Amadou Diallo, 23. Feb. 4, 1999. “Mom, I’m going to college.”
Sean Bell, 23. Nov. 25, 2006. “I love you too.”
Oscar Grant, 22. Jan. 1, 2009. “You shot me! I got a four-year-old daughter!”
Kenneth Chamberlain, 66. Nov. 19, 2011. “Officers, why do you have your guns out?”
Kendrec McDade, 19. Mar. 24, 2012. “Why did you shoot me?”
Trayvon Martin, 17. Feb. 26, 2012. “What are you following me for?”
Kimani Gray, 16. Mar. 9, 2013. “Please don’t let me die!”
Eric Garner, 43. Jul. 17, 2014. “I can’t breathe!”
John Crawford, 22. Aug. 5, 2014. “It’s not real.”
Michael Brown, 18. Aug. 9, 2014. “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”
Natasha McKenna, 37. Feb. 3, 2015. “You promised you wouldn’t kill me!”
Walter Scott, 50. Apr. 4, 2015. “They tasing me!”
Freddie Gray, 25. Apr. 12, 2015. “I can’t breathe!”
Samuel DuBose, 43. Jul. 19, 2015. “I didn’t even do nothing!”
Christian Taylor, 19. Aug. 7, 2015. “I don’t wanna die too young!”
Philando Castile, 32. Jul. 6, 2016. “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
George Floyd, 42. May 25, 2020. “I can’t breathe!”
Desperate plea after desperate plea, the same story: an innocent, unarmed Black American dead. Unjust acquittal after unjust acquittal, the same story: Police not held accountable for acts of brutality. This is not a political issue, it is a human rights issue. We live in a great country — a great country with an unsettlingly large tumor that threatens to destroy it from the inside.
In light of the recent deaths of unarmed Black Americans at the hands of police officers, one may ask: is our policing system in shambles? Actually, that notion could not be any further from the truth. In fact, the policing system is being executed to perfection in the case of the unpunished murders of Black Americans — exactly according to its original design.
In 1704, during the early development of the Carolinas, America’s first law enforcement was established —but not to “protect and serve” its civilians. Rather, these “slave patrols” were created to preserve the South’s system of slavery by tracking down runaway slaves and preventing slave revolts.
Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, many local sheriffs enforced segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed enslaved people — working similarly to the previous slave patrols, according to a 2017 TIME history article.
Even in the North, an area erroneously championed by American history books as a land void of racism, businessmen utilized police regiments to control their black workforce, according to TIME.
These magnates viewed their workers, mostly Black Americans, as “the kind of people to go on strike and disrupt their workforce” and thus “drove the call for law and order,” using law enforcement for their own interests to curb any attempts at unionizing in pursuit of basic workers’ rights, according to TIME.
Racial oppression from policemen is not just a random occurrence; predating the Constitution, it has been prevalent throughout the history of law enforcement. Of course police brutality disproportionately affects Black Americans — the system was designed to allow those within the police force with racist intentions to do just that.
The recent atrocities at the hands of police are not the result of a few “bad apples” — they are a symptom of the centuries-old disease that has plagued American society since its inception: the unrestricted authority of the police force. How many more deaths will it take for our fellow Americans to envision the necessary institutional and cultural changes to remedy the racial injustices that continue to take the lives of Black people?
As this system continues to chug along, we, as consumer Americans, are conditioned to believe the narrative that Black Americans, the victims of this systemic racism, are the “bad guys” and are inherently depraved.
Let’s look at deeper-rooted issues caused by extenuating circumstances — an unfair justice system, mass incarceration of Black people, lack of access to equal education and governmental failure to give equal opportunities beyond Affirmative Action — that are leveraged to manipulate the masses into viewing Black Americans in a negative light. The system that we currently have, which has originated from white supremacist ideals, is racist to its very core.
“Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere,” former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eloquently stated in an Op-Ed for the L.A. Times about recent Black Lives Matter protests.
That light from the “sun” is the recording of incidents on mobile phones or police cams. Thanks to improved technology and social media, it has become easier for the public at large to see the racial injustice that envelops all aspects of life for Black Americans.
This racism applies to daily quality-of-life, as Black Americans statistically live under worse economic conditions (GDP, income, job comparisons, etc.), general healthcare (as seen in their disproportionate amount of deaths due to COVID-19), education (the disparities in quality of, access to, and success of schooling at all levels) — even obscure things like worse air and water quality, increased vulnerability in white neighborhoods and lesser-valued homes.
Over 20% of African Americans live below the poverty line — almost triple the percentage of white Americans, according to TalkPoverty.
This racism applies to business ventures. According to the Guardian, 53% of companies that have Black owners are turned down for loans — a rate twice as high as that of white business owners.
According to Reuters, a government probe in 2008 found 34,000 cases in which Wells Fargo charged Black and Hispanic customers higher fees and rates than white customers with similar credit profiles.
According to the New York Times, Countrywide Financial unit engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices against more than 200,000 qualified African American and Hispanic borrowers from 2004 through 2008.
According to USA Today, JP Morgan settled in a discriminatory lawsuit after being accused of charging 53,000 African American and Latino borrowers higher mortgage interest rates and fees than similarly situated white borrowers from 2006 to 2009.
And, of course, this racism applies to the criminal justice system. According to Mapping Police Violence, African Americans are about 1.4 times more likely to be unarmed in fatal interactions with police than white Americans are.
