Racism is undeniable, and we should work together to end it
Emma Frey | @_emmafrey_
Following the murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died at the hands of police officers in May, a wave of protests has begun around the world. The focus of these protests is to end police brutality and support Black Lives Matter (BLM). It is important to end racism once and for all in our country. Deaths like these are unacceptable and should not go without punishment.
It goes without saying that these protests have been controversial for many reasons — All Lives Matter vs. BLM, looting and violent protests. Calls to reform policing and address racially charged issues like Confederate statues are filling the news.
To get a handle on things, it helps to put the current movement into context.
The police system in America has many flaws dating back to its creation. While it began in the 1600s in the North as a way to patrol shipping and watch over transport of goods, it was a completely different concept in the South. Publicly funded police forces were used primarily as “slave patrols.” This continued into the 1900s when police were used to enforce segregation. Transitioning into today’s society, it’s undeniable that there are still many racially driven cases of police brutality. While black Americans make up only 13 percent of the country’s population, they make up 31 percent of citizens killed by police and 39 percent of those murdered while not attacking.
In cases like Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor there is very little room to argue that their deaths were necessary in the slightest. Rice was a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead at a park by a police officer while he played with a toy gun. Taylor was murdered by police officers while she slept in her own home. In many cases like these, the police are never punished for their actions, and that isn’t acceptable. It’s hard to argue that a few “bad apples” account for these problems when such killings consistently go unpunished. It is a flaw in the system.
The issues run deeper than just the police system. It can be simple things like Walmart putting hair products used by black people in locked cases, and as severe as the fact that lynchings still happen in America, including several suspected cases in the past month. Twenty-four-year-old Robert Fuller and 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch were both found hanged from trees in public places, and their deaths were still ruled as “suicides.” Both victims’ families are adament that their loved one did not commit suicide, but they face backlash while demanding their cases are reopened. It makes no sense to say this many black individuals would willingly commit suicide in a way that was historically used in lynchings, especially with the current events in our country.
The February death of Ahmaud Arbery is similar. Two men in Georgia stalked and killed Arbery while he jogged in a suburban neighborhood, a few blocks from his own home. His murderers claim they shot Arbery because he fit the description of a man accused of several break-ins in the area, and the men decided vigilante justice was the best route to take. The men responsible for his murder went months without being arrested, though they have since been charged.
While it’s problematic that some of the protests have turned violent, including looting and harming people, peaceful protests seem to face the same backlash as those that escalate to violence. When Colin Kaepernick began to kneel for the national anthem ahead of NFL games, he was essentially black-balled from the league, yet he never protested violently or broke any laws. When police officers murder innocent citizens, they often get to keep their jobs and sometimes are given paid leave as a way to protect them following the incident.
To combat violent protests, police use weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas. Tear gas is prohibited in warfare by several international treaties. Rubber bullets are meant for use below the waist to prevent lethal injuries, but in some instances police have fired them straight into crowds. A 20-year-old woman from Ohio named Sarah Grossman died as a result of being tear gassed in a crowd while she protested peacefully. The difference between control measures for violent and peaceful protests seems to be very small, if not nonexistent. Many protestors (roughly 10,000 as of last week) have been arrested recently and many report their hands being zip-tied along with other inhumane treatment while in custody. A majority of the protestors arrested were non-violently participating in protests, which is a constitutional right.
When previous racially charged incidents caused BLM protests, the movement mostly happened in the cities where the crime was committed. This time it’s different. Protests have happened worldwide, including local protests in Topeka, Kansas City, Lawrence and Manhattan. Wabaunsee High alum Sania Huda, who attended two BLM protests in Manhattan, said, “It was a really powerful feeling. It’s amazing what our generation will be able to accomplish when we all have a common goal. Change has already started, but we still have a ways to go.” One protest in Manhattan attracted nearly 3,000 people.
While it is true that all lives matter, it is dismissive to use that as an argument against BLM. The movement was created to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes,” according to the BLM website. By using the argument that “all lives matter,” critics seek to invalidate the movement. The best analogy to use is if only one house is on fire in a neighborhood, you’re going to put the fire out there. While all of the houses matter, you need to take care of the one that needs it first.
Living in Wabaunsee County, it might seem easy to dismiss these incidents as far-away problems. Some of the calls to “Defund the Police,” don’t seem particularly relevant here, unless the Wabaunsee Sheriff’s Department has a collection of tanks we are unaware of. And yet, an incident recently at Lake Wabaunsee demonstrates that things aren’t perfect here either. An article in the Topeka Capital-Journal describes an incident in which a group of 30 people had gathered for a fish fry. One attendee met another group — five friends, some of whom were black — who had also been at the lake and invited them to join. Some white people at the fish fry physically attacked the smaller group and used racial slurs. Authorities are still investigating, but it’s troubling, to say the least. Pair that with multiple students who proudly display Confederate flags on their vehicles and other racist language and actions I’ve witnessed in our school, and it’s clear we still have some growing to do as a community.
There are many ways to get involved with the movement from home. There are hundreds of petitions on the internet that take just a minute to sign. Supporting black-owned businesses is also an easy way to help from home. The simplest way to get involved is to educate yourself and others in your life on this topic. And concerned citizens can participate in protests, which continue in many cities.
While equality may seem like an uphill battle, so much has been accomplished in the past month. The police officers responsible for the murder of Floyd have all been arrested and charged. They might have gotten away with only a slap on the wrist if not for the uproar caused by his murder. While Taylor’s murderers have yet to be arrested, a metro council in Louisville, Ky., voted unanimously to pass an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law,” which prohibits no-knock search warrants like the one used in her case.
The fight isn’t over, but people make a difference every day that they use their constitutional right to make their voices heard.