Mike Espy talks about Jacob Blake

Meredith,

Earlier this week, a young Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times at close range by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It happened in front of his children. Jacob’s father now says his son is paralyzed from the waist down.

This is the kind of unnecessary, violent injustice that Black people see every day. People ask, what can we do?

But no matter the amount of technology, no matter the training, no matter the amount of money to improve police departments, the reason we still see this injustice is because of inherent bias. We have police officers who may devalue the life of Black people. And that’s what we have to change.

I want to tell you a quick story. I’m the proud father of three Black children. My oldest son played for the NFL, until he got hurt and opened a gym here in Mississippi. He trains young athletes and inspires them to chase their dreams, playing football in college and professionally.

One day, my son was training a client in a private gym where he owned a membership. There were only three people in the whole gym: My son, his athlete, and a white off-duty Ridgeland policeman. The policeman wore no uniform — he was in gym clothes.

Now, like a lot of us, my son sometimes utters profanities when helping people lift weights, to rile them up to lift more. In this case, he was cursing as his client lifted a barbell.

But the off-duty officer approached my son and said, “If you don’t quit cursing, I’m going to arrest you.”

My son didn’t know if this guy was telling the truth — he was wearing gym clothes, not a badge.

My son said, “Well, do it then.”

All of sudden, police cruisers arrived at this private gym. Police officers arrested my boy, handcuffed him, and took him to the jail overnight. An African-American, former NFL player, whose dad was a congressman and cabinet secretary.

It doesn’t matter who you are, who you’re related to, or what the technology is. It goes back to the inherent bias. It matters if you think the color of your skin gives you more rights than another human being. And that’s what we have to change.

After George Floyd was murdered, I went with both my sons to a Black Lives Matter march in Jackson organized by young Black Mississippians. There were protests organized all over Mississippi, the country, and the world. At the march I attended in Jackson, 200 marchers were expected — but 3,000 showed up.

We marched to make sure that people in Mississippi understand that we no longer stand for lawlessness from law enforcement, and we’ve seen the groundswell after that march. There is a direct line from the Black Lives Matter march in June to taking down that Mississippi flag in July.

All week, I’ve thought of Jeremiah’s words: “They have treated the wounds of My people like they were not serious, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

I will continue to demand action on this issue. And I pray for Jacob Blake, his mother, his sister, and his children. The violence against unarmed Black people — names we know, and names we don’t know — must end.

— Mike Espy

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