WASHINGTON – George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just two of the African Americans who have died at the hands of police in the United States, but their deaths weigh heavily on the minds of many Black voters who see the outcome of next Tuesday’s presidential election amid a pandemic, economic devastation and ongoing violence by law enforcement as a matter of life and death.
“I think that for many in the minority communities, especially in the African American community, we believe that Breonna is on the ballot, we believe that George Floyd is on the ballot, we believe that Jacob Blake Jr. is on the ballot,” attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented the Taylor and Floyd families, told EFE.
“We are fighting to make sure that their bloodshed won’t be in vain, and we’re voting as if our children’s lives depend on it,” he said.
President Donald Trump got few votes from African Americans in 2016 and seems unlikely to improve on that performance. Blacks have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, accounting for 20 percent of the 228,000 US deaths from COVID-19 when they are just 13 percent of the population.
The Republican incumbent has also emboldened the far right, including white supremacists, and never misses an opportunity to praise police, even in the face of evidence of their abuses.
“Every time he (Trump) opens his mouth, he is telling us exactly why we must vote,” Timothy E. Findley Jr., senior pastor of Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville, Kentucky (where Taylor was killed), told EFE.
“And the way that I’ve been explaining this, and I’m doing this in no uncertain terms, I’m saying ‘if you don’t vote they will kill us,’” he said.
Regarding the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, Findley said that advocates for police reform we need “to hold his feet to the fire if he becomes president.”
“I don’t know of anyone who is looking at Joe Biden as the savior of Black America,” the 41-year-old pastor said. “But I am looking at Donald Trump as being a person that in the next four years could set a very hostile – even more so – hostile and dangerous climate in this country that many of us have never seen in my age group. I think it’s very, very important that we distinguish the two.”
Crump also voiced apprehension about the consequences of another four years in the White House for the real estate mogul and reality television star-turned-politician.
“With this Trump Department of Justice, the police feel that no matter what they do, that this administration will side with them regardless if there is police brutality or excessive force inflicted on our marginalized people in America,” the lawyer said.
Trump’s claim of having done more for African Americans than any other president with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery in the US, rings hollow to most in the Black community.
But while African Americans remain loyal to the Democratic Party, many of them have grown disenchanted with voting. In 2016, hundreds of thousands who turned out twice to vote for Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president, did not go to the polls to cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.
This year has seen a flowering of what are known in the US as GOTV (Get Out The Vote) initiatives, but the effort mounted by the National Basketball Association (NBA) stands out for its extent and intensity.
In August, NBA players forced the postponement of playoff games by refusing to take the court in response to a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where officers shot Jacob Blake Jr. seven times in the back at point-blank range as they tried to take him into custody.
Blake survived, but was left a paraplegic. A few days later, the Milwaukee Bucks, whose home arena is just 64km (40mi) from Kenosha, decided to strike and the NBA suspended all games for several days.
All but eight of the league’s 30 teams have offered their arenas or practice facilities for use as polling places and NBA players, roughly 75 percent of them African American, have made use of their fame to spread the GOTV message.
“I always talk about how Black kids and Black people in the community don’t believe that their vote matters,” Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James told reporters in August, weeks before his team won the 2020 NBA title.
“We grow up or we don’t think that our vote actually matters for who becomes the president. I mean, we’ve seen recounts before, we’ve seen our voice be muted, muted over our whole lives,” James said.
In Louisville, Findley said he was seeing an urgency about voting that reminds him of 2008 and 2012, though the motivation is not the same.
“Where with Barack Obama it was almost a vote because there was pride,” he told EFE. “It’s different this year. We’re looking at a sea of darkness and we’re saying ‘we better do something.’”
“I won’t say fear, but I will say there is great concern in this election and I think that is what is causing this sort of avalanche of voting and this push with voting early to happen,” the pastor said.
With days to go before the election, the number of African Americans who have taken advantage of early voting is much larger than at the same point in 2016.
“I think that after everything that’s happened this year, I think that people are inspired – more inspired – to get out and vote. Even people who don’t necessarily believe in the process understand that this election, this year, ‘I had better be on the right side of history,’” Findley said.
As many as 26 million people took part in the Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the police killings of Taylor and Floyd and the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by white vigilantes.
“I think this is the moment, this is our moment, to get systematic reform to change the culture and the behavior of policing in America, especially as it relates to the interactions between minorities,” Crump told EFE.