826LA

Social injustices

“Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.”

– Maya Angelou

This quote makes me think that, up to a certain point, we have rights and freedom, but when it comes to a serious situation, all of this disappears.

Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2015 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer from Ferguson, Missouri. The reason the police officer was targeting Brown at that time was because there had been a theft at a convenience store. Officer Wilson targeted Brown because of his description: young black teenager. I think Officer Wilson targeted him because the color of his skin. I don’t know if he was the first black teenager he saw. Officer Wilson handled the situation by shooting Brown when he had his hands up.

In both the story behind the “Mendez v. Westminster” case and in Brown’s situation, I believe skin color was a factor. The Mendez family wanted to transfer their children to a different school for a better education, but when they went to the school in Westminster, called 17th Street, they didn’t accept them because the color of their skin. They didn’t just reject Mexicans, but Asians as well. For the family members who looked white who wanted to apply to 17th Street in Westminster, they accepted them due to their skin tone and English-sounding last name.

The Ferguson situation compares to the Mendez case because these two racial groups, African-American and Mexican-American, were trying to stand up for equal rights. In both situations, I believe white men were discriminating against them based on the color of their skin. This makes me wonder, if Brown would’ve been white, would he have been shot? Hopefully, this brings awareness to situations likes these so it doesn’t continue. I am hopeful that we can learn from our mistakes and try to get along, regardless of the color of our skin.  

I think it’s important for students to stand up for their rights because the Bill of Rights says that everyone is created equal. I believe students and families should be treated equally because, from my own perspective, no one is greater than anyone else.

We as humans have different skin tones, religions, and beliefs. That shouldn’t give anyone the right to discriminate against others based on their appearance. Humans should be more accepting of one another, because no one is greater than anyone else.

Humans are the same because we come from the same species. As humans, we become more passive to situations. For example, we look at the news, we watch horrible stories being broadcast, yet we do nothing about it. By doing so, we show how we don’t care for one another and we are selfish, only caring about ourselves.

History is repeating itself all the time, but we just don’t realize it. I think, in the past year, several things have gotten better, like civil rights and freedom of speech. For example, immigration and education have been big issues in the last few months, with the president trying to help the undocumented become citizens by granting them to get their driver’s licenses, and go to college to have a “successful” life. Although immigrants have nothing to do with Mendez or Ferguson, they are similar because they too are being discriminated against based on the color of their skin. People should stop judging based on appearances and should accept people based on their actions. If this were to happen, I think everybody would be happy with everyone, and the world would be a better place to live.

–Jorge Illescas

This essay originally appeared in the 2015 book “We Are Alive When We Speak for Justice.”  In a semester-long project, the non-profit organization 826LA worked with Mendez High School students to explore the landmark “Mendez v. Westminster” case, which led to the desegregation of California schools and was a precursor to “Brown v. Board of Education.”