A Message from President Elliot Stern: Eight Minutes and 46 Seconds

June 1, 2020

Colleagues and Students:

One week ago today, George Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis police officers for allegedly paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the squad car pulled up, he was dead. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds of that time, an arresting officer held his knee over Mr. Floyd’s neck while three other officers looked on. This white officer continued to press his knee over Mr. Floyd’s neck even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive, and for another minute after paramedics arrived on the scene. Today, an independent autopsy confirmed what we all knew from watching the pieced-together videos—that George Floyd was asphyxiated.

On the same day, May 25, a white woman in Central Park was videotaped telephoning 911, falsely reporting that she and her dog were being attacked by an African-American man, as she raised her tone and volume and hurried her speech to indicate panic, and her dog squealed as she yanked on his leash, all while Christian Cooper,  the African-American birdwatcher she was falsely accusing, stood 20 or more feet away, calmly videotaping this performance.  

George Floyd’s death has spawned protests around the world. The incident was the “last straw” for African-Americans in this country who have been reporting police brutality long before telephone videotapes horrified all of us. Saddleback College supports peaceful protests against police brutality and the racist violence that has plagued our country since its inception. It is the last straw not only for African-Americans, but for all decent people of this country.

Christian Cooper, the innocent birdwatcher, was almost a victim himself, a victim of a privileged white finance executive who believed that racism was so prevalent that she could bully an innocent black man into submission (after he dared to ask her to leash her dog in an area where they are required) by calling the police on him and falsely accusing him of attacking her and her dog. It is the penultimate act of racism—to abuse majority power to threaten the freedom (and life) of a man with less power by virtue of his race.

Our college abhors these blatant racist abuses of power. We ally ourselves with millions who march and shout and plea with our fellow citizens this week to bring these and similar abuses to an end.

As an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation not merely to speak out against these abuses but to act on them for the greater good. Today we embrace our African-American students and colleagues, chest to chest, angry heart beating against angry heart, to re-express our commitment to ensuring that they feel welcome at Saddleback, as welcome as any sisters and brothers in our family, and to speak out against all acts of racism, from microaggressions to murder. We will not look on at your oppression or require videotaped proof of your experiences. We do not share your experiences, but we will take them into ourselves as if they are our own, as in this past week we have taken on George Floyd and Christian Cooper.

Finally, we re-affirm our commitment to using learning to educate our students and ourselves about racism and to defeat the acts and words of hate that spew from it. We re-affirm our commitment to teach the value of diversity and collaboration and to defeat the forces that seek to divide and keep us polarized. And we re-affirm the commitment to closing access and opportunity gaps for all who have been disadvantaged by racism and other power inequities in our society that slowly asphyxiate whole populations so that those with unchecked power can maintain unchecked power. Higher education is the oxygen that will save lives.

But not George Floyd’s.

Whoever you are, whatever the color of skin, wherever you came from, no matter how different your life has been from mine, know that we all feel despair and anger today. Well we should. And know that you are loved.

 

Elliot

Dr. Elliot Stern

President, Saddleback College