The past is never dead. It's not even past.
—Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
I send this message today with a very heavy heart. Like many of you, I have been horrified and angered by the recent killing of a black man by a white police officer in Minneapolis earlier this week. Sadly, this is but the most recent reprehensible act of violence committed against a black person. Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sam DuBose, Philandro Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and now George Floyd.
In some sense, these victims are like Emmett Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and countless others of a bygone era who suffered brutal deaths.
But unlike the deaths of Till and Jackson, the current wave of killings is not being carried out through the extralegal efforts of a mob or Klansmen, but by those sworn to uphold and enforce the law.
To be sure, we are all troubled by the current Covid-19 crisis, which like all pandemics, strikes disproportionately against the poor and minorities. But the weight we all feel from our current circumstance is extraordinarily burdensome for people of color when we can once again hear the echoes of the words of Chief Justice Taney uttered so long ago that black people “ha[ve] no rights which the white man [is] bound to respect.”
Now the anger is being seen in cities across the country as riots reflect an outrage that refuses to wait for a justice that is long overdue. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man of peace, noted that a riot “is the language of the unheard.”
Our country must address now the inequities it has fostered. We can no longer ignore disparate health care treatment, inadequate educational opportunity, or biased, criminal justice policing.
The world is watching—literally.
And we must address and no longer ignore our past. We must prove Faulkner wrong.
—Benjamin F. Wilson, ELI Chairman of the Board