Dear Editor:

This was an historic week in Piscataway.  At a candlelight vigil on Thursday night, and again at a march on Sunday afternoon, we saw the very best of our community. I want to thank the organizers of both events for giving us the opportunity to come together to express our grief and our outrage at the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Importantly, speakers at both events recognized that George Floyd’s murder is not an isolated incident. It is part of a pattern of racial, social, and economic injustice that has gone on in our nation for far too long, and that we must all work to end.

At the vigil on Thursday night, I spoke particularly to white people about our role in this cause:

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“It is necessary that people of conscience and good will—and I want to talk specifically to white people, and especially white moderates—it is necessary that we stand up and affirm the truth of three powerful words: Black Lives Matter. Three words. Three words that when stated in affirmation take on the force of principle…

“Please do not respond to the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ by saying ‘All Lives Matter’. That is not the issue. That is not under debate. No one is claiming that all lives don’t matter. And when you say that in response to Black Lives Matter, you are not listening. You are not listening to the raised voices of so many who are suffering and who are trying to make it understood that their experience is different from yours. Their experience demonstrates that society itself does not value their very lives, which is why it is necessary to affirm that their lives matter. When we do not listen, we cannot understand. And when we cannot understand, we cannot be part of the solution – we instead become part of the problem. “

I reiterate that belief here. In this moment I’ve recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Today, nearly 60 years later, the movement for racial justice is again sweeping our nation. A movement that demands that each of us decide whether we will affirmatively declare that we are on the side of what is good and just, or if we are not. Silence is complicity with violence. Let’s stand together now and affirm the truth of the words: Black Lives Matter. Period. Don’t add any qualifiers, or ifs, ands, or buts to that statement. Say Black Lives Matter. And then support and implement policies, and actions, that prove we mean it.

We must listen to the voices that are saying that the very concept of policing in this nation needs to be rethought. We must listen to the voices that are saying that fundamental change is needed to address institutional and systemic racism. We must listen and support the policy solutions that this movement is demanding, and stop trying to impose feel-good measures that seek not a presence of justice, but an absence of tension.

It is time to listen and act.

Bill Irwin

Piscataway, NJ