Editor’s Note: CNN host Van Jones is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the Movement for Black Lives – already a massive global force – has succeeded in birthing a phenomenon infinitely larger than itself. It can only be called a “Great Awakening” of empathy and solidarity, one without historical precedent.
Once feared, dismissed and reviled, Black Lives Matter has suddenly become one of the world’s most beloved brands, with exponentially growing support. Its protests have quickly grown into a cultural tsunami that is sweeping through media, the academy, houses of worship, Hollywood and even corporate board rooms.
This new, building force may someday change the course of world history. In many ways, it already has.
In the context of an otherwise divided and fractured US, a new continent of common ground has emerged.
- Many more white Americans now accept that anti-black racism is a real and present danger. For large numbers of people, the idea that “racism is over” is now itself over.
- Many more white Americans understand that our policing and criminal justice systems are systemically unfair to African-Americans.
- And many more white Americans want to do something about it – even if they don’t know exactly what.
This sudden, mass realization – and the multi-racial demonstrations that give it weight, life and substance – feels like a miracle to me. As a black man, I have spent my entire life trying to convince relatively small numbers of white people to take racial injustice seriously. I have usually failed.
Now major corporations are making my argument for me. Hundreds of thousands of white protestors are risking their lives in the middle of a pandemic to chant “Black Lives Matter.” And I have begun to believe that – just maybe – the world for my two black sons might actually be a better place.
The swing from despair to hope has been disorienting. Two weeks ago, everyone I know was disgusted and despondent – having watched a white police officer kill a black man named George Floyd in broad daylight. The sad truth is that sneering white men have strangled black people to death in this country for centuries. (The practice was so widespread that civil rights hero Bryan Stevenson built a massive monument in Montgomery, Alabama, to memorialize the victims of this grisly practice.)
But this time, a captive audience of millions of Americans – stuck indoors during the Covid shutdown – bore witness to the horrific deed on their cell phones, all at the same time as the video went viral. The horror and injustice of this incident touched the consciousness of humanity. And now the world is making its revulsion known.
There is no official name for the protest wave that is sweeping the globe. But this Awakening has already racked up a long list of achievements.
Here are a few:
- The policeman who killed George Floyd was fired, arrested, and charged with third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Later, he was also charged with second degree murder. The other three cops involved have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
- Police departments and cities, from California to France, have instituted bans on chokeholds alongside other efforts meant to enhance transparency and swift action against misconduct.
- Numerous companies are issuing statements and pledging donations, including Ben and Jerry’s, which made one of the most powerful statements in the private sector (in line with its previous bold statements).
- Target also aligned itself with the cause, despite one of its stores being torched in Minneapolis.
- Michael Jordan has promised he will donate $100 million to support racial justice advocacy over the next 10 years.
- Warner Music issued a similar promise to donate $100 million to social justice causes.
- Sony Music has likewise pledged $100 million to social justice causes.
- Public perceptions of policing and race have quantifiably experienced a dramatic shift. According to a recent Washington Post poll, three out of four Americans support the protests. In 2018, a Washington Post poll showed that 40% of America supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Politicians from both major parties are entertaining a serious discussion about police demilitarization.
- The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million. The funds would be reinvested into programs that serve communities of color.
- Los Angeles is also instituting a moratorium on adding new names to the city’s gang database, which is under investigation for misuse.
- A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis city council pledged to disband the city’s police department.
- Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congressman Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced a bipartisan bill that would end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it difficult to sue police officers over rights violations.
- The representatives of all 30 Major League Baseball teams issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Furthermore, the Players Coalition gathered more than 1,400 signatures from current and former athletes, coaches, general managers, and team staff, from the NFL, NBA and MLB, for a letter to Congress supporting the end of qualified immunity.
- Black women leaders are taking over white celebrities’ Instagram accounts to #ShareTheMic and hold space for antiracist discussions.
- The NFL is apologizing for not supporting players’ protests of racial injustice earlier.
- The Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment, filed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, that would change the names of all military bases named after confederate generals.
- Black authors topped the New York Times bestsellers list, indicating the deep sense of urgency to hear and learn from their voices.
