“I want to

touch the world”

“I want to touch the world” said Jonathan Veal, 45, recalling the aspiration of one of the young men — a tall, gregarious star athlete named George Floyd. To their 17-year-old minds, touching the world maybe meant the N.B.A. or the N.F.L.

 

Manny Fernandez and Audra D. S. Burch, NY Times

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Just days before video emerged of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, footage circulated on social media showing uniformed men in Myanmar manhandling prisoners of war in an area where many were killed. Other footage showed South African security forces brutalizing citizens for failing to abide by coronavirus curfew measures with reports of at least eight people killed. Protests also erupted in Nigeria over the killing of a businessman by police. All of the incidents received some international media attention and condemnation from human-rights campaigners.  

But as news spread across the world of Floyd’s final nine minutes and the heavy-handed US police response to the ensuing public rage, something different—something extraordinary—happened. 

Solidarity marches and gatherings took place from Sydney to Beirut to Istanbul to London to Berlin. Black Lives Matter, a slogan and hashtag coined some seven years ago in the United States to draw attention to police abuses against African Americans, trended globally on social-media networks and among protesters on the streets. 

 

Borzou Daragahi, Atlantic Council

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Who was George Floyd?

He was born in North Carolina and grew up in Houston where his mother moved the family after she and Floyd's father separated. Growing up, he was aspirational and a successful athlete in basketball and football. He was the first of his siblings to go to college - and went on an athletic scholarship - although he never received his degree. 

He returned to Texas after a couple of years of school and began a career as a rapper. The next ten years or so brought on a few arrests and incarcerations, mostly drug-related.

After serving his time in prison, Floyd found faith in the church and became a regular attendee. Through the church, he became involved in a program that had a history of moving men with similar backgrounds to Minnesota and providing them with rehabilitation and job placement services. 

Info pulled from multiple sources by Tyler Smith

“I can’t breathe!”

A police officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes even as Mr. Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe" and became unresponsive. The incident was clearly recorded on video.

"In many previous instances of police violence, there's a possibility of an ambiguous narrative - there's a partial view of what happened, or the police officer says they made a split-second decision because they feared for their life," Mr. Roberts said.

"In this case, it was a completely unambiguous act of injustice  where people could see this man [Floyd] was completely unarmed and incapacitated.”

Helier Cheung, BBC News

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Why did George Floyd’s death make a bigger impact than all the other stories of police brutality or color discrimination?

 

Angelo Zaccagnino

“There are a lot of reasons. Firstly, it was the video documentation of this horrific murder. It was a public execution that was seen by the entire world through social media. We watched the police murder him.”

 

Johnnie Lee

“Millions of people are sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are not distracted by their normal activities, so they were forced to stop and process what they saw in the video.”

 

Marco Smith

“Publicity of that racist brutality has just not ever been this accessible.”

 

Angelo Zaccagnino

“Secondly, black people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as a result of systemic racism including unequal access to health services, environmental racism, being underemployed, etc. They are not only more likely to get sick, but they are being harder hit economically. People are exhausted at seeing black men and women threatened (like Christian Cooper in Central Park in NYC) and killed by police or vigilantes (like Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia). The fact that there has been little to no justice for these murders is being added to the disproportionate response to COVID-19 has resulted in this reaction.”

 

Jamal Callender

“Where is justice? This is the outcry. This is why so many are angry, in rage, tired, empty, hopeless, and cannot find trust in a system that had benefited from free labor for centuries and in turn have continued to treat black people as if they are not fully human.”

 

Jason Jackson

“People are quick to try to label and categorize the death of George Floyd as the pivotal moment. Although this is definitely a decisive moment, people need to be aware of the many systemic injustices that have happened and continue to happen to black people in the USA and around the world.”

Educational Inequality

At the center of these debates are interpretations of the gaps in educational achievement between white and non-Asian minority students as measured by standardized test scores. The presumption that guides much of the conversation is that equal opportunity now exists; therefore, continued low levels of achievement on the part of minority students must be a function of genes, culture, or a lack of effort and will.

