James and George

James Cornacchia, an officer of the Georgia Tech Police Department, succumbed to Covid-19 on June 1. He was only 42 years old, and his tragic death leaves behind a young family. I cannot say I knew him, but I do remember him around campus. He was always friendly and always engaged with the students and the rest of the community.

In her CNN report, Alisha Ebrahimji, quotes Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd. Describing George or “Floyd,” as he liked to be called, Philonise said, “He’s a gentle giant; he don’t hurt anybody.” She also attributes to Floyd’s friend, NBA player Stephen Jackson, the following description: “Floyd was known in the community as a protector and provider who didn’t have a hateful bone in his body. The difference between me and bro was that I had more opportunity than he did.” Floyd’s tragic death also leaves behind two young daughters, two other older children, and a granddaughter.

The death of these two individuals point to two existential threats that we, and much of the world, are facing at this moment. One is Covid-19 — a new disease that is much out of our control, although, arguably, we could have been better prepared. The other is an old disease — racism. For Covid-19, we mobilized the best minds and the economic machinery of the country, and we will conquer it. For racism, and its symptoms of bigotry and violence, we have done relatively little. We have become desensitized to its centuries-long trail of poverty, injustice, and death.

It has to stop. It can be stopped. In my lifetime, I have experienced the elation and the hope of the civil rights movement and its inspiring and unifying selfless leaders. And I have experienced the reemergence of a culture of violence, extremism, and divisiveness. It has to stop.

James Cornacchia and George Floyd succumbed to two different and devastating diseases. But they shared the most fundamental trait. They were human beings. Ironically, while alive, stereotyping and racism could have put them in adversarial camps. But at death, they were the same: sons, siblings, friends, partners, and fathers who will be deeply missed, and whose death will forever be reminders of our failures as a nation and a society.

- Rafael L. Bras

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Susie Ivy, Director
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