIGHT FOR YOU.

And then

IN A RACIST SOCIETY IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO BE NONRACIST. WE MUST BE ANTI-RACIST.

-ANGELA DAVIS

Have a good week.