 

See, for example, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White.

 

The assumptions that undergird this debate miss an important reality: educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race. In fact, the U.S. educational system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states. Despite stark differences in funding, teacher quality, curriculum, and class sizes, the prevailing view is that if students do not achieve, it is their own fault. If we are ever to get beyond the problem of the color line, we must confront and address these inequalities.

 

Americans often forget that as late as the 1960s most African-American, Latino, and Native American students were educated in wholly segregated schools funded at rates many times lower than those serving whites and were excluded from many higher education institutions entirely.

 

Linda Darling-Hammond, The Brookings Institution

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Chad Ortiz

This was written in 1998! This is one of the many issues with racial inequality still being pressured for attention, 22 years later.

Our survey asked

"When did the black lives matter movement begin?"

70% correctly

30% incorrectly

according to our survey of 50 random men

Can you provide background on the black lives matter movement?

Where did it originate  |   What is the message  |  What is the ultimate goal 

Angelo Zaccagnino

“#BlackLivesMatter came into being in 2013 after a community watch guard (George Zimmerman) was acquitted of murder charges after shooting Trayvon Martin to death. In response to the apparent devaluing of black lives, the movement emerged through the work of three black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. In 2014, protests erupted in association with the movement after Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in NYC were killed in instances of police brutality.”

 

Marco Smith

“I find it unfortunate that Black Lives Matter has to exist, especially in the Land of the Free, but alas, I digress. BLM started from a nationwide collective effort of a group of brave but fed up Black citizens. I believe the goal of Black Lives Matter is to eradicate the need to mention that Black lives matter because we all bleed red and are capable of cohabitating. Until that day comes, BLM is sounding the alarm on Black issues in America and the world that otherwise would continue to go unnoticed.”

 

Jamal Callender 

When I say #blacklivesmatter, I am NOT saying all lives do not matter. We ALL KNOW all lives matter, but let’s be honest. We cannot simply wipe away the systemic hatred and brutalization of black people around the world and in America particularly. We cannot forget the enslavement, Jim Crow, civil rights, and mass incarceration.  To add to that, there’s the generational trauma that has been passed down through the fabric of the society we live in.

George Dellinger

The problem is the systems. How can we break them down and create a new social construct of true equality? It is going to be a massive challenge, and it will not happen overnight.

1971

The War on Drugs

and Mass Incarceration

Nixon officially declares a “War on Drugs” stating that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.”

No discussion of civil rights for blacks can be complete without addressing the issue of mass incarceration: a complicated issue that has roots as far back as the end of the Civil War. It was exacerbated by the policies put in place by President Reagan and Congress when they declared the "war on drugs." Those policies were maintained by Bush and even intensified by the crime bill passed in 1994 by President Clinton. It was only in George W. Bush's second term that the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine [almost the same substance] was finally addressed by the Supreme Court.

Misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements, especially pertaining to crack cocaine, have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color. The results have decimated minority families - black men, in particular, have been victims of the wars on drugs and on crime. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial and ethnic lines, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites. Although minorities use and sell drugs at a similar rate as whites.

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Do you feel the riots are about more than equality for black lives?

Marco Smith

Shamefully, most of these “riots” have been sparked by non-Black protesters. Seeing footage of law enforcement framing Black protesters or non-Black looters destroying things "for the cause" has been very disheartening.  These riots depict the ugly but very real separation of powers, whether it be civilian to law enforcement, classism, colorism, or gender and sexuality equality. 

 

Jamal Callender

Protests are different from rioting. There is civil obedience in protesting as we all have that right to protest in a free democracy. The riots and looting are a small fraction, and I do not want it to become a distraction or conflated! I think the media is making this more about riots and even calling some protests riots. I think riots are an outcry. How can I gain your full attention? You are not seeing me when I am pleading for help. You do not see me when I am killed. You do not see me when I am crying for justice. But you will see me if I make an impact on the economy since the capitalist system is built to care for the wallet of the country more than the people whom they serve. Some might find justice in rioting and hitting the gov’t where it hurts (their wallets), but I do not believe that it is the way to go! I do not believe in destroying businesses that many in our community depend on.

