Three years ago, I wrote an article for my high school newspaper, focusing on the history and prevalence of racism in Kansas City. It was concentrated especially on housing and employment discrimination along neighborhood lines, but I also focused on the role of police in upholding these unjust practices.
No one really cared.
Many, if not most, of my friends and fellow staff members were uninterested. My teachers were confused about why I would talk about something that “isn’t a problem anymore”. Maybe it was because I was a 17-year-old high schooler, but this is exactly the reaction that people of color have received for decades. Colin Kaepernick tried to bring attention to the reality of police brutality that so many people of color face and was blackballed out of football instead. Now, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the dominos have fallen, and change cannot, will not, be ignored.
Now, nearly every one of my friends or family has mentioned how appalled they are with the killing of George Floyd; horrified, that this could happen in 2020. But the scope of this anger seems so narrow. We get angry when we see it on film, but there are so many incidents that don’t reach the same level of attention that the recent cases have. We are disgusted when we see violence against people of color, but only when it is thrust into our isolated worlds.
The past few weeks, have shown that not only is there the knowledge that people of color are treated unfairly by police, but there is a profound level of understanding of racism at a structural level. An understanding that for years we have suppressed because it’s uncomfortable, painful, shameful, to see support for this system in ourselves, our families, our friends. We have been forced to come to terms with the fact that we as White members of a diverse society, through our inaction, are complicit in this continuing structure of inequality.
A single instance of abuse proves “a bad apple”, a multi-century pattern of cruelty illustrates a problem with the entire structure of law enforcement. Historically, people of color in America, have been beaten, brutalized, and murdered by law enforcement officers who rarely face any form of punishment. It is because of the seemingly never-ending list of victims, that thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to express their rage at a system that was never built for everyone to succeed.
What protestors want is accountability. The structure that is supposed to guarantee liberties has failed to provide one of the most foundational protections in the Constitution to an entire race of its citizens: the right to live. They want a country where officers who beat demonstrators are not protected by their unit or their unions, but instead are forcibly removed from their position. They want a country where the police protect the people’s right to gather, voice their grievances, and fight for change – not one where they are smashed into with SUVs.
The majority of the protests have been peaceful – but not all. Violence has erupted across the country, with police officers frequently targeting protestors. They may feel as though there is no other option than to fight with increasing levels of aggression, but how they react does matter. Their response – pepper spraying children and young adults, shoving elderly people – has only given excuses to shift the focus of this movement away from its original motive.
More than half a century after the Civil Rights Movement and the protests led by Martin Luther King Jr., justice is still being postponed by those in charge. Racial inequality plagues our country in nearly every area: housing, education, wealth, employment. This isn’t new but is the responsibility of those in power to recognize it exists and work to fix it. Though the ability for citizens to enforce legitimate, legal change is limited, there are ways to be involved in the movement towards creating a new, equal system.
Help may not be on the way from this White House as there are plenty of government and social leaders who are continuing to fight to uphold systemic racism purely because they are uncomfortable with the thought of dramatic change. But our country is filled with able, innovative problem-solvers. We can continue to connect with our communities and elevate and empower business leaders and social entrepreneurs who are rising to the forefront, ready to be part of the solution.
Not everyone can be in the streets protesting. Not everyone can dedicate significant amounts of money to the cause. But the people have a voice. Donate what you can. Walk in protests in your cities. Write or call your Congressperson. This fight is a marathon, not a sprint, in a race of collective action. Just as we can’t un-see George Floyd dying, we can’t revert to saying, “how could this have happened?”.