Opinion: America’s problem with a four letter word: Race

Our frustration and righteous indignation over America’s refusal to accept African American people as people, as human beings just like you, has been simmering in a pressure cooker for too long.

When our loved ones were left hanging from trees or left to collect the remains of scorched homes while you stood cowardly under your white hoods at night, and badges during the day, we knew what happened and who was responsible. But America played the race game and turned its head. There were no cellphone videos to document our abuse. No protests to demand justice. But this is a new day.

Righteous indignation, left to spread like an incurable cancer, leads to destruction.

It won’t stop until America deals with the four letter word: Race.

Here are three ways to start the healing and show African Americans you stand with us, not against us. To show your children, your grandchildren, your friends, family, coworkers, the world - that our lives, black lives, matter just like yours because we are all part of the human race. People whom God created. People who need to breathe to survive.

No. 1. White people, stand down. Even though you have the privilege to go, come and move about as you please, you don't believe black people should have that same freedom. To attempt to check us at the door and demand to see our ID at your apartment complex, or shoot to kill because we're curious about a home under construction in your neighborhood, or to call the police when we're waiting for a friend at Starbucks, taking a nap in our college study hall or watching birds in the park, reeks of your not understanding that we belong here just like you. You don't have a right to question us just because of the color of our skin. You can start the healing by stopping the baseless threats and harassment.

No. 2. Fix the justice system so it's not "just us". Make police departments throughout the country understand that policing black people unfairly because of our skin color will not be tolerated. Don't protect the blue. Stand in solidarity to protect and police everyone, black, brown, white and every color in the rainbow. Law enforcement believes they have a license to kill unlawfully when there are no penalties for their actions; when they are all but guaranteed to get off because of the badge.

If police and sheriff’s departments throughout America made it clear that there will be swift repercussions, that officers will no longer get a pass by saying they felt threatened or by outright lying — and if the unions supported that, and not corrupt cops — it would start the healing.

Hate crimes legislation is good start. But criminal penalties should be harsh for people who knowingly and willfully accuse a black person of a crime that they committed themselves, or when no crime had taken place at all.

No. 3. Society needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. To all the people of different races and nationalities who supported us in the George Floyd protests and who took part in the destruction that followed, don't go home to business as usual and post selfies on your Instagram page to show your friends how woke you are.

Instead, when you’re in the boardroom or the tech hub, the doctor’s office, the principal’s office, your real estate office, classroom, a nonprofit, the grocery store or anywhere you happen to be, don’t stand silently by and let racism go unchecked. Don’t play it safe. When you see something, speak up and speak out. Be part of the solution instead of letting institutional racism fester and spread until it explodes.

Joe Beasley is a longtime Atlanta activist who has championed civil rights issues here and abroad.