- Some enlisted soldiers and veterans have openly decried the possibility that they could be deployed to repress protests in American streets.
- The city of Atlanta issued charges against the six officers who assaulted two young black people at a recent protest and shot them with stun guns.
- The two Buffalo police officers who pushed an elderly man during a protest, knocking him to the concrete and, according to his lawyer, causing a brain injury, have been arrested and charged.
- Mitt Romney marched with protesters and proclaimed on television that black lives matter.
- Pope Francis did not mince words on the murder of George Floyd in a public address encouraging the anti-racism protesters.
- Young people, especially generation Z activists, are out on the streets in small towns and big cities, using platforms like TikTok and Instagram creatively to amplify the movement so it feels omnipresent.
- Protests are breaking out in towns that are small and that are older, whiter, and more conservative than average; support in unlikely places demonstrates the unique significance of this moment.
- The mayor of Louisville has suspended the city’s controversial “no-knock” warrants that allow police to burst into homes without notice at any time of the day. The initiative is tentatively called “Breonna’s Law” in honor of Breonna Taylor, the African-American emergency medical technician wrongly shot and killed while she slept during one of these raids.
- In Denver, a judge issued an order restraining the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
- New York City is likewise considering changing school admissions requirements that are now recognized as deepening segregation.
- In a move that worries me as a champion of free speech and an opponent of censorship, HBO Max – which, like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia – has pulled the film “Gone with the Wind” from its library, given its portrayal of enslavement and racial prejudice. (A spokesperson said that when the film returns to HBO Max, it “will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions,” and will be presented “as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”)
- Paramount Media canceled the show “Cops” after 30 years of glorifying police violence and stereotyping people of color.
- The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been frequently accused of stoking white nationalism, lost his show’s advertising contracts from Disney, T-Mobile, and a few other companies because of his coverage of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests.
- The company Sephora agreed to the “15 Percent Pledge” proposed by Aurora James, the creative director of the Brooklyn-based accessories brand Brother Vellies, committing to reserving 15% of its shelves for products from black-owned businesses.
- The wrestling star and film actor John Cena has vowed to donate $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, matching a donation pledged by the KPop group BTS.
- Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the board of Reddit to make room for a black board member.
- The Portland public schools district has announced it will discontinue the presence of armed police in schools.
- Seattle’s central labor council, named MLK Labor, has issued an ultimatum to the Seattle police union to address systemic racism or be expelled from the organization.
- Transit unions in several cities refused to transport arrested protesters for police.
- Also, transit unions in Minneapolis, Boston, and Pittsburgh refused to transport police to confrontations with protesters.
- The Minneapolis School Board, the University of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation department ended their contracts with the city’s police.
- The Minnesota State Government filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis Police Department.
- Countries that are diplomatic and trade partners of the United States are taking action on their ends; for example, the Scottish parliament called for the immediate suspension of tear gas, rubber bullet, and riot shield exports to the United States.
- New York City has announced it is no longer going to enforce its crackdown on unlicensed food vendors.
- Organizers of the Los Angeles Pride Parade have announced that this year’s parade will be devoted to a Black Lives Matter protest.
- Organizers of Indianapolis’ Pride have announced that police will no longer be invited to Pride events.
- People with internet access, but no money to donate, figured out a way to support the movement by streaming music on this YouTube channel, which provides ad revenue to activists who run it.
- Conversations about “defunding” and even abolishing police are now being held in unusual and unexpected places, including among typically “apolitical” white folks who are fed up with the status quo.
- And a lot of other things, which my Twitter followers have been telling me all about.
Most of these events were unimaginable just one month ago. These monumental achievements are the results of an ongoing uprising of millions of people against a racist status quo in this country and around the world.
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Tens of millions of Americans are out in the streets protesting for a better way forward, confronting inequity, and turning discomfort into action. Because of their efforts, there is a new consensus emerging. The black folks who have led this movement, many of whom are young people, are literally changing the world – right before our eyes.
Adults often rolled our eyes in frustration at the new generation, accusing them of being “TOO woke.” But “the woke” laid the groundwork for the Great Awakening.