I let my daughter go into Asheville [June 4] to join the protests. My husband did not want her to go because of the coronavirus. The system, he said, is broken. The risk was not worth it because nothing is going to change. He may be right. The system certainly seems to be broken, and we have been through this before — many times.
I spent a few days in Alabama earlier this year retracing the path to civil rights forged and fought for during the 1960s. I walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and toured the lynching museum in Montgomery. It was heartbreaking to see the still obvious effects of racism and hate in these cities, but I also saw light. Alabama is still today visibly mired in its past — both economically and physically. Shuttered and abandoned houses are everywhere. The depression that is a function of the deep-seated institutionalized racism is very real. But, in acknowledging the past, it seems that these places could possibly, at some point, move forward.
Elsewhere in America, we pretend that we are beyond this, but it is this denial that allows the hate to persist. Ahmaud Arbery is pursued and killed for jogging in a predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia. George Floyd is murdered in cold blood on film in Minneapolis by a man sworn to protect and serve. A white woman calls the cops on a black bird-watcher in New York City’s Central Park — knowing that she had the power to do so. Here in Asheville, the police destroyed a medic station set up to support protesters under the pretense of eliminating potential weapons (water bottles). This is not a world of love and compassion. It is a broken system fueled by fear and divisiveness.
This is why my daughter wanted to go downtown. She is 18. She believes that her world can be better and that she can make a difference. She wore her mask because that, too, is a sign of caring about others, and she stood at the base of the Vance Monument (a monument to a Confederate governor, itself a symbol of racism). She stood with other protesters and held a sign that read, “The brutality is not new, but the cameras are.” Pictures are proof. They are the shuttered houses in Alabama that cannot be ignored. They are power, but only if we have the conviction to demand answers and accountability from those who would alter the narrative.
That is why I let my daughter go to Asheville knowing the risk from the coronavirus. Because it is worth it. My family may worry about our safety for a few weeks, but others in this country worry every single day — pandemic or not.
— Erin Ingle Long