Letter to the editor: From peace caravan to mass protest during the pandemic

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People gathered at the Pentacrest on Saturday to protest racism and the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, May 30, 2020. — Jason Smith/Little Village

By Ben Otoadese, City High senior, Iowa City

Submitted June 1

Just one week ago, on Memorial Day, I grudgingly grabbed my face mask and joined my mom on the Iowa City Peace Caravan — our local version of a national movement. We were to mark International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament with a socially distant caravan through Iowa City. As one of the few in the caravan without grey hair, I was inspired by the spirit and commitment of the group, including members of 100 Grannies and Veterans for Peace. The elders were out in full force, with face masks, shields and hand sanitizer — putting their lives on the line to march out for peace.

That upbeat and hopeful day seems like ages ago. Since then, George Floyd was brutally murdered by policemen in full view, as he begged for mercy. His death closely followed the publicized footage of the horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man on a mid-day jog. Over the past five days, riots have broken out across the country. The national guard has moved in, and curfews have been set in cities from coast to coast. Black people are mourning. People of color are mourning. Many white people are searching for ways to express solidarity.

All of this chaos and grief is occurring the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has overwhelmingly and disproportionately claimed the lives of black communities nationwide. Many black people have not had the luxury of social distancing at home with their families, doing online yoga classes and watching webinars. Now, with the murder of George Floyd, black people must put themselves at even greater risk to rise up and move out in mass protest, as the pandemic continues to infect and kill thousands of people.

After social distancing for nearly 10 weeks and finishing my high school year online, I am still worried. With news of lower infection rates in Johnson County, I am trying to get outside a bit more. I am encouraged by news of scientists racing to make a vaccine. But the world seems dark. As a black boy in America, I feel increasingly unsafe. Racial hatred seems to be increasing every day.

As Roxane Gay says in her opinion piece in the New York Times, “Eventually doctors will find a vaccine for the coronavirus, but black people will continue to wait for a cure for racism.” How long is this going to take?

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