A lot has happened over the last few months. Yes, the world is actively fighting a pandemic but it’s also fighting something that’s been around for much longer: systemic racism. What do we mean by that? Simply put, systemic racism is how society treats people differently (and oftentimes unjustifiably poorly) because of the way they look—especially black people. Fact: Did you know that African American men are incarcerated more than five times the rate of that of white men? What that means is that for every white man who goes to prison, more than five black men do as well. Why is that? Why such a big difference? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone. Racial injustice, police brutality, and racism have been a problem in the United States for a long time, but recent incidents have pushed things to new levels.
In February, an African-American man named Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Glynn County, Georgia, when two white men chased him down and shot and killed him. The two men weren’t arrested until two months later. In May, an African-American man and avid birdwatcher named Christian Cooper asked a white woman to leash her dog while birdwatching in New York City’s Central Park. She called the police and accused him of threatening her life. And just last week, an African-American man was arrested under suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill and was killed by a policeman while in custody. While these occurred recently, many similar incidents of injustice, police brutality, racism, and race-related crimes have occurred before. In 2013, African-American teenager Trayvon Martin was killed after an altercation with neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted after a highly-publicized trial. In 2014, an African-American teenager named Michael Brown was walking down the street with a friend. A police officer asked them to walk on the sidewalk. An altercation followed, with the police officer shooting and killing Brown who was unarmed. In 2016, an African-American man named Mario Woods, who was suspected of a stabbing attack, was shot twenty times after he refused to drop a knife. The list goes on and on—begging the question: Why?
The killing of George Floyd—put simply—was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Protests erupted throughout the country, demanding justice and equality. From Washington, DC to Oakland, California, people gathered to show their support of the #blacklivesmatter movement and demand that change must happen now. And it wasn’t always protesters on one side and law enforcement officers on the other; in places like Flint, Michigan, and Santa Cruz, California, they walked together and knelt together.
Celebrities are doing their part too. Music mogul Jay-Z spoke to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and asked him to do the right thing. He followed his conversation with a social media post saying, “This is just a first step. I am more determined to fight for justice than any fight my would-be oppressors may have. I prevail on every politician, prosecutor and office in the country to have the courage to do what is right. Have the courage to look at us as humans, dads, brothers, sisters and mothers in pain and look at yourself.” His wife and music megastar Beyoncé called for her fans to seek justice for Floyd. Others such as Taylor Swift, Will Smith, Kristin Bell, Ryan Reynolds, Oprah Winfrey, and many many others have shown and voiced their support for the need for change.
Social injustice, racism, and police brutality don’t go away with the news cycle—it’s a problem that needs continued work, continued dialogue, continued awareness, and the continued desire to make things better. It takes action. It takes making voices heard through peaceful protests. It takes electing government officials who will work to eliminate systemic biases and unjust practices that stem from racism, hate, and bigotry.
To quote former President Obama, “If we want to bring about real change, the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
What will you do to combat racism and the injustices you see in the country?
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