 

George Dellinger

For centuries, the black man has been looted by the white man. He ( and I say that as a general term for men /women/ children) has been enslaved and forced to live in a world controlled by white men.

Angelo Zaccagnino

It’s like the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s all in this one moment. People are realizing that the situation is fucked and the government is not on their side. They are failing in the pandemic response, they are bailing out corporations instead of helping citizens, and the police are killing people. 

20%

of the men surveyed could not properly identify what Jim Crow laws were.

 

47%

could not identify what “red-lining” referred to beginning in the 1930s

according to our survey of 50 random men

SEGREGATION & JIM CROW LAWS

During the Great Migration, a period between 1916 and 1970, six million African Americans left the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest, and West. Huge numbers moved northeast and reported discrimination and segregation similar to what they had experienced in the South.

 

As late as the 1940s, it was still possible to find “Whites Only” signs on businesses in the North. Segregated schools and neighborhoods existed, and even after World War II, black activists reported hostile reactions when blacks attempted to move into white neighborhoods.

 

Jim Crow Laws

a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation, which existed for about 100 years, were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education, and other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence, or death.

 

The roots of Jim Crow laws began as early as 1865 immediately following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

 

Red-Lining

Starting in the 1930s, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Home Owners' Loan Corporation conspired to create maps with marked areas considered bad risks for mortgages in a practice known as “red-lining.” The areas marked in red as “hazardous” typically outlined black neighborhoods. This kind of mapping concentrated poverty as (mostly black) residents in red-lined neighborhoods had no access or only very expensive access to loans. 

The practice did not begin to end until the 1970s. Then, in 2008, a system of “reverse red-lining,” which extended credit on unfair terms with subprime loans, created a higher rate of foreclosure in black neighborhoods during the housing crisis.

#blacklivesmatter has seemed to successfully grab hold of people's attention in 2020 but has been active since 2013 at the dawn of social media and all its connecting power. Where is the movement gaining momentum from?

 

Marco Smith

The 'Age of the Influencer' is upon us. Notable activists like Shaun King and other power-move makers are spewing out information and evidence about the mistreatment of Black lives that are going viral, so it's now impossible to not know what's happening. The global shutdown, caused by COVID-19, has been a bittersweet occurrence. We've sadly lost countless citizens to this virus; yet the fact that we were all forced to stay in our homes with little excuse to be busy gave a chance for social media to spike in usage. 

George Dellinger

I think the movement is gaining power through the youth and how comfortable they are using social media. I’m so proud of the millennial population for stepping up and leading these demonstrations. They see that it’s their future world that they’re fighting for.

65%

think non-black people truly care about the Black Lives Matter Movement 

35%

think they are just jumping in on the bandwagon

according to our survey of 50 random men

What happens when more people try to involve their voice outside of the black community? I’m noticing the LGBTQ and trans community stepping forward. The Latin communities. What about “all lives matter?”

 

George Dellinger

The LBGT community has been fighting for decades.  I marched and protested so hard in the 80s and 90s for AIDS, the Right to Marry, and anti-discrimination. Remember Matthew Shepherd.... his murder? That sparked a massive movement for gay rights in the 90s. Us older queers remember and know how numbers matter. We know what it feels like to have a voice that’s not heard. 

The trans community is the same, It’s their moment right now to shine, be seen, be heard. The more people from the LBGTQ community that get behind BLM, the better.

Latinos are also a group, second to black... who suffer the same injustices.  All lives do matter, but right now, I think that we need a specific act that represents the movement. The killing of George Floyd was that act.

 

Jason Jackson

Many “non-black” people are also rallying against the discrimination against black communities and are voicing their opposition. This is imperative for the movement. 

