The death of an unarmed African American man at the hands of law enforcement.
Outrage in the streets, and collateral destruction of property.
Like many of us, Kathy Huck and Nicole Chase — two San Fernando Valley advocates for youth and the underserved — are navigating around the senseless death of an unarmed George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the worldwide outrage that has spawned countless protests and now looting.
Pastor Huck is the founder and executive director of the About My Father’s Business Homeless Outreach Ministry that she began in October 2018, established as a nonprofit last March, and serves much of the West Valley including Chatsworth, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills. She has spent more than 20 years ministering and serving the poor and underserved in the Los Angeles and Ventura counties. She and her husband, Algert Huck III, have five grown children — sons Tai Shawn, Robert, Kamahni, Ryan and daughter Vee. (Another son, Philip Joseph, 27, was killed in 2007 after being hit by a car.) They began raising their family in Reseda for 2-3 years, then moved to Thousand Oaks where they still reside.
When our kids were young they didn’t understand the concept that they were not like their friends. My youngest was in kindergarten, and a little girl told him he couldn’t play with her because all Black people had AIDS and should die. I had to take my son into the principal’s office; they called the little girl and her mother in. The mother kept saying, “I don’t know why she would say that,” “her best friend is Black,” and “I don’t know where she got that from.” The mother could not even begin to empathize how I felt or how my child felt.
I knew then I had to start teaching my children what it was like to be Black, and the history of Black people in America. My husband is white, but I would tell them, “No matter what color your father is, to America you are Black, and always will be.”
I told them people are going to treat them a certain way because their skin is Black. I told them police officers — especially when the boys became teenagers and started driving — will treat them a certain way because they are Black. I told them “I do not want you being flippant” — I didn’t want them being flippant with anybody — but “to be respectful, and whatever they tell you to do you do that. If they arrest you, keep your mouth shut, make your one phone call to me and I will call our lawyer — period. Do not ever be flippant with them.”
They have a festival out here in Thousand Oaks, the Conejo Valley Days. All of the children and families out here look forward to going every year. My oldest son Tai had turned 18, and had graduated from high school. He and a bunch of his friends from the Valley all rolled up there. The police arrested them because they said a gang of Black young men fitting their description had robbed a store or something like that. They eventually let them go. He came home and was all shook up. He had lived such an unassuming life in Thousand Oaks. Maybe he forgot what the deal was.
Even for my husband, it’s still hard for him to absorb a lot of this. The first time I ever saw him emotionally crying was having to watch what happened to George Floyd. As he was crying, he looked at me and said, “It could have been any one of our kids.” I thought, “Oh wow, this realization has finally hit you.” All of his friends — even his white friends — are my friends. Everything he does is with my family; he goes golfing with Tai and Tai’s friends; he is constantly around the Black community. For the 35 years of our marriage, that was the first time it really hit home with him.
But the reaction to [the circumstances of Floyd’s death] does feel different. I don’t know where this is going, and I’ve seen this play out over the years [in different ways] so many times. But it feels different this time because it isn’t just the Black community that is mad.
It isn’t that other communities haven’t come out beside us in the past and expressed outrage. The difference this time is, everybody’s mad. Asian people have been beat up and treated badly with the COVID-19. Latino people are mad; there are people locked in cages at the border, their children are dying, and nobody seems to care.
And white people are mad. They’re mad about being homeless, unemployment, the rent, this paltry stimulus check, the injustness of the fact you would put a moratorium on rents and not cancel them. They were demonstrating before this. I know everybody out there, their priority is not George Floyd. With COVID-19, they saw their “privilege,” or what they perceived to be their privilege, could be taken away.
I don’t believe there is a day coming where I won’t have to worry about my sons or daughter being pulled over by police. I don’t believe the police department is inherently evil — I don’t generalize. But I believe there’s always going to be those kinds of people, no matter how many of us have good intentions and want to do the right thing. There’s gonna always be that element of evil and wickedness in the world.
