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Black Lives Matter Speech

Dr. Ali Khan, Tri-Faith Initative Board Chair
June 5, 2020

Dear Nick. Thank you for so much for sharing the story of your brother with us. Our love and prayers are with you and your family.

We are here today to recognize the systemic racism in American and the associated police brutality and racial violence. No community is immune including our own.  James Scurlock is the latest example but Mr. Zachary Bearheels, a mentally ill and dehydrated Native American man was beaten and tasered a dozen times till he died exactly 3 years ago a few blocks from here.  

Let me start with some thank yous for putting on this family friendly event. Thank you Elise Belgium for hosting this event and inviting the University to join you – you now have 500 new friends who will stand with you whenever you need. Thank you Lorena Baccaglini for bringing me along and helping oversee all the arrangements from the University.

Thank you all for coming out today to join us to reflect on how we have weakened this great nation by excluding whole segments of society from achieving the promise of our Founding Fathers and how we can – no, we MUST – act NOW to be stronger together as friends, neighbors, and as a nation.  

While I stand before you as a person of color, I am first a man of immense privilege. And I am here to talk to all of you who share this privilege with me as we gather here on this hill in this park today. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  would have called many of us moderate whites. Those more devoted to ‘order’ than justice – you know who you are – or those who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Even with my privilege, I have been subjected to various shades of bias and racism. But never the racism directed to the black community.  My greatest fear were uncomfortable insults or missing a flight after being detained at airports for looking too Muslim or being named Ali. I never feared for my life.   So no, I cannot know the lived experience of blacks in America who literally fear for their life very day.

But I can understand and share their rage at 400 years of failure to create a just and equal society. 400 years of failing to dismantle white supremacy. 400 years of social injustices in education, housing, health, and economic prosperity.  Heck we have a brand-new virus in this world causing a pandemic and even it knows it can disproportionately kill black and brown people. I can understand the inequity of mass incarceration. The United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population and has 21% of the world’s prisoners. About 1 in 40 adults is under some form of correctional supervision. 1 in forty – 2.7%! And this is predominantly blacks. 6.8M African Americans are currently locked up – 5x the rate of whites. If this is not a continuation of a 400-year legacy of slavery, I am not sure what is.  I know the moral arc of destiny is long and it points to justice but this doesn’t seem like an arc, at times like this it looks more like I-80 from Omaha to Scottsbluff and we haven’t even gotten to Kearney yet.

When do WE say enough is enough? When do YOU say these are not my values? When do we say that there is no Peace without Justice? When will YOU no longer be silent at these injustices as we live our comfortable lives in nice homes, great schools, and summer vacations?

Am I making you uncomfortable? Good. That is my intention. It wouldn’t be a protest rally if each and every one of you wasn’t feeling uncomfortable right now. 

You also can’t have a protest rally without some chanting.  I have 3 requests for you today. After each request I am going to ask you WHY why and I will give you a chance Answer: BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER. 

Lets try once now,

REFRAIN. Why are we here: BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER

Let’s try that again:

REFRAIN. Why are we here: BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER

So. Let’s call these 3 requests Apologies in Action to stop dehumanizing black people. And remember that the issues are as true to various extents for brown people like Hispanics, American Indians, and immigrants and also for LGBTQ community.  We are all the same children of God. 

Here are my three requests of you today.  Like faith, the first is the hardest.

Number one. Do the work of feeling uncomfortable.  Learn about racism. Read, watch, listen. And confront your own biases. Nobody can do this for you. Donate to and get engaged in organizations that support social justice issues and advocacy groups led by people of color.  I want to be careful of naming my personal favorites like the Urban League, Black & Pink, Trifaith, or the ACLU but do your homework and find the numerous organizations doing good in our communities. Get actively engaged.

As importantly, I want you to understand your privilege and how different it is from the lives of the men and women who brought us together today. 

Breonna Taylor,  a 26-year old black EMT who was shot dead 8 times while asleep in her home at 1am when two plainclothes officers entered her apartment without knocking and got into a gunfight with her partner who was defending his home with a licensed gun. The police fired 20 shots blindly into the apartment.  

George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, murdered by a white police officer who knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. His crime, passing a counterfeit bill? No. Being black in America. 

Ahmaud Aubrey.  a 25-year-old African-American man, fatally shot near Brunswick, Georgia, while jogging. Yep, you heard me right, jogging. He had been pursued and confronted by two white residents who hit him with a truck, boxed him in with 2 pickup trucks, and then shot him in the chest. All captured on video by a third white guy like he was filming an episode of the Animal Planet. 

As appalling as these stories, they are so easy to dismiss as actions of single racist cops or individuals. And they are racist and I want to be careful. Not all cops are racists including the police with us here and I sure some nice individuals in South Georgia. But the justice system that protects them was created by our privilege. Time and Time again. Until the community shows it outrage and demands action. 

REFRAIN: Why do I want you to be uncomfortable: BEACAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER

For my last 2 requests, I want you to take this tension and discomfort you are feeling and channel it through your immense privilege into ACTION for concrete change. This is where YOU are powerful.

So request number 2 is to VOTE.  On Nov 4, and in next year’s local elections I want you to remember feeling uncomfortable.  Yes, most of us will be employed, our 401K accounts will have recovered from the market crash and we will be thinking about those foreign vacations again.  The status quo may look pretty good in that ballot box. If that thought crosses you mind, I want you to remember if you worry about the cops shooting you dead in your bed at 1am, or choking you to death because your credit card got declined, or maybe a neighbour decides you are hunting trophy the next time go for a jog. Remember James Scurlocks’ brother, remember Elise Belgium the young activist who put on this event who could just as easily be our children or brothers and sisters. And remember your own children and bother and sisters. Remember. And USE your privilege to get them justice. Use your privilege to get them peace.

REFRAIN: Why do I want you to VOTE: BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER

Damn right.

One more time.

REFRAIN: Why do I want you to VOTE: BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER

So my final and third request is to support legislative action for change right here in Nebraska. Help dismantle the system that allows society to oppress black people. And again. USE the power of your privilege to petition, make campaign contribution, call your state senator and governor, and organize to help get some of these legislative bills passed. Let me mention my favorites but do your own homework for who to support and what bills. Or even better, help dismantle the political ruling class and run for election yourself.

The bills I recommend for support are on the signs all over the park.

Support LB 924. The bill requires all certified law enforcement officers to complete a minimum of two hours of “anti-bias or implicit bias training” per year to minimize racial profiling. I wish it also included a provision for proven police use of force policies such as a prohibition of strangle and chokeholds. But let’s get this done.

Support LB 646 which eliminates cash bail, and appearance bonds based on the known fact that innumerable poor people remain in jail awaiting trial or other court action solely because they lack the money to “post bond” – not because they represent a flight risk or any danger to the public.

Support LB 89, 1110, 652. A series of bills to decriminalize possession of marijuana and small amounts of controlled substances so we stop incarcerating  millions of blacks for needless reason. 

REFRAIN: Why do I want you to contact your state representative: BECAUE BLACK LIVES MATTER

One of the most common biblical parables that even a muslim boy learns is from Matthew Chapter 17, verse 20: Even if our faith is as small “as a grain of mustard seed,” we have the ability to move mountains, and nothing will be impossible to us.

I look out at this audience and I see nothing small about you. Not in you love. Not in your faith. Not in your hope. Not in your values. NOTHING is impossible to you. You have the power to take actions to make a difference for the life of every black person in Omaha, Nebraska, and America and create a better nation for us all.  

THANK YOU EVERY ONE.

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