I just cannot win. I realize that. But if I remain silent, shame on me. If I speak from the heart, shame on me, stay in your lane. Marin Magazine‘s Mimi Towle asked me to put my thoughts together, so I put pen to paper, fingers to computer keyboard, as a man of color, over the alleged murder of George Floyd and the worldwide response. She also asked me what it is like as one of 0.32 % of Blacks living in Mill Valley, a quiet small pocket of paradise in southern Marin County. I will circle back to that in a moment.
Roughly a week before writing this, no one knew the name George Floyd. Now he is a global symbol and victim of police brutality. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a peaceful protest on this very issue in 2016. He was ostracized, lost his job, and blackballed. Nothing changed.
The Saint’s quarterback Drew Brees, a future Hall of Fame player, when asked for his opinion about players kneeling to protest police brutality once the NFL season begins this fall, said he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag…We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and that we are all part of the solution.” What? After four years he didn’t know why Colin Kaepernick knelt? But the very next day, in a statement posted on his Instagram account, the 41-year-old Brees said his comments were “insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country.”
30 years ago, after a routine traffic stop, Rodney King was brutally beaten by police in Los Angeles. Nothing changed. Now, we have lost George Floyd. The world looked and gasped as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, restrained Floyd face down on the ground with his knee to the back of his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. While other officers stood and watched, and camera phones recorded. People in the surrounding crowd shouted for Chauvin to stop and Floyd could be heard crying that he could not breathe. For two minutes, Floyd lay unresponsive while Chauvin’s knee still applied pressure to his neck. Based on “the optics”, it appeared cops could act with impunity.
Though Chauvin was charged with third degree murder, the killing triggered these protests which became stand-offs with police, which turned violent with tear gas and rubber bullets coast to coast. Riots, looting, and images appeared on our television screens many of us have not seen since the Martin Luther King assassination. On June 3rd, the three other Minneapolis police officers are facing charges in the Floyd death. I was heartened by the peaceful protests by crowds who wanted to expose their anger, pain and grief. On the other hand, I was angered by those who chose to exploit by vandalism. What was the point? How was this respectful of George Floyd? I also loved the large turnout for the peaceful protest on June 2 in the proud community of Marin City, a place I also called home from 1998 to 2001.
To be clear, I have great respect for 99% of law enforcement, those who have sworn to serve and protect. These brave men and women are dedicated to the job and do the right thing. I applaud Sheriff Chris Swanson of Flint, Michigan who shed his riot gear and walked with protesters. Police in Shreveport, Louisiana and Coral Gables, Florida did the same or took a knee. On a personal note — my friendship with Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle, current and past Under Sheriffs and deputies goes back over 20 years. Since 1998, It has been my honor to emcee the annual Marin Public Safety Officers event each June. I do take issue with the other 1% of officers like Chauvin.
Back to Mill Valley, where I have called home since 2001. My wife, Irish/Italian, grew up here. We chose to live here and raise our three sons because of the community, its charm, its strong school system, its safe haven. It is a privilege to live here in what has been often called a social “bubble.” Nothing happens here and it is far from the real world realities that have been brought to light over the past week.
Yet Mill Valley is not immune to racism. Racism, be it subtle, systemic, economic, blatant is everywhere. It lingers in Mill Valley like unseen particles of dust in the air. Our current Mayor, Sashi McEntee has come under fire this month since saying in a City Council meeting that Black Lives Matter is “not of immediate local importance.” She later issued a statement of apology for her comment. In 2017 there was racist graffiti on Tamalpais High School directed toward the principal JC Farr, who looks like me. It was met with swift action and a rally in support of Farr and in contempt of the individual who tagged the school. In July of 2013, then Marin Sheriff deputy Evan Kubota shot a Marin City man Chaka Grayson, a recent parolee who was absconding from a traffic stop. Grayson was awarded $585,000 from the county. Kubota was demoted and is still fighting legally to be reinstated.
In my time here, neither me, my wife and sons have faced blatant racism. Have I been followed by police late at night? Profiled? Sure. Have I had anxiety when I see a police car in my rear view mirror? Sure. I have not been stopped. I have not had an awkward exchange when I needed to break into my “Ned Flanders or Reese Witherspoon-like” white persona. What have we taught our sons? Be respectful, accepting, and try not to see color. My wife and I have made the sacrifices a parent does to ensure that they have what they need to succeed. But wow, the world they are growing up in especially now. I worry about them every time they walk out of the door.
Bottom line? We all have to be better. We have to try and move forward with peaceful protest and heal, bind the Bay Area and this country. So much will be on our kids’ shoulders, their generation to, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview, “Cross the finish line in what needs to be done. It will take organization to vote and effect change.” I am just so sad that it has taken a murder for the world to see for us to say “Enough.” We need to have Whites, Blacks, all races to march together to bring this fractured country together.
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Vern Glenn is a two-time Emmy Award winning Sports Anchor/Reporter for CBS affiliate KPIX in San Francisco. His career in local television sports spans 35 years, the last 30 in the Bay Area.