Born and raised in the Valley, Chase is the current president and CEO for the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima. She took over for her father, the late LeRoy Chase, a pillar in the Valley’s African American community who ran the Boys & Girls Club from 1968 to 2018.
One of the challenges for me is probably a challenge younger people are having. The older generations are trying to seek answers, and we’re still asking why we’ve been fighting for things for generations upon generations, and why aren’t we getting answers? What are we to tell our younger people?
On the flip side, you have younger people who, based on the history they learned because they have the Internet which allows more access, are saying, “Wait a minute. Why have people been fighting for so long but there’s still the police brutality, still the racism? It doesn’t make sense in this day and age.” And now they are actually seeing it.
Where do we begin to have a conversation? Is the conversation “Yes, racism still exists” and we continue hammering that? Do we say, “Because you’re a Black male you have to act differently?” And it’s painful to say that; you shouldn’t have to say that. But it resonates. We are all in a position where we want to holler and scream and yell about the abuses. There’s nothing wrong with being a champion for George Floyd in the sense of the unjust, the distrust — the evilness — of what made that [Minneapolis police officer] continue to feel so powerful that he continued to put pressure on this man for a $20 counterfeit bill. When are we gonna deal with that psyche?
My parents raised three daughters in the Valley. When we started driving, my dad always said if we are pulled over by police, “Ten and Two,” meaning the placement of your hands on the steering wheel. “Make sure you show them your hands. Backtalking or arguing — where’s that gonna get you with an officer?” He said they’ll ask you for your ID, you can tell them where it is and ask can you get it. But you take their direction. Another thing I remember, although I don’t know if he said it: if they tell you to get out of the car, roll your windows up and lock the door. It wasn’t the fear of what they might find, but the fear of what they might leave in your car that they could use against you later.
To this day I tell our older kids, “‘Ten and Two,’ and don’t move. If you’re pulled over by the police, it’s not about you even asking what you did. ‘Ten and Two’ is where your hands should be on the steering wheel.” Then they ask you for your ID, and that’s the hard part.
Women might reach in their purse for their license, while other guys go in their pocket for their wallet for their license or into the glove compartment for the registration. But when it comes to a Black man, I really don’t know how to tell them how to get from having your hands on the steering wheel to getting your wallet or registration — or even pull your phone out. Time and time again, you hear law officials say,” Oh, he reached for something.” What do you do? You may have to literally say, “Officer, please don’t shoot me because I’m reaching for my license.” I have nephews and cousins. And I can’t answer that question for them. Because that officer may perceived that by moving you’re trying to kill him because they have the authority. That’s how they’ve always treated it.
You ask if this reaction feels different. Yes, it does. For one, you’re riding on a pandemic where people have been locked inside, and they’re almost exploding to get outside. You also have a series of Black men — and a Black woman — who have needlessly been executed. But the difference; you can actually hear a man dying on TV saying, “I can’t breathe.” I mean we could have literally been seeing this man die. All you saw was an anger or hatred. I don’t know why this police officer was angry at this man; this was his job. But you saw [Floyd] die on TV. And it was like [the officer] was okay with that. Then you see three other officers on top of this man, crushing him for a $20 counterfeit bill.
Are you’re telling me because a person called the police and said someone passed him a counterfeit bill — and I don’t know the whole dynamic — that [Floyd] needs to die?
For the generation of kids who are seeing this for the first time, the protests and the violence, I want to ask them something else: did you see the news the day after you saw the violence? Did you see who was helping to clean up the shops? People of all colors, all ages — your age, even younger. They came out in numbers to help people they didn’t even know. They’ll put faces on the looters and those people need to be held accountable. I mean, do you really know why you’re out there? But look at who was at the cleanup.
It’s why I still feel some optimism. I think there will be a day I won’t have to keep telling our kids, “Ten and Two.” There was a young African American man I saw on TV — I wish I could remember his name — who was very articulate. He had his mask on and speaking to what was going on, and asking why, and that this needs to stop. His demeanor was not one of violence or anger, but one of sense. That we need to make sense of this, and we need to be about change.