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  • Sen. Mia McLeod

Sound Off: How can all lives matter if black lives don’t?

Imagine being a new mom. If you’ve had this experience, you know the pain of childbirth quickly dissipates when your beautiful bundle of joy arrives. One look and it’s obvious that you never even knew what love was until that moment.

Imagine loving, nurturing, teaching and protecting that amazing little boy as he grows and evolves into a young man. And an eager world awaits his promise.

Now, imagine that same scenario. But this time, you’re a black mom. And instead, a cruel world is already plotting his demise.

There’s no pain that compares to the realization that all the love in your heart can’t protect him from a vicious, violent hatred that pursues him relentlessly. A hatred he can see and feel, but never escape.

So you teach him to adapt. Work harder. Be smarter. Follow the rules. Turn the music down. Be mindful of the way he looks, speaks, dresses, behaves. Don’t give them a reason.

But then … Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd didn’t give them a reason.

And still, they were murdered.

No justice. No accountability. And for communities of color, no peace.

As a black woman, I know first hand what racism looks and feels like because of a lifetime of experience. Unlike my sons, white America doesn’t consider me a physical threat. But at 6’3” and 250 pounds, my baby boy could easily become the target of a racist cop who couldn’t care less about who he is, how much he’s loved or that his athletic build is simply aligned with that of a tight-end.

And before George Floyd’s fateful encounter on May 25, the world didn’t seem to care either.

We’re quickly approaching the fifth anniversary of the Mother Emanuel shootings when Dylann Roof, intending to start a race war, took a loaded gun into that Wednesday evening Bible Study. He failed. But so did we, by not having the tough conversations and doing the difficult work to begin to assess how we got here. And more importantly, how we begin to acknowledge the pain and reform the policies and institutions that have systematically oppressed, disenfranchised and discriminated against black and brown people for centuries.

The vitriol that followed from those who didn’t want the Confederate Flag removed from the Statehouse grounds is still here. Still palpable. It’s five years later and I’m still called the N-word … still helping my people navigate the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 because of decades of disparate treatment we receive when it comes to healthcare, income, opportunities and quality of life.

Even during a global pandemic and time of national unrest, I still receive emails from people who are outraged about the inhumanity of killing a 100-year old alligator, but not the countless murders of unarmed black men.

I recently heard from a Midlands gentleman who doesn’t live in my district, but emailed me, not words of encouragement or empathy, but of outrage about my support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

There’s no concern about the fact that in this country, black lives have never mattered.

In fact, the universal response of my white brothers and sisters is usually, “Yeah … but ‘all’ lives matter.”

How can all lives matter if black lives don’t?

When I see Ahmaud Arbery being hunted like a wild animal while jogging in his own neighborhood … when I replay George Floyd’s face in his final moments … or hear him plead for his life, cry out for his mama … tell his killers he can’t breathe … I wonder if my white brothers and sisters will ever see what we see.

These are tough, but critical conversations if we ever want to effect meaningful change. Peaceful protests give voice to our pain and show unity and strength as we march for justice, accountability and transparency.

But after the protests, we need action to:

  • Pass a Hate Crimes bill

  • Repeal South Carolina’s Citizens’ Arrest Law

  • Demand racial justice and equality

  • Improve community policing

  • Update “Use of Force” policies

  • Reform our criminal justice system

  • Mandate diversity and implicit bias training

  • Assess police officers’ mental health

  • Restructure our government

Repeal the discriminatory, oppressive, unjust policies that have systematically kept “knees on our necks” for decades

Systematic, institutional change takes time. Black America can’t do it alone because “Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

I’m one of 170 S.C. lawmakers. Some of my white colleagues are more than cohorts. They’re friends. And yet, very few have reached out to talk, listen, acknowledge our pain or ask how they can support.

“Christian” Conservatives who inundate us with anti-abortion rhetoric about their state and national efforts to protect the unborn are always eerily silent when it comes to protecting the lives of the born.

We need our white brothers and sisters to not only take a stand. We need you to take action … now, because we can never go back to the way things were.

Say something. Do something. Change what you can where you can because it’s painfully obvious that “we can’t breathe” until all of our black lives matter.

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