PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality), northwest Louisiana’s primary advocacy organization for LGBTQ people, has been committed to bringing long-needed change to this region since our formation in 2005. While our primary focus has been organizing, educating, lobbying, and at times protesting for equal opportunity and treatment under the law for LGBTQ people, we have common cause with our Black brothers and sisters who have suffered from the consequences of hatred and discrimination in this country for 400 years. While the arc of the moral universe has been way too long with respect to Black people in this country, it had seemed to be bending towards justice until the last three years when the rock concealing the latent racism of white supremacy was lifted, culminating in the cruel murder of a handcuffed Black man under the knee of a police officer, with the aiding and abetting of three other officers. The entire world has now watched in horror as the breath and the life of George Floyd was extinguished before our very eyes. The American commitment to liberty and justice for all is now mocked around the world as even an official of the highly oppressive Chinese government tweeted the words Floyd used to plead with his murderers, “I can’t breathe.”
Since then, there have been protests in each of our fifty states, and even in other countries around the world, against the brutality that certainly not all, but too many police officers have been emboldened to use without accountability against Black people. This disproportionate response that police officers use against Black people, Black men especially, is so widely recognized that White people call the police on them for doing nothing out of the ordinary in order to threaten their very lives. When those who are sworn to serve and protect instead threaten and even take the lives of an already marginalized group, there will eventually be a reckoning.
Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick tried to peacefully warn us that Black people and other people of color were being oppressed and that “There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Because many people wanted to distract attention from that message, they disingenuously objected to his form of protest—quietly, peacefully kneeling during the playing of our national anthem. So it should hardly come as a surprise with the cruel murder of George Floyd that protests are rocking our nation, even during a pandemic, since we have long been warned that without justice there can be no peace. Yet it is heartening to see that these protests are made up, not just of Black people, but of people of every background who have come together to demand accountability from their leaders, to demand an end to the systemic, structural racism that pervades our society and has infected some of our police officers. Black Lives Matter. Say it out loud.
We also know that there are opportunistic people who will attempt to hijack every movement for justice, whether they be looters who come out after dark to shatter glass and steal, or they be politicians, even a president who tries to rally his base by using tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters for a bizarre photo op, which was soundly condemned by his first Secretary of Defense, Retired Gen. James Mattis in a powerful op-ed in The Atlantic. As Mattis states: “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.”
Now the work must begin to restore the social contract that we Americans should have with each other: that the promise of liberty and justice for all applies to all Americans, and that it is up to those who enjoy privilege and power to use them for good. We applaud Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins for having the foresight to form his Commission on Race and Cultural Diversity, and we encourage all members of this community to support their work. We applaud the work that the YWCA has been doing to open the hearts and minds of this community through their “Dialogue on Race” series. We know there are certainly other efforts to educate and unify our community. Commit to being part of something that makes our community live up to its highest ideals and that unites us, not divides us. A divided nation, a divided city cannot successfully survive the many challenges that face us. We rise or fall together. Let us commit to rise.
Over 100 LGBTQ organizations recently released a statement condemning racial violence. We conclude here with a portion of that statement which reflects the lived reality of our lives as we commit to change for our Black brothers and sisters:
“The LGBTQ community knows about the work of resisting police brutality and violence. We celebrate June as Pride Month, because it commemorates, in part, our resisting police harassment and brutality at Stonewall in New York City, and earlier in California, when such violence was common and expected. We remember it as a breakthrough moment when we refused to accept humiliation and fear as the price of living fully, freely, and authentically.
“We understand what it means to rise up and push back against a culture that tells us we are less than, that our lives don’t matter. Today, we join together again to say #BlackLivesMatter and commit ourselves to the action those words require.”
For more information about PACE, “People Acting for Change and Equality,” Northwest Louisiana’s leading advocacy organization for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, go to www.pacelouisiana.org or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pacelouisiana.