 

Another part of the discourse or argument against “black lives matter” is the “all lives matter” tenet. A lack of understanding of the current state of societal inequity and racism is what often leads to this reactionary and defensive response. I read something on social media that addresses this in terms of personal loss which is something people tend to relate to and understand: 

 

If your house was the only house on the block on fire, and the fire department arrived and started spraying your neighbor’s home with water. When you question their tactics, the fire chief responds, “Well, all houses matter!” What would your response be? All houses are created equal but not all houses are being treated and valued equally. Would you sit by quietly and watch as your house burned to the ground, or would you grow more and more irate as the Fire Department ignored your pleas? To make matters worse, your neighbors remained silent and some even nodded approval as they grabbed their garden hoses and tended to their own homes. This is essentially what black people in America face. Their houses are on fire and the systems in place to serve and protect society are not doing their jobs. To make matters worse, a large swathe of white America is complicit in this with their silence and acceptance of their privilege at the expense of black people.

Marco Smith

There is so much work to be done concerning the health of humanity. There are so many issues in America alone that need to be addressed.

Johnnie Lee

Racial inequality is a complicated matter that is rooted in centuries of systematic barriers and cruelty heaped upon black people who were brought to the United States as slaves and then subjected to torture and legalized disenfranchisement in an effort to deny equality.  I don't find it helpful to debate if other lives matter in the context of our current discussion about racial inequality. 

Slavery

Hundreds of thousands of Africans, both free and enslaved, aided the establishment and survival of colonies in the Americas and the New World. However, many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be 1619, when the privateer The White Lion brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The crew had seized the Africans from the Portugese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista. 

 

Throughout the 17th century, European settlers in North America turned to enslaved Africans as a cheaper, more plentiful labor source than indentured servants, who were mostly poor Europeans.

Though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of some of its healthiest and ablest men and women.

90%

believe white privilege exists

10%

firmly believe it doesn’t exist

according to our survey of 50 random men

White Privilege

Jamal

Here is the reality: we all benefit from our ancestors. Privilege comes in many shapes and forms. White people in America had a head start in gaining wealth in America. Black people were held back from being a part of the American Dream by chains. Let’s fully understand that black people were enslaved: working for free so that White Americans and Europe thrived off the harsh labor.  After the Civil War (which was not about freeing slaves but was to ensure the South wouldn’t uprise and have a greater economy than the North), Black people were still not given the opportunities. Jim Crow, housing, education, and mass incarceration all demonstrate that white people have consistently had a greater distance of acquiring wealth than black people.

Johnnie

White privilege is real.  Whether white people have any cultural challenges within the white race is not relevant to the discussion of white privilege.  White privilege means that an individual's whiteness affords opportunities, consideration, and protection that is often not afforded to black people.   White privilege is not something that most white people are conscious of or seek for themselves; however, it is inherently present because of the way many people view race.

Marco Smith

I don't believe the idea of "White Privilege" is as big of a secret as most White citizens are pretending it is. All a White individual has to do is ask themselves if they'd honestly trade lives with a Black person.

Do you believe racism has become worse or we are in a new age where it has a different voice through social media?  

 

 

Jamal

I do not think it has gotten worse. I do, however,  think it is being filmed and called out more!

 

George

Well, I can say that racism has not gotten “better.” Social media does give it a different voice. It gives equal voice to the fighters of racism and to the proponents of it . More people have access to viewing and experiencing racism as it affects the masses. 

 

Marco

Social media can absolutely be convoluted, especially with all the possibilities to tamper with and/or fabricate pertinent information, but one can't deny its contribution to offering the masses the same overall story: something is not right and definitely needs to change.

 

Angelo

Racism is and always has been experienced everywhere. Now, with social media, a lot of people can document their experiences, and I think this plays a very important role. Social media has a big potential for making changes because more people can see more information and be educated. 

What is your race and what has your overall experience been with racism?