According to The National Safety Council, African American men have a one in 1,000 chance of being killed by police — just higher than the odds the average American has of dying in a motorcycle crash. Have you ever seen those motorcycle riders maniacally splitting lanes on the 10 at 6:30 in the morning? Now imagine if you were at risk like that — for the duration of your life.
The Black Lives Matter movement is simply asking for the right to live in peace. The right to not feel afraid to go out jogging. The right to spend a $20 check at a shop. The right to be viewed as equal. But we have failed as a nation to protect those fundamental human rights for our citizens, and America is demanding justice: true sociopolitical change so that George Floyd is the last of the countless innocent African American lives taken at the hands of untouchable police officers.
All 50 states are protesting. France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Jamaica, England, Ireland, and beyond are protesting, according to Vox.
Sure, some of the protests have escalated into violence and looting, which we firmly believe are not the proper ways to solve problems, but what else did you expect?
It is understandable that for the many Black Americans who feel the systemic oppression every day, when the opportunity strikes, emotion takes control. From kneeling at NFL games to NBA players wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts, the countless peaceful protests of the Black Lives Matter movement have, sadly, been fruitless in securing the fulfillment of any demands.
And currently, many Americans have been more vocal about the local stores being looted than the brutal murder of George Floyd. Trevor Noah puts it into perspective.
“If you felt unease watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Police in America are looting Black bodies,” Noah said in a video posted to Twitter in May.
It is clear that the nation refuses to listen, and that precedent needs to change.
The Coronavirus pandemic gave us insight into the lengths a human is willing to go out of desperation. Now take a step back and replace that missing roll of toilet paper with a son, a father, a best friend, a coworker—gone forever. George Floyd’s life mattered. He did not deserve to die in any way, shape or form, yet his life was tragically cut short by a deputized murderer. And now, our country is speaking out in a historic fashion.
How has our federal government responded to all of this outrage? Richard Nixon won the Presidential election in 1968 because he drummed up fear of rioting and looting among white voters and presented himself as the “law and order” candidate opposed to the Democratic party and its support of the Civil Rights movement — and history may be repeating itself again.
Have we failed to grow from our racist past? With over 128,000 dead due to COVID-19, over 47 million people recently filing for unemployment and protesters under attack by law enforcement and right-wing extremists, are we being brought together by our country’s leaders to solve these problems? Many politicians across the country, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, have not provided the necessary backbone for the potential fulfillment of the protestors’ demands and deliberately chosen to maintain the status quo instead of attempting to overcome Congress’s deep partisan divide. The federal government’s lack of an appropriate response has created a defining moment in our country’s history — and is now spilling into the streets.
However, there are glimmers of hope: the Congressional Black Caucus introduced The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would create a federal registry of police misconduct, stop the use of “no-knock” search warrants and reduce the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” among other things. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have introduced an anti-lynching bill in an attempt to curb brutality and hate crimes, as reported by the New York Times.
GOP Senator Tim Scott proposed extensive legislation that would increase de-escalation and bias training for police officers and bring more police departments under federal reporting requirements, according to the NY Times.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney has shown through his attendance and open support of the protests that “Black Lives Matter” is neither a leftist phrase nor a taboo, restoring hope that at least some of our leaders value country over party.
But why is it that many of the figures leading the charge for change — the Congressional Black Caucus, Harris, Booker and Scott — are African Americans? In what way does that constitute change if the rest of a white-dominated Congress remains in the shadows, popping up every now and then to deliver nothing more than an opinionated Tweet or two?
Many of our leaders in Washington lived through the Civil Rights movement, the Rodney King riots, the Cincinnati riots, the Ferguson unrest, and now the protests that encompass our nation. It has become increasingly clear that the same attitude towards issues of this magnitude remains: pass it on to the next generation. Not surprisingly, the racism and structural inequalities that have existed throughout our country’s history continue to permeate our culture now.
On this note, a call to action: unfortunately, we as today’s youth are ultimately responsible for the long-term change to come out of the present situation. The average age of the founding fathers was Millennial age—in their mid-30s.
Our generation, unhindered by our age, shares their ability to create the same magnitude of impactful changes that will echo centuries later. We cannot allow the topic of race to remain a taboo any longer. We as a generation must take the initiative to solve our society’s issues before they become too big to overcome. Continue to stay involved. Continue to protest. Continue to create petitions. Continue to write to your congressional representatives. Don’t allow this movement to become a social media trend. Set the tone for what kind of future you want to create. Time to step up to the plate and be the change, Gen Z.
Black Lives Matter is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of human rights, and we must hold every politician accountable when he or she chooses loyalty to party over loyalty to all citizens. We cannot continue to allow our leaders to sit idly by while the police roam the streets unchecked and commit acts of violence that go unpunished — our generation must be responsible for raising our voices and initiating change. Let us create a future where people of all races and backgrounds can view and treat each other as human beings. Let us create a nation full of healthier, better-educated, safer, more prosperous, equal African Americans and encourage more volunteerism and civic participation to help strengthen their livelihood and communities. Is that moral duty too much to ask of our fellow Americans? Only time will tell.
Rest in Power, George Perry Floyd.
Sign our petition for including 10 Amendments to The Justice in Policing Act and passing the historic bill to further advance the cause for police reform.
See our webpage “How to Educate Yourself About the Black Lives Matter Movement.”