Independence Day weekend. Looks like rain. Independence is one of those abstract words whose meaning becomes more and more vague the more I think about it. On July 4th, 1776, slavery was alive and well in America when the framers of the Declaration of Independence wrote, with no apparent sense of irony:
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Yet, the idea of unalienable rights is a noble one which, though not achieved, nor likely to be, during my lifetime, might yet be achieved during the lives of my children or grandchildren.
Meanwhile, I visited Minneapolis for the first time with friends last week. During our brief stay, we had time to do only one thing. Rather than visit a museum, or the downtown or the Mall of America, we chose to go to the makeshift memorial that had sprung up around the intersection where George Floyd was murdered. For me, the act of visiting the site served as a way to witness, to acknowledge history, to recognize this terrible thing.
The neighborhood looks like many neighborhoods in many cities and towns across America. The houses appear decently maintained, the storefronts active. In a park area near the murder site, there is an art installation of gravestones large enough to form a cemetery. Each stone contains the name of a Black man or woman killed by “law enforcement” officers.
That a police officer would step on a man’s neck in front of many witnesses seems unimaginable. Yet, that’s what happened, and a cloud of tragedy hangs over the street. I felt deeply aware that my friends and I, and many of the others at the site that day, are white. That the America in which we live, even if it looks like the same street, is not the America where police feel free to murder with impunity. I felt shame. Independence had no meaning for George Floyd. The day after our visit, his killer was sentenced, as if that could bring back the dead.
This morning I went to our local 4th of July parade. Black veterans rode in one vehicle, white in another, the crowd mostly white. I don’t have answers. The words are beautiful: Life, Liberty, Happiness. I want to believe they are possible.
Don’t forget to send in your submissions. Happy 4th.
Jessica for Larry and Esther