“How Long Does It Take?”Published by Tom Porter
Observing appropriate social distancing guidelines, hundreds of members of the Bowdoin community gathered on the College quad recently for a moment of reflection and education in the wake of the recent killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Many more tuned in remotely to the livestreamed event, as faculty members from the Africana Studies Program shared their thoughts on Floyd’s death and the conversations inspired by it. The last minutes of Floyd’s life were recorded on a widely seen video, showing police officers holding him down as one of them kneels on his neck.
The gruesome video has led to nationwide protests over police brutality and renewed conversations over what many are calling the “systemic racism” inherent in US society. “Precisely two weeks ago at this moment, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Keung, and Tou Thao began murdering George Floyd,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry in her opening remarks. “Some are scandalized that this is happening in America in the year 2020,” she continued. While heartbroken and angered by the murder, Casselberry said she is not, however, surprised that it happened: “Rather, we believe the video serves as a metaphor for America’s racial history.”
“We have seen this time and again in American history,” said Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English Tess Chakkalakal, who also directs the Africana Studies Program. “Threats and exercises of force were used to keep black people in their lawful place. On plantations during slavery and sharecropping. It was done to protestors of all races during the Civil Rights movement, and the same specter has been invoked against those who plea for justice for George Floyd,” she told the crowd.
Also speaking at the gathering was Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Ayodeji Ogunnaike: “We believe that the overwhelming majority of our police are good and well intentioned; however, our entire system of law enforcement was designed to produce exactly what happened to George Floyd.” Such outcomes will continue, he said, until this “fundamental lack of equality in law and law enforcement” is addressed.
Casselberry concluded the event by inviting the crowd to observe eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence. That was the length of time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck. She implored those listening to use that silence “to think about how your choices, your attitudes, your behaviors, your beliefs may be complicit in the systems of control that are even older than America. We hope that, if all of us can do this honestly and sincerely, we can stop asking ‘how long?’”
Watch video of the event
President Rose Responds
Following the gathering, which took place on Monday, June 8, President Clayton Rose wrote a letter to all Bowdoin employees, in which he admitted that he has not done enough to tackle racism. He also implored white members of the Bowdoin community to do more. “As for our College, we talk proudly about preparing our students to tackle the most difficult challenges and to lead in solving the world’s biggest problems. This is real. We are genuinely successful at this. But, when it comes to racism, we have not lived up to our promise.”
He went on to say: “Deliberate, focused, and persistent commitment and action are required if we expect these outcomes to be different.” President Rose outlined a number of initiatives he expects Bowdoin faculty and staff to undertake in this regard, including requiring “every division of the College to develop a plan for the education of its members on institutional racism and anti-racism, building allyship, and creating a more diverse work environment.”