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Let this loneliest of deaths turn America around

Each of us dies alone. If we are blessed to have family at our side, we still go forth alone. Yet no one's death could be lonelier than that of George Floyd. On a crowded Minneapolis street, he died abjectly alone, uncomforted, willed to death by the decision not to show mercy nor act justly. It was not unlike being crucified on a hilltop. 

Anyone who does not feel the chill of aloneness and powerlessness emanating from the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a black American, is looking the other way and blocking the sounds, either shrinking from the image or, far worse, filtering it through a biased perspective.

"I can't breathe."

The killing of Floyd at the knees of Minneapolis police officers on May 25th may have left us breathless with horror at first. But since then, ordinary people of all races and some Connecticut and community leaders have found their voices. They include city and town police, Gov. Ned Lamont, and institutions that serve as keepers of our heritage and culture. These have joined in protesting Floyd's death and the deaths of other black Americans whose names seem to be adding up faster than any time since the 1960s.

Nationwide and locally, the response of outrage and call for change grows louder. The Day welcomes the statements from a growing list: police chiefs of Norwich and New London and the mayors and councilors of New London; the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, which has been diverse and multicultural since its beginnings; the black clergy of Connecticut and nationally, urging constructive reaction and framing the racism that underlies these deaths; Blackout Tuesday on social media, including the Lyman Allyn Art Museum's statement of racial justice; CAIR, representing the Islamic community; Bank Square Books and the Savoy Bookshop and their list of books that can help understand the scourge of American racism.

The list of those speaking up grows, but what good are words in the face of the evil of Floyd's killing and the chaotic escalation of protests into riots and looting? Turn it around: What a failure is silence, when thoughtful people and the institutions they represent don't condemn racially based brutality and urge justice. Words address the stark loneliness of those wondering if it will never stop because sometimes only its victims seem to get it.

Two groups in particular have spoken significantly: scholars and writers from the black community, who have both personal experiences and professional expertise in racial discrimination; and protesters who stayed mindful of why they were out there, condemning the looting.

Both groups have the standing to tell white America what it needs to hear, such as this from author Austin Channing Brown on Twitter:  “I’m gonna say this gently (for now). The photos of police kneeling or being nice or joining the march are nice. That is NOT going to solve the problem. We are not asking for niceness. We are demanding freedom. And freedom requires systemic change, policy change, abolition.” Or this, from the Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner: "It is way past time to demand fair policing for all Americans. Fair policing is not an attack on police. It is a call for policing that assures the safety of citizens of every background, race, and culture."

It is respectful and wise to seek the opinions of those who have experienced racism. Words will only lead to meaningful change, however, when those who have not been its victims comprehend the inhumanity and damage to our country. That is why we need to hear white voices, police voices, voices from faith traditions, voices of artists, voices of leaders resolving to educate, legislate, and prosecute for racial justice.

The United States is still in the middle of a pandemic that has shown the ultimate loneliness of deaths in isolation. Let us not waste the lessons of humility and compassion that the COVID virus has forced upon us. The lonely death of George Floyd could be a turning point if we speak up, stand up, and demand change — together.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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