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Opinion | Voice of The Southern

Voice of The Southern: We have to start here
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Voice of The Southern

Voice of The Southern: We have to start here

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In George Floyd’s final moments on Earth were the cries for mama heard around the world.

Floyd, an African American man, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he was prone and handcuffed. In the 8 minutes and 46 seconds the officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe,” and calling out, “mama.”

He was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store in Minneapolis — a crime we wouldn’t even deem worthy of spilling ink on these pages, much less spilling blood.

He was not the first unarmed black man — or woman, or child — to die at the hands of police officers or vigilantes.

Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Terence Crutcher. Walter Scott.

We frankly don’t have the space to name them all in this column. But, we grieve for them all. And, we grieve for every black American who has died as a result of systemic racism. We grieve for black Americans who are more likely to lose their lives and livelihoods to COVID-19, another crisis facing our country that disproportionately impacts African Americans.

Floyd’s tragic death was a catalyst for a global movement — from Paris and Amsterdam to Chicago and D.C. to Anna, Carbondale, Carterville, Du Quoin, Herrin and Marion.

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You have undoubtedly seen many individuals and institutions in the last several days hop on the #BlackLivesMatter bandwagon, including politicians, celebrities, companies, and maybe even the “Beckys” and “Karens” in your Facebook or Instagram feeds.

We, an all-white editorial board, do not attempt to bandwagon with the words we share with you today.

We echo the words protesters chanted in Anna on Thursday: “I’m not black, but I see you. I’m not black, but I hear you. I’m not black, but I mourn for you. I’m not black, but I will fight for you.”

We use this space simply to say: Black lives matter.

We have been inspired in the last week as we have watched a national movement unfold here in our rural towns. We are proud of the young people in our local communities who are spearheading this new Civil Rights movement in an effort to build a better future for us all. Considering the national scenes of militarized police in larger cities cracking down on peaceful protests, we are relieved when we see local police protecting the First Amendment rights of the citizens who pay their salaries.

The public mourning for George Floyd and so many others, the marches, the protests, the acts of solidarity by some police officers — everything that is culminating in this moment locally — are the beginning. We all have important work ahead of us. We have to mourn. We have to listen to those who are crying out for relief. Those of us who may not understand why people say “black lives matter” or “white privilege” need to take this moment to listen. Open your hearts and minds. Seek to be humble rather than defensive.

Listen to George Floyd calling for his mama. Listen to the final pleas of a man who shouldn’t have died and didn’t have to die. Listen to the people who are speaking for him now that he cannot speak for himself.

In order to be a truly great America, one in which all lives truly do matter, we have to start here. And, moving forward, we all must continue to do the hard work. Right now, our coverage is focused on listening to the voices that are crying out for relief, for change. In the coming weeks, we look forward to covering the conversations that will carry us forward toward meaningful reform.

At a national level, these may seem like big city issues. Our neighbors who have turned out to demonstrate in small towns across rural Illinois are telling us otherwise.

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