I am not okay, and you shouldn’t be either

It is all too convenient to focus on the looters and not on the voices of protesters. I challenge you to listen harder.

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Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed man who was pleading that he could not breathe.

Darnella Frazier/via AP

I am not okay. He casually rested his hand on his leg.

Seemingly without a concern in the world, Derek Chauvin casually rested his left hand on his leg as he kept his knee firmly on George Floyd’s neck, while on camera, in broad daylight.

It made me regret watching the whole video, but once I started, I could not look away. It gutted me, a mom of four, to hear a 46-year-old man pleading for his mother — and for his life. And not one of the other officers moved — not one. The casual disregard for Mr. Floyd’s life disgusted me.

I am not okay, and you shouldn’t be either.

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To add insult to injury, this all happened under the color of law at the hands of those charged with the supreme responsibility of protecting our most vulnerable. As Cook County state’s attorney and as a black woman, I am heartbroken — my heart aches each and every time this happens.

As a child of Chicago — and a child of the Cabrini-Green housing projects — my heart also broke when I saw our communities further damaged in the days that followed.

But there is a gravely important mistake we must not make and must not allow others to make: we cannot compare the casual destruction of George Floyd to the opportunistic destruction of buildings, cars and streets at the hands of those who want to hijack this moment for their own selfish motivations.

It is all too convenient to focus on the looters and not on the voices of protesters. So I challenge you to listen harder, to be more discerning.

For those who are inclined to think the anger, rage and heartache echoing through our streets right now is solely because of George Floyd’s murder, I can only assume that you’ve chosen to look away from what got us here. If you really listen, you are forced to acknowledge that this goes far beyond George Floyd’s death. This is about the longstanding casual disregard for black lives in our country.

It is intentional and structural.

We’ve seen it play out in the COVID-19 pandemic as black people succumb to the disease at much higher rate, illuminating the underlying health conditions and health disparities that are rooted in systemic bias and lack of access to healthcare. Yet many look away.

We’ve seen it as black people face the pandemic as frontline workers at much higher numbers, make less money or, worse, are more likely to lose their jobs. Yet many look away.

We’ve seen it in the historical disinvestment in our black neighborhoods here in Chicago and around the country, rooted in the discriminatory practice of redlining. Yet many look away.

We cannot face this moment without reckoning with the systemic racism that got us here.

I’ve even seen it in my role as Cook County state’s attorney — the first black woman to hold the office — implementing progressive reforms rooted in my lived experience as the product of a hardworking single mother, as a survivor of childhood sexual assault myself and as someone who knows what it’s like to be homeless.

Though my office has overturned convictions in more than 80 cases, decreased homicides and shootings by nearly 40 percent, launched an initiative to expunge more than 700,000 marijuana-related convictions and begun reforming our bail system to ensure that wealth is not a determinant of whether or not you spend time in jail, I am held to a different standard than my white peers.

This heightened standard is often rooted in the casual expectation of black exceptionalism — the same exceptionalism that did not spare a black bird watcher in Central Park from harassment.

We cannot afford for you to keep looking away, and it should not take the constant killing of black men and women to reckon with the systemic nature of what has long been wrong with our country.

To those who choose to stand in defense of black lives as allies, I thank you. But I also urge you to keep your ears open, to continue to learn so that you are guided by the voices of those directly impacted by this unjust system and not misguided by privilege.

While I will hold accountable those who show up under false pretenses and loot our great city, we must cleave to the rallying cries of protesters who vastly outnumber those who wish to cause harm. And we must bravely face what got us here — the casual disregard for black lives. For example, there has been a lot of talk about looting last week, but the decades-long disinvestment is its own form of looting, one far more difficult to fix than restocking some store shelves and calling the problem solved.

For those taking to the streets in earnest protest, I urge you — when the streets begin to clear, do not stand with your hands in your pockets. Strengthen your resolve and look even closer at the systemic injustice and continued trauma that plagues black communities in our country. We cannot afford to look away again.

I depend on it, my husband depends on it, my children depend on it, and our country depends on it.

Kim Foxx was elected Cook County state’s attorney in 2016.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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