Boyette has come home to Aiken Standard 1

John Boyette

I’ll come right out and admit it: Today’s column was not an easy one to write.

I’ve been struggling for the past couple of weeks on what I should say – even what I could say – about the deaths of unarmed African Americans that have sparked protests demanding change across the country.

By now, we know about the horrible death that George Floyd suffered at the hands of a white police officer. We also know what happened to Ahmaud Arbery. And Breonna Taylor. And too many others to list here.

As a newspaper editor, it is my duty to keep up with the news. I’ll admit I have a tendency to glaze over a lot of the political news that happens, especially coming from Washington. It’s exhausting to keep up with and, frankly, a rabbit hole I don’t enjoy going down.

But these protests, that started soon after Floyd’s death, were different. They started in major cities across the U.S., and by last weekend they had reached South Carolina and, most important to our readers, Aiken County.

Some were violent with riots and looting. We saw video clips of crowds being dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets. Thankfully, the one in Aiken was peaceful. Our neighbors in Columbia and Charleston weren’t as lucky.

Aiken’s city leaders held an event last week where the mayor and others issued statements denouncing racial inequality and promising to do better here. I attended and was happy to see a diverse group of people. No one raised their voice in anger. Leaders from the NAACP and Concerned Ministers Fellowship issued calls for action.

At the end, the Rev. Paul Bush asked for those still in attendance to take a knee as he prayed for healing. I was happy to do so.

As a middle-aged white guy, I haven’t experienced racism like so many others have. I’m not old enough to remember the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but I know the history and the protests that rocked the nation during that turbulent decade.

By the time I started attending Aiken County public schools in the early 1970s, they were already integrated. I haven’t had any obstacles getting into schools. I haven’t had any problems getting jobs; the ones that I was rejected for, I just assumed I wasn’t the most qualified and it had nothing to do with my race. When I go to a restaurant or business, no one treats me differently. Sadly, some of those things aren’t true for African Americans and other minorities.

Do a quick internet search and you can find detailed lists of “civil unrest” throughout the nation’s history. In the last decade, there were more than two dozen. Remember Ferguson? How about Baltimore? And don’t forget Charlottesville.

If you’re like me, you are probably on multiple email lists for organizations, businesses and services. I’ve gotten a few stating their opposition to the racial injustice. Locally, many groups and organizations have issued statements denouncing injustice and inequality.

Words are fine but, as Eugene White, president of the local branch of the NAACP, so eloquently put it: “How long do we have to have these rallies?”

As so many have said, this time the protests feel different. Perhaps this time the message will stick. Maybe all of us will listen more. I know I certainly can.

Thanks for reading.

John Boyette is executive editor of the Aiken Standard. Reach him at jboyette@aikenstandard.com or 803-644-2364.