BY CARMEN FANNING
I was 12 years old when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin died because he was wearing a black hoodie that aspiring police officer George Zimmerman saw as a threat.
I’m now 21, and these same injustices are still occurring.
As a Black woman in America, I have first-hand experience of the disadvantages Black men and women face every day. I’m already at a disadvantage not only because of my skin color, but the mere fact that I am also a woman.
Navigating life in a predominantly white and male-dominated world can be exhausting. Every day, I see how Black men and women are treated in America, and it’s disheartening. At times, I feel hopeless and at a loss for words of what to do.
Every time my brother goes out, I’m nervous for his life. I see him as a smart, educated, driven and funny young man. I fear what others might see him as. When I’ve been pulled over by cops, I can’t help but shake with fear because of how they might see me. I should not fear those who were put in place to keep me safe.
The mentality of “just because it’s not affecting me doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” is a common thread in America. It’s easy to see from a distance, but when you fill in the blank #JusticeFor___ and think of how that could be your brother, your mom, your father or yourself – it put things into perspective. I shouldn’t have to fear for my life when I or people I know walk out the door.
On May 25, a man was killed by Minneapolis police. George Floyd, 46, was accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Shortly after, police arrived and pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck. Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe,” for 8 minutes and 46 seconds before finally taking his last breath underneath the knee of Derek Chauvin while three other officers stood by.
These men saw Floyd as a threat. However, he was a father and was active in his church and community. The pastor of his church, Patrick Ngwolo, described Floyd as a “gentle giant” with a large influence.
It is unknown why the police’s tactics were used so long to detain Floyd. Even with his past criminal record, the actions taken against him were inhumane.
Those four policemen didn’t see Floyd for the human he was, but instead saw him by the color of his skin. These are uncomfortable topics that many want to shy from and ignore talking about. The death of Floyd was the last straw.
Change needs to occur whether America is ready for it or not. We have no excuse and no option but to change. America will never be the same. Innocent Black men and women are being targeted and killed every day at the hands of a corrupt political system. Sadly enough, the deaths that are being brought to light are the ones with video proof. There are still so many injustices that are ignored because of a lack of video evidence.
To further prove this point, it took three months for the unforgivable death of Ahmaud Arbery to surface. Arbery loved to run. While taking his usual route through a suburban neighborhood in Satilla Shores, Atlanta, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael grabbed two guns and followed Arbery in a truck after he ran past them.
They fatally shot and killed him because he looked similar to a man who had been suspected of various break-ins in the neighborhood that occurred in January. Arbery was seen as a threat to these men because he fit the description of being a “black male.” Travis said the passing interaction between him and Arbery “startled” him.
How racism impacts the world
The common theme of these deaths have all been the same: The perpetrators, for whatever reason, felt threatened by the victims because of their black skin. No one is born racist. Racism is taught. These false ideologies are taught at home, through the media and politics.
The Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre states “racism occurs between individuals, on an interpersonal level, and is embedded in organizations and institutions through their policies, procedures and practices.”
There are two main types of racism: Individual/Interpersonal and Systemic Racism.
Individual Racism refers to a person’s individual beliefs, behaviors and assumptions, both conscious and unconscious. Systemic racism involves policies and practices ingrained in intuitions that develops in the inclusion or promotion of a specific group. It manifests in two ways: institutional and structural racism.
According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian, institutional racism occurs in an organization. These are discriminatory treatments, unfair policies or biased practices based on race that result in inequitable outcomes for whites over people of color and extend considerably beyond prejudice. These institutional policies often never mention any racial group, but the intent is to create advantages.
Structural racism is defined as ”the overarching system of racial bias across institutions and society. These systems give privileges to white people resulting in disadvantages to people of color.”
Forms of systemic racism are not readily evident to those who are privileged by the system. It’s not enough to be non-racist; we must actively be anti-racist. Being anti-racist includes making conscious decisions to make equitable choices every day. This indulges in a heightened self-awareness and self-reflection of the actions we make daily.
To put this into perspective, think of the men and women in your life. Have they ever worn a hoodie? Gone for a quick jog? Ran to the gas station for an errand? Held a toy BB gun? Been pulled over for a speeding ticket?
Do you fear for their life every time they walk out the door? If not, you are privileged.
If you’re still having a hard time understanding how Black people are truly targeted in America, please try to justify the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones. The Detroit SWAT team threw a flash grenade into Aiyana’s home and shot her in the head during a raid. According to Officer Joseph Weekley, it was an accident, even though the team breached the wrong floor of the apartment complex.
Law enforcement reform
The Department of Justice states, “Law enforcement officials shall not commit any act of corruption. They shall rigorously oppose and combat all such acts.” The DOJ also says officers must “respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.”
These deaths have been nothing short of inhumane.
“All police action shall respect the principles of legality, necessity, non-discrimination, proportionality and humanity,” the Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police handbook from the United Nations says. “All persons are equal before the law, and are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law… police shall not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, language, color, political opinion, national origin, property, birth or other status.”
Felicity Huffman, a wealthy white actress, paid $15,000 to cheat her daughter into a good college. She was sentenced to 14 days in jail. Tanya McDowell, a homeless black mother, lied to the school district about where she lived so her 6-year-old daughter could go to a better school. She was sentenced to five years in jail.
I’m not dismissing the fact that white men and women experience injustices from the police, but there is a greater target toward Black people. Keith Scott was not committing a crime, he was reading a book in his car. Atatiana Jefferson was not committing a crime, she was looking out her window. Jordan Edwards was not committing a crime, he was riding passenger in a car. Bettie Jones was not committing a crime, she was helping out with a domestic disturbance.
This is not an anti-white or anti-police movement. I have met so many beautiful people of all ethnicities and have had great experiences with the police. This doesn’t dismiss the other injustices that occur in America though.
What you can do
Thankfully, there are things you, the reader, can do to help fight. Sign petitions, have uncomfortable conversations, educate yourself and others through movies and books, ask questions and I implore you to vote.
The problem this country is facing is not only to blame at a national level, but city and state also.
I ask that you continue to care about Black people beyond moments of tragedy. I pray this won’t be a trend that fades out in a few weeks, but a constant dialogue between people to continue to promote change and justice.
The America we once knew has no excuse to return to its old ways. There’s beauty in the travesties. I think these uncomfortable conversations and unfortunate injustices, needed to be brought to light for America to finally wake up to the corruption of those in leadership, not only at a national level, but city and state, too.
Think about the lyrics of the national anthem, “land of the free.” Racism goes way beyond black and white. There is systemic, environmental, interpersonal, structural and institutional racism. Until we free ourselves from the embedded ideologies of racism that have crept into the corners of social, political and economic policies and practices, both conscious and unconscious, this land is not free for all people.
This isn’t Democrat versus Republican or white versus Black, this is a call for true equality in this world and unification of all parties and all races.
A list of informative books by Black authors:
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
- Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper.
TV shows and movies:
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu)
- Blindspotting (Hulu)
- The Hate U Give (Netflix)
- 16 Shots (Showtime)
- Dear White People (Netflix)
- Do the Right Thing (Netflix)
Petitions to sign/donate to:
The Hands Up Act is a proposed piece of legislation that suggests police officers receive a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for the killing of unarmed men and women.
The NAACP created this petition in honor of George Floyd with the goal of erasing senseless hate crimes.
This petition has the intention to defund law enforcement and divert that money to invest in other branches and communities.
Another petition directed towards law enforcement reform but with the purpose of holding police officers accountable for their actions.
This petition is in honor of Breonna. The goal is to fire the police officers who unlawfully killer her. You can sign the online petition or text “ENOUGH” to 5515