Minneapolis, Minn.; Louisville, Ky.; Brunswick, Ga. These are the latest cities turned inside out because of the killing of innocent black men and women by members of law enforcement. Rightly, the outrage and the pain have spread to every corner of the nation, including cities and communities here in South Carolina.
This pain is chronic, inescapable, unyielding and personal. For as long as I have known myself, I have felt it. Like most black folks I’ve learned to live with it. But watching George Floyd being pinned to the ground, gasping for air, calling out for the loving embrace of his deceased mother shook me to my very core and forced me to realize that I can no longer tolerate the pain.
I’m tired. My community is tired. We are fed up.
When I flip on the news, I don’t see chaos; I see a community crying out in pain and seeking relief. The tears of parents or siblings praying for their missing loved ones reminds me of my childhood. I remember the hurt I saw in my grandmother’s eyes when she told me she had to huddle with family members as members of the Ku Klux Klan marched through her neighborhood with torches. To this day, I still feel the pain watching videos about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman—who turned out to be a liar—and whose round face reminds me of my own. I remember hearing the soul wrenching pain in the voice of Billie Holiday, the first time I listened to her song “Strange Fruit,” a ballad about “black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.”
Those are my memories and my pain, but what about my kids? My two beautiful black boys my wife and I are raising. How do I explain to my beautiful black sons they could be treated differently because of the color of their skin? How do I tell them this prejudice could incite those who are sworn to protect and serve them to one day hurt or kill them? While some parents fear stealing the innocence of their kids by dispelling the myths of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, black parents like me have a dangerous undertaking. It is my worst nightmare to know what could happen some day while my sons are walking home from the store, jogging in the neighborhood or being pulled over by the police.
In 1968 in my hometown of Orangeburg, S.C., National Guard troops and South Carolina Highway Patrol shot and killed unarmed black college students and civil rights leaders protesting segregation at a bowling alley in my hometown of Orangeburg. In 2015, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston was visited by a racist gunman who opened fire on our brothers and sisters, murdering nine parishioners and clergy, including my friend, state Sen. Clemente Pinckney. That same year, an unarmed Walter Scott was shot in the back by a policeman in broad daylight, as he ran for his life in North Charleston.
These incidents are not new because black Americans have been beaten, mutilated and lynched for centuries in the South and across the nation.
So what is different in 2020? Simply, the cameras are on.
Enough is enough. We are done with the racial profiling, bias and over-policing that have plagued our communities for decades. We are tired of lawmakers responding to hate crimes with prayers but no meaningful works. It is past time to toughen hate crime legislation, end private prisons and cash bail, and train law enforcement officials on implicit bias and ways to deescalate situations instead of immediately resorting to lethal violence.
The timeless words of the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” has to become meaningful and more than just beautiful prose. I will not stop fighting until everyone across our nation feels safe in their neighborhoods, their schools and their places of worship.
I am running for this U.S. Senate seat—once held by a segregationist Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman and now a lackluster Lindsey Graham—because South Carolina deserves a leader who will do more than pay lip service to this crisis.
As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” For the sake of my sons and for our children, who are our nation’s future, we must address these deep-rooted injustices and move forward as a state and nation.
Jaime Harrison is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina, running against Sen. Lindsey Graham.