Why I Marched

I marched on Sunday June 7th in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia in peaceful support of the change needed in the US (and around the world) regarding the lack of true justice and equality for people of color and minorities. There was absolutely no violence or looting that I saw or have since seen reported by any outlet, so this march was thankfully not co-opted by destructive individuals as several similar protests have so unfortunately been over the past several days.

During the march I posted a Facebook Live video, and while the support for my choice to make my voice heard was overwhelmingly positive, I was nonetheless disappointed to see two primary negative threads repeated in the comments, so I figured I’d share my thoughts about those two issues here.

The first argument I heard a lot came predominantly from followers in the UK, that it was irresponsible to be a part of such a group event given the coronavirus pandemic. I certainly understand peoples’ point of view on this, and I did not make the decision to participate without a great deal of thought regarding the COVID-19 situation.

For my friends in the UK, it’s important to keep in mind that unlike the UK (and most of Europe), the timeline for ‘reopening’ and ending the ‘lockdown’ due to the pandemic in the US is determined on a state-by-state basis. I live in the state of Georgia in the southern US, and it was one of the first states to begin its reopening procedures in late April (over 6 weeks ago). Despite our ‘re-opened’ status, I (and everyone close to me) have continued to employ hyper-vigilant pandemic-related practices – masks on anytime I’m in public, no dining in restaurants, no haircuts, etc, and very limited interactions with others only when outside and under conditions where I felt I could control the safety of the situation.

So the situation is quite different where I live as compared to many in the UK who expressed concern about my decision to march in public. That said, I was able to ensure that many precautions were in place during the march including obviously wearing a KN-95 mask and eye coverings, remaining outdoors in breezy conditions, limited social distancing, 99% of people near me wearing masks, and moving to more sparsely populated areas anytime the march slowed or stopped. I realize that the risk of contributing to the spread of the virus was greater than it would have been if I had stayed home, but given the importance of the issue to me (more on that below) combined with confidence that the event would not be violent and the fact that I could control various aspects of the dangers of the virus spreading, I decided that the pros outweighed the cons.

Understanding that I took pains to ensure that I would not pose a danger to others regarding the possibility of infection, this is personal decision and I have no problem with those who would have chosen differently for health reasons.

The second - and more distressing - complaint that reverberated around my Facebook comments thread was in those who disagreed with the premise of the event on political or moral terms. This most commonly took the form of ‘All lives matter – I’m unfollowing you,’ to which I say, ‘OK bye.’

I have historically not used my public Facebook page to air any political views or stances. And I would still argue that to me this is not a political issue, but rather a human issue. This is not about Democrats, Republicans, the right, the left or who you voted for. It’s about justice for all people and the recognition that many of our systems of law and order do not have the appropriate safeguards in place to afford exactly what those institutions exist to provide: equal justice under the law.

I can’t and won’t get into the nuanced arguments about this issue here, except to say that I agree with those who suggest that saying ‘All lives matter’ or ‘Blue lives matter’ in response to some perceived threat emanating from the call that ‘Black lives matter’ are missing the point. Of course all lives matter, but the (seemingly) very clear reality is that in our current situation, that is not at all true, especially for people of color.

Imagine for a moment that a friend informed you that his father had just died. Would it be accurate to state in response that ‘all dads die’ eventually? Yes. But would that also be insensitive and cruel? Yep. So while no one is arguing that all lives do not indeed matter, saying so in response to a community frustrated with the repetition of that community’s lives not seeming to matter as much is at best unhelpful, and at worst cruelly insensitive and damaging to the overall point.

So for any out-and-out racists who unfollowed me because of the stand that I’m taking alongside millions of others around the world, I say good riddance. Spew your hate elsewhere.

For those who feel threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement, I urge you to more selflessly consider the issue from another point of view.

For those who say ‘all lives matter’ in response to ‘black lives matter,’ I encourage you to actually live up to that slogan and appreciate that all lives are not currently mattering, thus the need to change things.

For those concerned that I’m a ‘snowflake’ that is being manipulated and falling for some contrived excuse to foment discord or a political campaign, know that I’ve got this with my eyes wide open. I’m a pretty critical thinker capable of assessing, digesting and acting on actual facts that are supported by reality rather than cable news hosts, newspaper columnists, or certainly social media tropes and memes.

For those assuming that I’m anti-police, you couldn’t be more wrong. I love the police, some of my very good friends are police, and I’ve spent years documenting and supporting the police and the amazing (and amazingly difficult) job they do to protect and serve us every single day. Check out my previous work including my Guardians of the Night series if you need confirmation.

And for those who share my passion for justice and equality, I stand with you.

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Positively Expert: Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the internationally acclaimed TV series, It’s Me or the Dog. A bestselling author, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.

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