‘Do I See A Change?’: What We Can Learn From The Wrongs Of The Past — And Our Parents Who Witnessed Them
I wasn’t around in 1992. I hadn’t been born yet. But it’s a year I kept hearing about in recent weeks and months as George Floyd’s killer stood trial in Minneapolis.
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The death of George Floyd at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin last May has evoked pain in the hearts of many in this country. Now that Chauvin has been convicted, a sense of relief and closure has blanketed my family and most people we know.
During the trial, opinions were shared all over the media. The conversation was almost inescapable.
One thing kept coming up: The comparison between the trial of the officer who killed Floyd and the 1992 trial here in Los Angeles of the four LAPD officers who brutally beat Rodney King.
I wasn’t around then, but hearing the comparison made me wonder: has there been any real change from then to now?
Since my mother, Paulette Hurd, was in Los Angeles during that time, I thought it would be beneficial to get her perspective.
I called my mom for our daily phone conversation after I got home from work.
Only this time, instead of starting with the usual “How was your day” question, I immediately asked, “Mom, how do you feel about the George Floyd verdict?”
She let out a long sigh that let me know it was going to be a deep conversation. I heard her pause the show she was watching, and walk into another room.
L.A.'s 'Undercover Racism'
Until my mom was 21, she lived in Morgan City, Louisiana. That’s where my questions took her.
“Growing up in the South, I saw the abuse and experienced racism firsthand all the time,” she told me. “Experiencing that made me feel like I had no self worth; we were treated like animals.”
My mom mentioned a time in high school when she became the school mascot, and her white classmates threatened to burn the mascot suit with her in it, all because they didn’t want a Black person wearing it.
My mom was terrified every day as she continued to hold her position as school mascot. They called her derogatory names regularly, something that ruined how she viewed herself and left her traumatized.
“When I saw George Floyd being killed, I was reminded of that hurt,” my mom told me. “I couldn’t help but cry. It hurt even more to sit in the uncertainty of how the verdict would go, because I’ve seen firsthand cops being able to get away with murder. I wouldn’t have been surprised if that were to happen again.”
Arriving in Los Angeles as a young adult, she noticed a shift in the racial climate.
“When I moved to Los Angeles in 1976, I still experienced racism. But it was more undercover compared to the South,” she said. “I was no longer subjected to separate water fountains and other utilities.”
But there were still things that reminded her of the racism down South. It was typically microaggressions. My mom experienced many microaggressions when she moved to the L.A. area, such as being followed around by security in stores, customer sales representatives being less friendly and less helpful with Black customers, and not being allowed the same privileges as her white coworkers.
She recalls one incident in which a white co-worker had been granted time off and she’d been denied it. She actually pointed out the inequality to her superior and was told, “Don’t your people know you need to work for a living?” The racism she encountered was different from in the South — it was less out in the open, but still there.
“Unfortunately, undercover racism hurts just as much, if not more, than blatant racism,” my mom told me. “I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.”
This undercover racism became especially apparent to my mother when the verdict in the trial of the four officers who beat Rodney King was announced on April 29, 1992.
She was then working as the head of account management at a company that made eyeglass frames.
“I was at work when the verdict for Rodney King came,” she remembers. “All of my white coworkers were upstairs watching the trial and my Black coworkers and I were downstairs watching the trial. It felt like I was in the South again, the division was so apparent.
“When the verdict came I could hear all my coworkers upstairs cheering. It hurt, because I didn’t see anything to be happy about.”
The same people who walked by her every day and smiled in her face were cheering on the acquittal of police officers that brutally abused a Black man. Just like with George Floyd, Rodney King’s abuse was caught on camera. Only that time, the officers were able to get away with it.
'The Only Change I See...'
When I asked my mother how she felt about the George Floyd verdict, she said something surprising: She expressed remorse for Chauvin, because she felt the system was set up for him to believe police officers could do as they please. History proves this to be so.
“On a Christian point of view, I kind of feel bad for Derek Chauvin," she said. "Police have always felt above the law and that’s exactly why I feel Derek Chauvin did what he did — he didn’t think there would be consequences. He let his pride get in the way, and his whole life got disrupted because of it.”
When my mom expressed these feelings of pity for Chauvin, I was taken aback. This was an interesting take, and a point of view that I haven’t considered before. But after learning more about the Rodney King trial and its outcome, as four officers walked free 29 years ago this past week, I can understand what my mom meant.
As long as I’ve been alive, I have seen Black lives be taken by police officers and even other citizens with no actual consequences.
As she saw it, it wasn’t his fault that George Floyd’s killer was led to believe he was above the law, or that America finally decided to hold a police officer accountable and suddenly revoke his privileges of superiority.
My mom continued to express her feelings and mentioned how glad she was that the trial was now over. Just watching it was painful.
“The trial was also disheartening due to all of the other reasons people were coming up with to justify the death of George,” she told me. “Hearing people dissect his life and bring up his challenges with drug addiction hurt. As if his addiction justified a knee being placed on his neck for nine minutes. I was reminded with the trial of how much we, as Black people, always have to prove ourselves.”
Although the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 was caught on camera, it took dozens of witnesses and experts and weeks of testimony almost a year later before Chauvin was convicted.
“It should not have taken that many experts and witnesses for his death to be validated, when the writing was on the wall,” my mom said, “I couldn't help but think, if this was someone of an opposing race, it would not take all of this for a conviction.”
This point my mom brought up angered me. It isn't right that something so terrible caught on camera was argued over for such a prolonged time. I couldn’t help but wonder when there will ever be a real change in how Black people are treated.
So I decided to ask my mom if she felt there was any noticeable change between 1992 and today.
“No,” she told me. “Black men are still dying at a larger rate and they [police] are still shooting us. I don't see any change because I'm still hearing my Black brothers and sisters dying, even today. We need to figure out why that’s happening, then maybe we’ll get somewhere.”
My mom continued to express her frustrations and went on a rant about the injustices Black people face worldwide, not just in America. Her anger was apparent, but the hurt in her voice was more prominent. I felt so connected to my mom in this moment; I was viewing a whole new side of her.
“The only change I see is Black people and even other races are speaking out more, but Black people still aren't getting equal rights and treatment,” she went on. “This one verdict doesn't solve anything, and this country has some serious issues that are much bigger than the death of George Floyd.” She continued to bring up other systemic racial obstacles Black people have to face, such as how the rate of successful births in hospitals are much lower for Black people.
“So do I see a change? Not really,” she concluded. “It’s the same undercover racism I noticed in 1992.”
After this conversation with my mother, I realized that I shared some of her feelings.
I began thinking about my own feelings about the verdict, and despite a police officer finally being held accountable, I wasn’t really happy, either. I thought about the fact that I shouldn’t be celebrating what is supposed to happen when a murder occurs.
My mom made me realize that 2021 and 1992 are exactly the same. Despite my not being around in 1992, we are actually living in it still.
Hopefully one day this country can move forward, and we can stop living in the past.
Lia Hurd is a senior at California State University Northridge majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Interactive Marketing. Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Lia has always been drawn to making her community more heard and seen in the media. Upon graduation in December 2021, she hopes to be working in entertainment public relations.