Real protest cannot leave those in power comfortable, and no matter how you think about yourself Greenwich citizens, the majority of you are power.
Greenwich is the wealthiest town in Connecticut, and one of the whitest. Most of you have never had a negative experience with police. I haven’t, and I know it’s because my skin is white. This past Saturday Indivisible Greenwich led a protest in front of Town Hall. Attendees were encouraged to make themselves comfortable on blankets on the green. We were told not to chant, not to march, not to block the street. Instead, we were told to sit and listen to white voices of power, and one black man who was a law enforcement officer.
We were told to protest and to vote, but there was no discussion of the problems in our own community. We were never asked to confront the complicity of Greenwich citizens, the history of slave ownership and slave catchers, the history of Indian genocide, the ongoing racism of our police and education all in this town and community.
Real protest makes power uncomfortable, but Saturday’s protest was run by power for power, and when I spoke to minority voices at the protest, they were the ones who were uncomfortable.
In an overwhelmingly white and wealthy area, where police are synonymous with safety and protection, where most people’s skin color has never meant that they are seen as less, it is easier to ignore the deep and systemic roots of racism in this community. It’s easier to forget how black and brown people in our community are subjected to mistreatment, how their voices are silenced.
To this day, the town maintains the home of the most prolific slave owner in our town’s history as a museum and example to our children. According to a Connecticut racial profiling 2016 report, in Greenwich black people were more than four times as likely to be stopped on the road as white people, and Latinx people were more than two times as likely.
I recently spoke to a Greenwich High school alumnus who experienced rampant discrimination, being called “Jango” and the N-word all through his high school career. The very ground we stand on is stolen from native people, and all over town, we have plaques commemorating that theft as “trade.”
I don’t know the history of the native people who were here before us, and that is a direct result of how our town educates our children. If you are white, think back on your professional and educational life. How many times were you given a voice or a promotion over your black and brown colleagues? Can you say with certainty that your skin played no role in that decision? Racism is not a vague specter wreaking havoc in the big cities, it is right here, in your police, in your schools, in your children, and in you.
Greenwich, we are glad to hear your voices of support at these protests, but your words ring hollow when they aren’t followed by real action and self-reflection.
Why is it that this protest lasted about an hour? Why is it the premiere speaker forgot George Floyd’s name? Why is it that this protest didn’t march or block the street? Why is it that this protest brought a police officer, a brother in blue with the men who murdered George Floyd and are gassing American citizens across the country, up to speak? Why is it that he was the only black voice on the mic?
The ending message of the speakers was to vote for Democrats. Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, and Seattle all have democratic mayors and governors, and yet, they sent out police with riot gear and tear gas to do battle with mainly peaceful protesters. This issue goes deeper than party, this issue is deeply systemic, and to pretend that voting alone will fix it is Utopian.
Commendably, speakers also asked protesters to keep these protests going, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Many of the words spoken at Saturday’s protest were commendable, they recognized systemic racism, they recognized the depravity of our leaders, but fundamentally, they were designed to keep white people comfortable.
Indivisible proposed a review of use of force by Greenwich police. Reform of this kind is absolutely necessary, but there was no discussion about its importance in our community or the racism that underpins its necessity. Overall, there was no attempt at introspection,
There were no discussions of the problems in our own community. Words of justice ring hollow when they come from a place of power.
Our police may not murder black people here as they do in other parts of the country, but make no mistake, they operate under the same system, built from the beginning on slave patrols. So Greenwich, don’t let your anger at George Floyd’s death be satisfied by this brunch hour PR stunt. Spending an hour lying comfortably on the grass, listening to platitudes that promise no real change does nothing.
If you were stirred by the video of George Floyd’s death, and by the deaths of uncountable numbers of black people like himself, murdered by racist cops who kill and racist cops who stand and watch, then take the time to educate yourself. Think long and hard about how you have contributed to systemic racism, through your internalized fear of black bodies, through your failures to teach your children true American history, flaws and all, through your support for a racist police department.
And take actions that change the shape of our community. Donate to bail funds, sign petitions, read anti-racist literature, and confront your friends and family when they are racist. You are not guilty for the crimes of your ancestors, but you are responsible for the benefits you reap through your complacency.
Aidan McLeod of Greenwich is a student at Amherst College.