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A woman lies in the street as protesters gather Wednesday, May 27, 2020 near the site of the arrest of George Floyd who died in police custody Monday in Minneapolis after video shared online by a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minneapolis is burning.

Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for all things, even burning.

"After praying, holding hands, resisting, dying, marching, taking the beating, being gassed, filing complaints, voting, praying some more, asking, begging, pleading, and some more praying, recording the videos and they still getting away with murder, what's left?" my friend Chris Newby asked. "What's the next move?"

The riot-anger isn't just in Minnesota.

It is here.

"There is so much anger in the black community in this city," one black Chattanooga man told me.

That anger must go somewhere.

It can be suppressed and turned inward.

Or it can be expressed and go outward.

You may call it rioting.

Or looting.

It's actually just cause and effect. It's the physics of racism: for every action, sooner or later, there is a reaction.

***

The center of this story is not even George Floyd, the black Minnesotan who died — video shows a white officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes — on Monday.

It is the story of thousands of George Floyds. The Eric Garners and Mary Turners and Ed Johnsons and Ahmaud Arberys and Wadie Suttleses. It is the Middle Passage. It is mandatory minimums. It is crossing to the other side of the street —never making eye contact, eyes always downcast — when a white woman strolls by. Even though you're 60, and she's 16.

It is thousands of knees on the neck.

It is thousands of nine minutes.

It is thousands of white bystanders who do nothing.

The center of this story is not even Minneapolis.

It is Jamestowne, 1619. It is Pulaski, 1865. It is Tulsa, 1921. It is Chattanooga, 1980. It is America, 2020.

It is knowing a black history full of unvanquished strength and will, yet watching it reduced to one month of lip service.

The center of this story?

It sure as hell isn't looting at a Target store.

But since so much of white America — from the media to the president — seems more critical of burning buildings and stores than a gasping Floyd, then let's talk about looting.

Yes, it is the language of the unheard, as King said.

It is also the language of American history.

The Boston Tea Party was looting.

Westward expansion was looting.

Slave labor was looting.

Much of white America wants to condemn property violence in Minnesota while remaining silent about our own looting history, or the violence of present-day poverty, underemployment, packed prisons, policed neighborhoods, 21st-century nooses, white women calling the cops while black men watch birds, or black men shot while running.

For many, a big box department store represents the nameless economic face of a country that has never loved, dignified or listened to black people.

A department store represents the financial America of redlining, profiling and payday loans. Where white-sounding resumes get more interviews than black-sounding resumes. Where there are only four African American Fortune 500 CEOs.

If my entire life has been spent on the block, watching my mom work two jobs, watching more folks go to prison than college, then why would I protect your department store?

If my entire life has been spent being twice as good, elevating, uplifting, speaking out and even still, George Floyd is killed, then why would I protect your department store?

I can't explain this to you at the country club, where I park cars or wash dishes. My voice can't reach you in your gated condo. All I can do is express my anger on what is before me: your store.

"They do not have the [expletive] right to judge us while their systems are killing us," one black Chattanoogan — a woman, a friend — told me. "If I have been drinking Red Dog for years and have a chance to drink Maker's Mark, so be it. If I have no future, I'll take your material [expletive] and enjoy the time I have."

***

I can't breathe, cried Eric Garner.

I can't breathe, cried George Floyd.

I can't breathe, cried so many of our nation's 100,000 coronavirus victims, many of them black or brown skinned.

Doesn't the Bible tell us that the air we breathe is actually the breath of God?

White America, do you see the face of God in George Floyd?

***

People are so hungry.

The list of black Chattanoogans feeding neighbors — black, brown and white — continues to grow. (Troy Rogers and Tony Oliver served their 10,000th meal last week.)

When the pandemic hit, Pastor Ron King and his Inner Peace congregation began handing out non-perishable items.

A few weekends ago, they lit the grill.

"There's something about getting a hot meal," he said.

Beside the Walgreens on Brainerd Road, they grill hot dogs, burgers, pork sandwiches. Drinks. Chips. Soon, hand sanitizer. Two Saturdays ago, they grilled more than 700 lunches.

All for free.

"We know that a lot of people are out of work," said King, who also mentors at The Howard School.

They start around 11:30 a.m. and go until 4 p.m.

"We know people would need food, especially with people being laid off," he said.

To volunteer or donate, call King at 423-320-1585.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook
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