Emerson president calls George Floyd’s killing ‘a legalized lynching’ in letter to campus, reflects on own experiences of racism


Emerson College’s president penned a poignant and deeply private letter to the campus group Sunday, referring to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a “legalized lynching” and detailing how racism has painfully impacted his personal life.

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Lee Pelton stated he didn’t sleep all of Friday evening and as a substitute, “like a moth drawn to a flame,” discovered himself watching the cellphone video of Floyd’s dying on repeat. 

“I was mesmerized by the casualness with which the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Chauvin dug his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly said, ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,’” Pelton stated. “As he called on his Mama before he took his last breath, Chauvin continued to talk, he looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t stop until Floyd was unresponsive. George Floyd was invisible. And it was his invisibility, a brutal white power structure and Chauvin’s dehumanization of him that killed him.”

Like Floyd, Pelton stated Black Americans are invisible to most of white America, dwelling within the shadows. 

“The persistent structural racism that undergirds American society and permits the police and others to kill Black people is pernicious and ubiquitous,” he stated, turning to his personal historical past and experiences of racism. 

In his lifetime, Pelton stated he’s been referred to as the n-word by white individuals in each state and metropolis he’s ever lived in. 

“I have been pulled over driving while Black more times than I can remember,” he stated. “I have been spit on by a white parking lot attendant. I was stopped 20 feet from my house by two white police officers in their cruiser, the searing heat of their spot light on my neck, guns drawn on either side of my car because I looked like a black man who was alleged to have stolen something from a convenience store.”

While dwelling on the West Coast, Pelton stated he was pulled over twice in a single evening for allegedly not utilizing his flip sign “the proper feet before a stop sign.” 

During his time as president of Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon, Pelton recalled the time “two teenage boys drove up on the sidewalk to block my path home because I looked like someone who was suspected of stealing from neighborhood homes. When I asked what that person looked like they described someone more than twenty years younger than me.”

In the ’70s, at 20 years outdated, he stated he was visiting his cousins in Conway, Ark., when he “suffered the deep humiliation of having to go to the back alley of a local restaurant to order food.” 

“I was angry at the overt racism and at my cousins for enduring such indignities almost a decade after the passages of the two Civil Rights Acts of the mid-’60s,” Pelton stated. 

The uncooked recollection of his previous introduced him so as to add a remaining message: “What happened to George Floyd is not new. It [is] as old as 250 years of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that sought to marginalize and shut out black Americans from American society.”

He instructed the campus group that providing phrases of consolation could be inauthentic and would “absolve so many from coming to terms with their own silent complicity in the world in which we live.”

Instead, he supplied a lengthy listing of Black Americans who died by the hands of police and vigilantes. 

Do you remember Trayvon Martin or 12-year old Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland or Philando Castile or Eric Garner or Freddie Gray or Botham Jean or Breonna Taylor?” Pelton requested. “Say their names. This is not new. All of them dead. Each of them invisible.”

Closing with one final reflective query, he requested, “What are you going to do?”

George Floyd has a historical past. And so do I. #BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/fo8DjS8EEY

— Lee Pelton (@LeePelton) June 2, 2020