It’s saddening, maddening, heartbreaking and infuriating to know that my life matters less because of the color of my skin. It’s scary to know that I will be less respected and less protected by the powers that be — the peanut gallery, the police, the political and legal systems — because of the color of my skin. It’s devastating to see my fellow citizens being cruelly and casually murdered by the law enforcement officers that we support with tax dollars to keep the peace and provide protection. To know that at any time, any black person in America can be killed for the crime of being black in a country where black culture, black bodies and black lives have a long history of being used, abused and discarded. In a country where black people have historically, routinely and systematically been beaten and brutalized, victimized and then vilified. It’s infuriating to see that black people are disproportionately penalized and criminalized for minor infractions and then denigrated and dismissed for being the targets and victims of systemic racism and brutality.
For those who believe that Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or Alton Sterling were thugs or criminals and deserve to be killed by police, consider this: there’s a good chance that YOU are a criminal. If you’ve ever run a red light, or rolled through a stop sign without stopping, or jaywalked, or driven faster than the speed limit, or had a sip of liquor before you turned 21, or had a drag of any other illegal substances ever… You have broken the law. But you don’t “deserve” to be mauled or murdered for those infractions, just like Trayvon and Michael and Alton and others didn’t “deserve” to be gunned down.
Speaking your mind to the police and playing with toy guns and flirting are not crimes. And yet Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice and Emmett Till were murdered for those infractions. They were killed for stepping out of the rigidly defined and tightly regulated box that is placed around black expression, black conduct, black bodies and black lives. We should all be free to speak our minds and play and flirt and live in a way that doesn’t violate the boundaries and bodies of others. Yet that freedom of expression is not extended to black people in America.
My oppression and yours are connected.
The system that routinely acquits policemen when they brutalize black bodies is the same one that routinely forgives men when they assault women. The culture that vilifies black people who are victims of police brutality is the same one that vilifies women who are victims of sexual assault. Instead of prosecuting the aggressor, the burden of blame and shame is placed on the victim. The culture that wants to keep black people in their place is the same one that wants to build laws and walls to keep foreigners out of this place. The country that fosters a person who would go into a predominantly black church and shoot nine people to death is the same one that nurtured a person who went into an LGBTQ nightclub and murdered 49 people. The system that ignores police brutality is the same one that, ultimately, incites violence against the police.
The cycle of violence creates more violence. We’re in a downward spiral. Will we seek an eye for an eye until the whole world goes blind? A life for a life until those that are left exist in a state of perpetual sorrow and anger and fear?
These United States of America were built upon a system of oppression and subjugation that were codified as laws and coded into the culture. Laws can be changed. Culture can evolve. We’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go.
I believe that you can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them held to high standards, to a standard that serves and protects everyone equitably regardless of their race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation/identity. I believe that you can affirm the value of all lives and embrace that #BlackLivesMatter, too.
I hope that more people will open their hearts and their minds and that we can take steps toward reimagining and dismantling and rebuilding the systems that were designed to empower the chosen few through the oppression of the many.
I hope that, someday, America will love black people as much as it loves black culture.
I hope that I can find a way to use my time and talents to make a difference.
I hope you will, too.