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Why I Decided To Protest During A Pandemic

Since the murder of George Floyd there has been a global effort to raise awareness of the injustices that black people continue to endure and although there's still a pandemic among us, here's the reason why I decided to protest.

I remembered in January of 2020 hearing about COVID-19 being originated in Wuhan China as it rapidly began spreading throughout the country. It was only weeks later before it was considered a global pandemic and the life we once knew would forever change. In North America, the United States and Canada slowly began shutting down. First, it was sports, then businesses, and finally self-isolation. At the government's request, we complied. Practicing social-distancing, wearing a mask when in public, quarantining ourselves as needed. Then a series of events began to occur.

Prior to the global uprising, members of the black community (including runners) were outraged at a video that surfaced of a young black man by the name of Ahmaud Arbery who was shot and killed in Glynn County, Georgia while going for a run. The two white men Travis McMichael and his father Gregory pursued Arbery and murdered him claiming they thought he was a burglar. The video was the starting point of the outrage of another unarmed black male killed unjustly.

The next two incidents set not only the country but the world on a path for social justice. The second incident was a cellphone video of Amy Cooper threatening to call the police on Christian Cooper an (avid bird watcher) after he asked to put her dog on a leash in Central Park. What was offensive about her actions was her claims to being attacked by an "African-American man" which not only was false but a direct threat to Mr. Cooper's life. Amy Cooper knew the power of that statement and used her privilege to weaponize the law to her advantage.

The last incident was the final moment of George Floyd's life ending in front of our eyes. Floyd was a Minnesota resident who had the police called on him because he used a counterfeit bill at a local convenience store. During the video, police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes as Floyd said several times, "I Can't Breathe." It was a statement similar to Eric Garner who was murdered by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo when he applied a chokehold which ultimately ended Garner's life. Memories of previous injustices and the recent incent of George Floyd sparked global outrage.

Before leaving New York City and relocating to Canada, I always had a mind-frame of "practicing what I preach." This included partaking in social justice issues as they applied to black people. Not only were these injustices a problem in my community but throughout the country. As a student of the Columbia School of Journalism at that time, I not only marched in full support, but I captured images and listened to the pain from my community as we dealt with the tragedies that plagued the country.

When George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin in 2013, I was there documenting the outrage in New York City from residents and city leaders such as Letitia James and public advocate Jumaane Williams.

In 2017 I was there among the people protesting the murder of Eric Garner. I documented and heard the stories of distrust between the public and the NYPD. Between that time countless other black men and women were killed while their families and members of the black community received no justice.

After moving to Canada, the racial tension and resentment against law enforcement weren't visible to me. I did not grow up in Canada and relocated to be with my wife in an effort to provide a better life here. However, what I would see going on back home was a constant reminder of what I dealt with personally as a black man and so many other black people from my community. Canada apparently had their own issues with systemic racism and decided to join the rest of the world in the Black Lives Matter movement.

So in the midst of a pandemic, I was initially cautious about attending another protest. I felt it was risky considering the potential spike in COVID-19 cases due to the exposure to large crowds. However, at the last minute, I changed my mind. I remembered the protests, the conversations, the engagements I took part of back home. How they affected me and the people around me. I then reflected on our present state realizing despite the global pandemic, this social movement was more impactful and it was our youth at the forefront. These people were not only protesting for me but people who looked like me.

I didn't feel comfortable being at home worrying about getting sick when our youth and nationalities of all colors are fighting for our rights. It is a global effort and I decided not to sit back and remain idle. In the past, I have contributed to the advancement of black people by protesting and using my platform to raise awareness of injustices against us. But nothing can compare to the feeling of unity that I witnessed on the day of June 6th, 2020.

The protest was peaceful but had a clear message, "Black Lives Matter." It is an important statement because for years black people have not benefited from the laws and judicial system that's supposed to protect us. So for the first time the world is watching in a global effort to evoke reform. The young, old, black, white, hispanic, middle-eastern and natives were all in attendance in solidarity and it was beautiful.

This protest isn't about forcing the government to open businesses so that we can go to the gym, our favorite restaurants, or get haircuts. It's a movement to acknowledge that laws need to be changed, to discipline the cops who violate civil rights and force leaders to do the right thing. It's a movement that for many is worth the risk even in the face of COVID-19 and for the first time, it's working.

Special Note: If you do decide to protest, be sure to take precautions such as wearing a face mask, use of hand sanitizer, social distancing, self-isolation for 14 days, and getting tested for COVID-19 if symptomatic.

By: Jay Denson

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