Some may look at the protests around the US and ask how did this happen, but the more astute among us should be wondering why it doesn’t happen more frequently. The specific incident that precipitated these demonstrations was the murder of an African American man named George Floyd by a police officer named Derek Chauvin while other officers stood by and watched it happen. In my view Chauvin and every officer who were present but did nothing to prevent this murder should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, I am also aware that this kind of killing continues to occur all too frequently in America. It is heartbreakingly easy to add Floyd’s name to long list of African Americans killed by police. There is not enough room to say all of their names, but we all should know the names of Michael Brown, Eleanor Bumpurs, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Breonna Taylor and many more.

These and many other similar murders have been in the background of white American life for decades; and the background is exactly where white America wants to keep these murders. Some committed white supremacists simply believe that the police are always right and that the loss of an African American life is not a problem. Others don’t see this violence around them constantly because they (we) are focused on our own lives. While we recognize the injustice, we also know deep down that our white skin protects us, to a great degree, from the worst forms of police brutality.

The president has made it clear which side he is on by Tweeting racist slogans from the Civil Rights era, threatening to mobilize the military, violently dispersing demonstrators for a photo op and continuing to reinforce white supremacy at every turn

Now as the demonstrations and rebellion enter their second week, white America finds itself at a “which side are you on” moment. The president has made it clear which side he is on by Tweeting racist slogans from the Civil Rights era, threatening to mobilize the military, violently dispersing demonstrators for a photo op and continuing to reinforce white supremacy at every turn. It is not only Donald Trump, but every Republican politician who remains silent in the face of Trump’s racism and, yes, every American who intends to vote for Trump November, who are complicit as well.

The rest of us are not off the hook for this so easily either. It is a simple political reality of the US in 2020 that anybody who believes in racial equality and bringing down deep structural racism must vote for Joe Biden and for the entire Democratic Party ticket, but doing that is very far from enough. White people who believe that looting is a bigger problem that the state killing innocent people of color, that voting is the only answer, that the problem is only a few bad cops or any of the other tropes we tell ourselves to allow us to ignore this state sponsored violence and murder, are also part of the problem.

The demonstrations on the streets of so many American cities today can change America or they can fade away after a few weeks while congress and state legislatures do little. If that happens white America will once again have chosen convenience over equality, excuses over justice and white supremacy over democracy.

That is the morally and ethically wrong thing to do, but it is also very risky bet right now. In recent years national demonstrations against police violence, for example in 2014 when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and in 1992 when the Los Angeles police officers who beat up Rodney King were acquitted, occurred during times of substantial political and social stability. The rebellions in American cities between about 1966 and 1968 occurred at a time of less domestic stability, but President Johnson pushed for civil rights legislation and unlike the current occupant of the White House, never actively worked to destabilize and divide the country.

The demonstrations on the streets of so many American cities today can change America or they can fade away after a few weeks while congress and state legislatures do little. If that happens white America will once again have chosen convenience over equality, excuses over justice and white supremacy over democracy.

We are in a different place now. The demonstrations are occurring at a time when racial divisions have been exacerbated by the president since he began his campaign back in 2015, a pandemic has gutted the economy, political and ideological polarization is already very high and the president’s response thus far seems driven more by his anger, hatred and infantile desire to seem strong rather than any attempt to bring the country together. This makes for a very explosive combination where civil unrest of any kind can lead to grave consequences.

White America has gotten by for years by saying the right platitudes and letting the demonstrations run their course and eventually come to an end. Assuming that will happen this time could be a dangerous miscalculation. This is the moment for white America to confront the deep role that white supremacy has always played in our body politic and to finally join with, and support, those demonstrators bravely fighting for democracy in the face of a pandemic to demand real change, and not stop until it is achieved.

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