This was the breaking point

June 4, 2020

Over the past couple of weeks, our country has certainly changed. While many states in America were beginning to re-open following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a video surfaced of an unarmed black man named George Floyd being suffocated to death by a white police officer. Almost immediately, protests have emerged across the country, with some turning into violent riots involving the looting and vandalism of businesses. 

First off, let me say that I do not support the lootings that have occurred during these protests whatsoever. My parents are the owners of a small business, so I can only imagine the heartbreak that some owners must have felt seeing their livelihoods destroyed before their eyes.

What I will say, however, is that I’m not surprised. In my view, George Floyd’s death was the breaking point for so many members of the black community. Not only was his death heinous and disgusting, but it also came shortly after the shocking viral video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, we turn on our TV to watch a grown man be humiliated and killed, all while crying for mercy.

Collectively, this was the last straw, and many people took it upon themselves to act because they were outraged. The purpose of these protests is to bring to light the inherent flaw in our society, and that no matter how one may try to spin it, not everyone is treated equally in the United States. Whether intentional or not, everyone has their own prejudices towards certain groups, especially minorities, and these recent events have put the racist truth about the country in the spotlight.

Sure, in every organization, there will be people that take advantage of the situation. Some “protestors” simply see this as an opportunity to cause anarchy and steal things, but it’s saddening to see people categorize all protestors as looters, and think that everyone who supports the Black Lives Matter movement also supports the people that destroy simply because they can. I also fear that those that try to generalize all protestors are also trying to detract from the situation and message at hand.

These riots, for the most part, have turned violent because people are just tired. As a black man, I’ve experienced firsthand the racial prejudice that exists in the U.S. However, my experiences pale in comparison to the struggles that other black people around the country face every single day. Time after time events like these occur, and time after time nothing changes. When we try to protest peacefully, we are often criticized for “complaining” or “making a big deal about nothing,” when in fact, it is an extremely big deal, and a real problem. To get people to finally pay attention, some have taken drastic measures to jolt action because nothing else has worked in the past.

Hypocrisy is another thing that I’ve seen quite often, and it too is disheartening. Many people have used various arguments to oppose the growing sentiment, stating, “not all cops are killers,” or “why is no one addressing black on black violence?” or “all lives matter.” 

First, I obviously do not believe that all cops are killers, and I have a great deal of respect for those who don’t abuse their power and put their lives on the line to protect others. However, I do not think that being a cop excuses you from perpetuating America’s inherently racist criminal justice system. Police officers, for whatever reason, are more prone to police brutality when it comes to African Americans, and are generally more suspicious of black people when compared to whites, and that needs to change. Those who claim that the number of white police brutality incidents is greater than the number of black ones fail to realize that there are about 200 million more white people than black people in the country. While the raw number of cases might be greater, the percentage of each population that this problem affects is incomparable in any sense. Instances of police brutality have become too frequent for these stories to be a coincidence, so our entire justice system needs to be reformed so that everyone can get equal protection of the law and actually feel safe when an officer approaches them. 

I’ve literally had to be taught how to act in front of an officer, because I know that because of my skin color, one false move or word from me and it could all be over. 

I can remember an incident that occurred two years ago when I was going door to door selling coupon cards for my football team. I came across a house where I could see people inside and they could see me, so I rang the doorbell and knocked on the door multiple times since there wasn’t a “no solicitors” sign in sight, trying to get their attention. After realizing they weren’t going to open the door, I walked away and carried on. Shortly after, I heard a voice yell, “Hey you!” I looked around and continued walking, assuming that it wasn’t to me. I then heard an officer say, “Hey you! I said stop!” I turned to see a police car, and I pointed to myself because I was still confused as to whether or not he was talking to me. He yelled, “Yeah, I mean you!” and two white police officers stepped out to talk to me. I was confused because in my mind, I had done nothing wrong. The officer who was yelling at me from his car was extremely aggressive with me, got my information, interrogated me, and asked what I was doing. He asked if I was with anybody else, so I pointed to one of my friends, who wasn’t black, and he joined me in talking to the officer. After I explained that I was selling cards, he explained that they received a call that I was bothering a family in the neighborhood and was being invasive.

