George Floyd’s daughter should be set for life.
Not long after her father was laid to rest, news broke that Barbra Streisand purchased shares of Disney stock in her name. Kanye West will pay for her college tuition. A Gofundme created for her has raised an estimated $2.1 million dollars.
Similar support has been given to the family of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed in Atlanta after by a police officer who found him sleeping in a car. Several local entrepreneurs have gifted his widow a new car, along with life insurance and college tuition for his 3 surviving children.
These are two examples of how communities and celebrities can quickly come together to support the survivors of Black men killed by police violence. The murder of George Floyd, captured on video as his life was pressed out of him by Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and forty-five seconds while other officers stood by, has sparked worldwide outrage that erupted in ongoing protests against the horrors inflicted on Black bodies on a level surpassing the uprisings after Mike Brown’s death.
But I can’t help but wonder, why no one seemed to care about these men until they were dead?
George Floyd was like many Black men. A big dude who parlayed his athletic skill into a football scholarship but dropped out, bounced around from music to odd jobs before getting caught up but trying to keep straight and figure out his life. Rayshard Brooks was the same, a young Black man who spent some time in jail but served his time, only to be crushed by the weight of restitution and legal fees and struggling to find a job when a Black male with a criminal record is excluded from most employment.
These are not uncommon stories and they would be unremarkable if not for the manner of their deaths at the hands of agents of the state. And that’s the problem. So many Black men in America exist in a sort of twilight world, hanging on to their freedom by a thread, a permanent underclass that people can project their fears and hatred on until that projection materialises in brutality.
America is a machine that feeds on the suffering of Black males. Even movements created to end that suffering use the same fuel. From postcards of lynchings that were shared among white people and later used by anti-lynching activists, to Mamie Till-Mobely allowing an open casket at her son Emmett’s funeral so the world could see in her childs disfigured face the ravages of American racism. In the present, cellphone videos of police killing unarmed Back men are the main drivers of mass social justice movements. Atrocity will get people into the streets and money into non-profits. But the quiet violence of denying men opportunities to redeem themselves in a society set up for them to fail goes ignored.
There are George Floyds and Rayshard Brooks’ around us every day, brothers who may have made some mistakes or not have been as lucky as some of us. But when they need us, we let their calls go to voicemail or make excuses for why we can’t help. It’s only when they can be used as symbols and performative wokeness that we care.
In the month since George Floyd’s murder, police departments and white america are having to address the human cost of American policing. The killing of Rayshard Brooks has forced the city of Atlanta to start waking up from it’s “Black Mecca” dream to deal with the Black people left out of that illusion. And the United Nations is looking at addressing the treatment African Americans receive from law enforcement as a human rights issue. If the deaths of these Black men, and thousands more, create lasting change then the horror of the way they died may have meaning.
But it would’ve been better if their Black lives mattered as much as their deaths.