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The last three months have been difficult in so many ways. The pandemic shut down businesses, friends lost livelihoods, and the number of people who are suffering due to COVID-19 is unimaginable. I see people having to settle for virtual funerals, and it breaks my heart. Funerals are a time when families and friends come together to remember all our best qualities and to support each other through loss. Funerals are a time to respect and reflect. We mourn and we mend. Deaths that could have been avoided are especially difficult to grieve, and we are often angry.

On Monday, May 25, 2020, the last moments of George Floyd’s life were captured on video. I have not been able to watch all 8 minutes and 46 seconds because, lying there on the ground, I see myself. I have a great relationship with many of our uniformed officers at the LAPD Harbor Division. I consider many to be friends. However, for me, George Floyd was another reminder that any time I leave the house, as a Black man, the difference between coming home and not coming home could be as simple as wrong place, wrong time, and wrong cop.

Floyd’s death brought back many painful memories. I too have been wrongly arrested, detained, and disrespected based on my race. This is not just about George Floyd; this is bigger than just one man. It’s about who we want to be as a nation.

Black Lives Matter is not anti-flag, anti-military, or anti-police. No matter how many people want to divide us on this, peaceful protest is part of the First Amendment for this very reason. In fact, I would argue that protesting injustice is the most patriotic thing an American can do. Especially when it comes to saving lives. Ending systemic racism will make us a greater nation, strengthen community policing, and provide for a stronger union.

When I see “All Lives Matter” in response to Black Lives Matter, it breaks my heart. It either means you don’t believe people of color value all lives, or it means you don’t believe we should call attention to the fact that Black lives are under attack and treated as less than. Either way, I am sad. 

Sometimes I ignore it. Sometimes I can’t breathe. My support for breast cancer solutions is not a slight to testicular cancer. My support for #SanPedroStrong doesn’t mean I hate Long Beach. My support for Black lives doesn’t mean I don’t support blue lives. Being a cop is a tough job – I couldn’t do it – and I pray for the community members who wear the uniform to keep us safe.

Black Lives Matter is a cry for help and a call for you to recognize we are being treated as though our lives don’t matter. It doesn’t mean you, as a white person, haven’t had challenges as great or greater than I have. It simply means the color of your skin hasn’t been the primary reason for those challenges. 

BLM is speaking out against some deeply rooted injustices, from police brutality and racial profiling to the systemic racism and symbols of slavery we continue to tolerate. Trayvon Martin was 17 years old when he was hunted down and murdered by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman went on to be acquitted of the murder and has profited from selling autographed bags of Skittles, Confederate flags, and the gun he used to kill this unarmed teen. This is why the message is Black Lives Matter because we act as if they don’t. Not being racist is not enough. We need to be anti-racist to create change.

We all want faster 911 police response times and better protections for lives and property and eliminating waste. I may not agree with the voices shouting, “Defund the police,” but they are initiating conversations that need to happen. Many municipalities are looking at how they spend our money and if it is possible to make communities safer by fixing how we deploy our police.  

We need to talk about whether we want police to respond to time-consuming and specialized calls that involve mental health, drugs and alcohol, or situations involving people who are unhoused. Is deploying social workers a less expensive and more effective alternative?  

This week, police unions in Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco proposed requirements for de-escalation and accountability, including a national database so cops fired for misconduct don’t get jobs in other agencies. They proposed an early warning system to identify and retrain or remove bad cops with an online portal tracking complaints. They asked for ongoing and frequent training to build and refresh skills to improve police and community outcomes similar to SB 230 (California Senate Bill 230).

Change is coming. Let’s work together to create a safer and better-connected San Pedro. spt

Lee Williams

Lee Williams is Board Chair of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and leads The William’s Group at Keller Williams PV Realty.