I was dumbfounded. Although I could see why the family may have been bothered by me, I certainly didn’t expect that they would call the cops on me for trying to get them to open the door. The police officer said that he knew my coach and threatened to “tell him what I was doing” and he was even about to write me a ticket. He eventually decided against it because he was “feeling nice.” He then gave me a warning, and drove off with his fellow officer. 

The entire time I felt disrespected, and the officer talked to me like I was some child who had just gotten in trouble at school. I didn’t appreciate being patronized, and that whole experience really opened my eyes. I always felt like I would never get in trouble with the police if I was just compliant and respectful, but even when I was in this instance, the officer still talked down to me in a hostile way, and it was only by chance that I got off with “just a warning.”

Growing up in a predominantly white community, that was one of my first real personal encounters with the police. No matter what they assumed I did, they had no right to speak to me in a way that didn’t make me feel safe. They caused me to doubt myself and question whether or not I actually did something wrong, but in reality, I did nothing to make that family feel like their security was actually threatened in the first place. I wonder: if I was white, would that family have even called the cops on me in the first place? The very fact that I have to ask this question is what makes it wrong.

The majority of white people have not had to deal with circumstances like these, so when someone tries to argue that this problem doesn’t exist, it baffles me. With any group, there will be bad people who have no regard for others, but with police officers, there’s too many of them for it to be excusable.

It also frustrates me when people use black on black violence to minimize our message, especially when it comes from someone who has not been concerned by it before this incident. The reason black on black violence and gang violence in general is so prominent is because many African Americans feel as if they don’t have a choice. Because of the way our country is structured, they have been dealt bad hands from the start, so many turn to violence as a way of surviving. We need to first fix our country’s flaws in order to provide an equal opportunity to succeed for all races. Maybe then will certain groups understand that there’s a way out besides just killing one another. 

Finally, using All Lives Matter to respond to someone who supports Black Lives Matters fails as a counterpoint. Obviously, all lives matter, and no one is saying that one group’s lives matter more than another. It amazes me how many people get so offended and defensive to the point where they feel the need to counter a movement supporting a particular race with one of their own. What they must realize is that BLM is used to show that black lives matter too, nowhere implying that blacks are superior to any other race. It was created in the first place because it seems as if some people have lost sight of that, so more effort is needed to elevate African Americans and provide them with the same opportunities and advantages that whites have enjoyed since the country’s inception.

Racism still exists in America. It may not be as overt as it was in the past, but it still exists nonetheless. Sure, those alive now are not the ones that enslaved my people all those years ago, but that doesn’t mean we can just forget about it. We are still feeling the effects that those times have had on our society today, and we must recognize it and actually push to make substantial changes.

People were violent last week because they were angry, and they feel like there’s nothing left for them to do but be violent. Again, I am not saying this is the correct way of going about things, nor am I defending those that used this opportunity to commit crimes, but when you push a group of people to a wall, they can only fight their way out. What we must do as a country is fight this the right way, and we have already seen more and more peaceful protests spawn as time goes on.

I also acknowledge that racism isn’t the sole reason for all of our problems and that we can’t just blame everything on racism, nor are black people the only minority group that must deal with systematic prejudice. Racism is just an issue that we must deal with as soon as we can, because it’s tearing our country apart at the seams. Once that is dealt with, we as a country can move forward into making the world a better place for all, regardless of everyone’s differences.

So please, stop generalizing things. Not all protestors are looters, not all black people are criminals, and not all white people are racist. It certainly won’t be easy, but let’s use this opportunity to actually spark change, because we’ve surely waited long enough. We should not be on different sides, and we must all come together and understand what we’re fighting against. The first step is admitting that racism exists, and that things can’t continue on the way they have for generations.

For a country that’s based on freedom and equality, it’s time for us to actually start acting like one.

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