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Omaha Magazine

No Longer Numb: A Writer Finds His Voice

Jun 05, 2020 06:02PM ● By J.D. Avant
J.D. Avant with his dog

I did not think George Floyd’s death would make a difference. Unarmed black men killed by police officers is tragic, but nowadays, it’s regular news. A familiar chain of events was likely to unfold, including outrage and protests led by black figureheads like the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter organization. 

I imagined political pundits and lawyers debating the facts of the case on television and podcasts. The movement would swell to a fever pitch on social media, but ultimately all of that hope and passion would precede disappointment after another group of policemen were found innocent in a courtroom.

Such a cynical viewpoint may stem from some familiarity with unruly lawmen. I can still remember hearing the racking of a 12-gauge shotgun near my 11-year-old head as an officer yelled “DON’T MOVE!” on account of mistaken identity. 

I was almost the same age as Tamir Rice, but his 2014 encounter with Ohio police resulted in the 12-year old’s death.  

A routine trip to Lowe’s near 72nd and Dodge streets on the weekend of the first protests would change my mind. As I walked towards the entrance, I spotted a wallet laying near the automatic doorway. I looked towards a fellow loading his truck with plants before a young man swooped in to grab the billfold.

“Holy crap, I almost lost a grand,” he said frantically. Tall, thin and white, his black baseball cap was pulled down close to his bespectacled eyes. He was full of energy, and when he spoke it was obvious that he was moved by George Floyd’s tragic death.

The young man spoke passionately about revolution, fairness, and how this generation would lead the charge for change in America. Spit flew from his mouth as he expressed disgust after seeing a policeman kneel on another human being’s neck for over eight minutes. His speech was over almost as quickly as he’d appeared, and he offered his hand in brotherhood before departing for the next round of protests.

That encounter spoke volumes. I continued to witness on television and online how people around the world were reacting, and suddenly this wasn’t just another murder that could be swept under the rug. 

Unlike protests for Eric Garner, I witnessed a range of diverse protesters taking to the streets, including whites, Hispanics, and Asians standing beside their black brothers and sisters. 

Unlike Philando Castile, I didn’t see a myriad of news reports bringing up past transgressions to besmirch the deceased’s name. 

What I’ve seen is a compelling call for justice from Americans young, old, and from all walks of life. Policemen kneeling and walking besides protesters in a display of solidarity melts even my cynical heart. Seeing Floyd’s funeral take over network channels like he was a celebrity shows me something is different about this movement.

It’s been a couple weeks since Floyd’s death, and there’s actually a glimmer of hope for the future. Here’s to our great nation realizing the expectations, values, and good will America was built upon.  

This online-only piece was written by regular Omaha Magazine contributing writer J.D. Avant in June, 2020.