 

Angelo

I am Caucasian: a white man from a developed country, Italy. As such, I haven’t experienced any racial discrimination due to my skin color. However, I have witnessed racism against the community of immigrants from Africa. This is already frustrating enough to see; I cannot imagine experiencing this personally and even risking my life as an African immigrant. My country has always been open to exchange with other cultures, but in recent times, this form of racism towards immigrants has increased dramatically. A blind and conservative political class, as well as a troubled economic situation, have contributed. 

 

George

I am Caucasian, white. But I am Cuban, and in that sense, technically Latino.

I grew up in the Deep South, Birmingham AL in the 60s/70s. I was the ONLY Latino in my school and communities. As I grew older and attended a very liberal hippy high private boarding school, I didn’t experience the same racism as I did when I was younger. It was kind of a bubble of “equality” in a racist world.

 

 

Johnnie

I am black, and I was born in the United States. 

 

I have experienced both subtle and blatant racism throughout my life.  As a young child in the 1970's, my siblings and I had a glass bottle thrown at us from a passing car of white men. They yelled, "Niggers go home", as we stood outside the downtown movie theater waiting for our mother to pick us up after the movie we had just seen.  As a board-certified physician, I was told in 1997 by a white physician who was interviewing me for a position in his medical practice, that no practice in that southern New England town would be willing to hire me simply because I was black.  He felt certain that the patients in those practices would refuse to see a black physician.  Sadly, he was correct.

 

Jamal

I'm a black man, Bajan-American, and my experience with race is a long memoir that will take too long to recall. I will start at the beginning when I was only 8 years old traveling with my family from California to New York. We stopped at a diner I believe in Arizona or New Mexico. I was hungry and excited to eat. I remember my family walked into the diner, and it was as if the world had paused. We were at the front door, and all eyes immediately turned to us. My dad grabbed me and told all of us to get in the car “NOW!” At 8 years old, I did not understand the gravity of what just occurred. I was just upset because I wanted something to eat. I was so naive and innocent. From that day on, I was no longer a child; I became a target. I am still haunted by all those eyes on me. To this day, my family has not talked about that moment. I know my mom and dad did the right thing and saved us all from the unknown. I will never want to know. 

As a dancer in the industry, there is so much systemic racism that you become so numb and accustomed to the daily situations. This is also a longer conversation.

 

One morning on the tram in Germany, I held the door for a woman (black) with a stroller as she approached the tram to enter. A white man who was inside the tram apparently was frustrated that I held the door for this woman with her child in a stroller and proceeded to tell the both of us to “GO BACK TO AFRICA.” I was only on the tram for 1 stop and was stunned and shocked by his assertion that I was from Africa and that I should go back. I've never in my life been to Africa. I would love to go one day, but the fact that his response was to go back to a place I never been was terrifying. He didn’t think I belonged in Germany or Europe. I had to get off the tram and enter the theater and start my day at work. What a great way to start my day.

Systematic Racism

SLAVERY

SEGREGATION

JIM CROW LAWS

WAR ON DRUGS

EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITY

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

Do you see it?

Thank you to our contributors for #blacklivesmatter

July 2020

Angelo Zaccagnino

@angelo19_88

Interviewed

Marco Smith

@lmarcomusic

Interviewed

Tyler Jack

@dandytyler

Intern for Willpower

Research

Jamal Callender

@jamalcallender

Interviewed

Jason Jackson

@jasonjacksonimages

Interviewed & Photography

Dezi Tibbs

@mx_deziduck

Intern for Willpower

Post-Editing

George Dellinger

@georgedellinger

Interviewed

Johnnie Lee

Interviewed

Chad Allen Ortiz

@chadallenortiz

Founder of Willpower

Editor - in - Chief

Demographic Reach of the 50 men surveyed...

Ages...

_DSC1174.jpg

All photography by Jason Jackson

@jasonjacksonimages

During the 2020 NYC BLM Protests

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