‘You were only waiting for this moment to arise’

To the Editor:

Like everyone, I have been deeply moved and appalled by what happened to George Floyd, one horrible night in Minneapolis just over three weeks ago. I watched in horror and disbelief as the video of the white officer with his knee on the neck of this black man, choking the life out of him in an excruciating 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Two other white officers helped hold him down, and one was the look-out.

Mr. Floyd’s only crime was allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. No one in this country gets the death penalty for that. But he was black.

I had seen horrific scenes like this before that broke my heart: Eric Garner, whose only crime was allegedly selling contraband cigarettes, in a chokehold begging “I can’t breathe!”; Philandro Castile, shot five times at close range in his car in front of his fiancée and small daughter while getting his ID out; Breonna Taylor, shot by police while sleeping in her bed after a “no-knock” warrant — too many to name.

How many more? All unarmed black men and women, killed by white policemen.

I understand very well how difficult it is to be a police officer, and how many good police officers are also shot and killed every day, and I mourn their loss with equal pain, but that does not mean there is not a real issue of systemic racism in this country.

On the day the George Floyd video was released in its entirely, I watched it, shocked and aghast, quietly sobbing to myself, wondering what kind of human being can do something like this to another just because of his skin color? My husband walked by me on his way out, and stopped to see what was wrong. All I could say was, “How much longer is this going to keep happening?” I had hit the depths of despair over what had happened to the world.

Then something special happened. Something unbelievable happened. People all across the country, of all colors, races, genders, and religions, took to the streets to protest; despite a life-threatening pandemic, they risked their own lives by the thousands to bear witness and say: “Enough is Enough!”

Each day, the protests spread from large cities, to small cities, to different countries, and the crowds grew and grew before my eyes. I feared, like all other protests, it would eventually drop off and the next large news story would take over, but it got stronger instead, every day, and bigger. It did not go away.

Peaceful protests, some 80-percent white, some joined by police chiefs and mayors, all speaking out, it was incredible, and I felt something I didn’t recognize that I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Hope. Real hope for the country. The world is indeed full of more good people than bad people. And the good cannot be silenced.

Now, just a few short weeks in, the New York State Legislature has heard the cries and passed police reform legislation, banning chokeholds and more, in record time. I see Congress also acting on the federal level to pass a national police reform bill.

It has amazed and uplifted me to see this happening now, and to be living in this time. Justice will be heard. For in this country, we are still all created equal. I had gotten used to thinking these words meant nothing anymore, but the people have shone an undeniable light on them and demanded they be heard. Decency, fairness, and yes, justice, are still alive. Lord, how we’ve missed you!

I am not myself a black person, so I cannot know the full extent of the pain they have unjustly endured for so long in this country. My heart goes out to them. But there is a feeling in the air now that the tide has irrevocably turned; things will not be the same as they were even three weeks ago.

The world is changing. From the unfathomable depths of pain, grief and mourning, something good is coming. For my black friends, you are not alone.

During a similar time in this country’s history (the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s), there was a young man who was likewise moved while reading a newspaper account of United States race riots in mid-1968. He wrote a song as a metaphor of the struggle for black civil rights in this country. I always found that song beautiful and moving. His name was Paul McCartney, and his words seem even more poignant and inspiring today:

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life….

You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

(and birds of all colors, white included, will help you to fly).

Laurel Bohl


Editor’s note: Laurel Bohl stressed that she wrote this letter from the heart, as a human being, not as a Guilderland councilwoman.

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