No Justice, No Peace
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
by Alexander Sobel
It is May 25, 2020. The world is embroiled in a global pandemic with no cure in sight. The entire population of countries around the globe, including our own, are locked down under a strict quarantine. It’s a day like any other. The boring, stagnating air of quarantine hangs heavy over that day like a dense fog.
However, there is one moment of clarity that will immortalize this day. It started like most viral videos do, usually beginning on social media sites. For me, I was scrolling through Twitter as I usually do, till I came upon a video that will be burned into my memory forever.
It is May 25, 2020. Today is the day that George Floyd died in an arrest by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department.
I still can’t watch the entirety of the video to this day. Floyd crying for his mother, an officer kneeling on his neck as he’s slowly suffocated. It’s all too gut-wrenching. It’s all too real.
Something was different about this time. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and many others whose names we all know for the wrong reasons; something felt off about their unfortunate deaths. It felt removed, unreal. Millions heard about their deaths. But something was different about George Floyd. We all saw it.
We all felt as if we did nothing, like we stood idly by at the scene as the officer knelt on his neck.
Witnessing it behind our phone screens, we all wanted to wrench the officer off Floyd’s neck or beg for his life to be spared. It was an eye-opener for Americans. We all needed to acknowledge this problem that went unspoken for far too long.
“The video was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen,” says Harrison Costello, a college student from New Orleans. “After seeing the video, I think everyone had this profound realization that things have gone way too far,” he said.
The repercussions of this one moment were immediate. Every media outlet scrambled to give its take on the situation to their audiences. The uncensored, visceral nature of the video drew in even the biggest skeptics. What was once a divisive and partisan issue about the existence of police brutality was immediately thrown out the window. Everyone came together.
Activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and the NAACP called for action. Marches and rallies were quickly organized around the country. The monopoly that COVID-19 had over America’s psyche seemingly-evaporated. People were not scared to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in protest instead of six-feet apart.
As a Jewish man, I was subject to constant jokes and sneers by my non-Jewish, typically white, peers throughout my life. The ancient hate of my kind still persisted in the form of satire that outsiders felt comfortable participating in despite our near-extinction only 70 years ago. I never hesitated to speak up for fellow minorities when I encountered instances of racism. This time was no different.
I found myself on the streets of my own city, New Orleans, on June 2, 2020. I was far from alone. People of all creeds were present in this show of support.
Young and old, rich and poor, Black and white, all found themselves marching for a man they never even knew.
We gathered in Woldenberg Park, a small space in downtown New Orleans, before marching.
Members of Black Lives Matter gave rousing speeches through megaphones.
“The police will not touch us. They will not hurt us,” I remember one of the speakers saying.
We poured into the street like a force that dwarfed any hurricane that befell this great city.
We were seemingly aimless as we began, as I was unsure of where our leaders would take us. We were a mass of sweat, cheers and tears.
“No justice, no peace,” we said as we marched.
This was not a threat of violence, but rather a threat to remain defiant. This march was completely peaceful, contrary to what some media may try to convince you. I saw plenty of police officers, but they were only there to redirect traffic from the march. There was a feeling of tranquility and silent acknowledgment; they were not there to hurt us. I cannot say the same for the other marches I’d seen where police were clad in riot gear, tucked behind their shields like a Greek phalanx while tear gas and rubber bullets rained from behind them.
“The march was an amazing experience,” said Costello.
“The speeches they gave in the park before we marched were so moving.
Everyone had this feeling of camaraderie, we were all part of a movement.”
We soon found ourselves on a seemingly-empty Interstate 10. I was greeted by a scene that I will remember forever. The protesters unfolded a long, orange banner across the traffic lanes. Dozens of people stood behind it as if they were posing for a picture. On the banner was written, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” The march, now a group of thousands, continued down the seemingly-empty highway.
We finally reached a point where all the cars on the road were stopped. There were hundreds of cars backed up for miles. It was around rush hour in New Orleans, and you’d think people would be frustrated to be stuck in traffic at this time. However, I walked between the cars and in every window I saw a smile, a fist raised in support or tears of joy.
“I’ll always remember all the cars being stopped and seeing the Black men and women with tears in their eyes,” says Costello.
I, too, remember a scene from one of those cars. A young woman was perched on the hood of her small, red car. Her baby was on top of her shoulders. Tears streamed down the mother’s eyes as we passed by. Though the child was seemingly an infant not too long ago, I hope they remember that day. The day the whole city marched for justice.