The gruesome and horrendous murder of George Floyd in full view of the entire world has brought our nation to a tipping point in race relations. In spite of the tragedy of these times, my heart is filled with hope. Watching millions of Americans across our nation march, protest, and proclaim for justice, fairness, and equality is inspiring. This is different than the protests in the sixties. I was a teenager living here in Idaho Falls at the time. Although it touched me in spirit, I wasn’t personally engaged with the struggle.
The past two weeks my wife, LaVonna, and I have marched and protested on the Broadway bridge along with up to a hundred of our fellow citizens. It was overwhelming to see the many young people of all colors peacefully protesting with signs, banners, and unbridled enthusiasm. Many of us chanted in unison “Black Lives Matter.” Sure, we got flipped off a few times, got yelled at, but that was nothing compared to the many horn honks and thumbs up. Another hopeful sign Is the engagement of our community leaders. This past Sunday, Chief of Police Bryce Johnson joined the Citizens for Accountability, Advocacy, and Public Safety for close to an hour to listen and respond to our concerns. He even made a couple positive commitments right there on the phone call. One of our committee members reached out to Mayor Casper to initiate dialogue about Black Lives Matter. My personal experience with the mayor is that while we may disagree on certain topics, she is always open to hearing views that are different than her own.
While the George Floyd murder has shone the spotlight on police brutality, it has also shone a spotlight on our nation’s original sin, racism. It is my belief that there is institutional racism in our nation and in our community. It is rarely talked about because human nature is to deny the racism in front of us but to accept that it’s in those other cities and towns—not in our city leadership, not in our neighborhoods, and not in our churches. I believe now is the time to have the conversation that racism is here. With that in mind, I have agreed to be a speaker at the Standing Together Unity Walk. I will attempt to describe 75 years of struggle with discrimination and racism in Idaho Falls. A famous philosopher. George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are destined to repeat it.” It is my hope that our community is ready to learn about our history with racism as it works together to build a better future.
Dennis Patterson is a former president of the African American Alliance and former Legal Redress Officer for the Idaho Falls NAACP.