It’s taken me a while to think of what I can write on this topic that hasn’t already been said, and I’ve decided that I don’t have anything new, but I wanted to say something nonetheless, because remaining silent is clearly not going to help. If you’re reading this looking for a perspective you haven’t heard yet, you may want to move on to read the stories of those who have faced racism in this country firsthand. They’re the voices that need to be heard right now.
In short, I’m appalled at the way George Floyd was treated. What was done to him is no less than a violent criminal act, police brutality, and a shocking display of what I believe was a hate crime committed against a man because of the color of his skin. There is no excuse for kneeling on the neck of anyone for nearly nine minutes, period. Much less a man who was unarmed, non-violent, not resisting, and accused of a non-violent crime.
While George Floyd’s case is only one, it is not isolated. Black people in the United States are treated less leniently and with more aggression by law enforcement and our justice system as a whole.
Innocent black Americans everywhere have genuine reason to fear the police because of this injustice. They fear those same police who are payed from their taxes and who have promised to protect them. Black children are often taught of the dangers of police officers and how to be extremely compliant to avoid getting killed. Imagine having to teach a child to avoid lethal violence from the people who are supposed to protect us all.
This is unacceptable, and it has to come to an end. It should have come to an end a long time ago, and I’m certainly not proud that our ancestors started us down this terrible road over four hundred years ago. We need to fix it.
As a white person of mostly European descent who grew up in Utah, I’ve never faced racism. Growing up I knew black kids, and I never saw them face violence or get treated poorly for their race, so to a younger me, racism was something you read about in the history books, but didn’t happen anymore.
Looking back, however, the painful truth is that I did witness racism, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Racist jokes told behind their backs or particularly racist remarks about then-president Obama, what were those if not racism? At the time, I assumed that they were harmless enough, because words don’t hurt people. But of course, that’s not true. Our words can and do hurt people, they can and do influence how people see the world, and given enough time, words do affect the world and all of us in it. There is no legitimate way to downplay racist jokes or racist remarks, they are racism, plain and simple. And they do hurt people.
Was it acceptable for me to hear racism being spoken around me, the same racism that my parents and teachers had taught me was wrong, and let it go unchallenged? That younger me would defend it by saying that I didn’t want to cause trouble, I wanted to fit in, and I wanted to be accepted. And yet, so did the black kids I went to school with. I know how it feels to have people talk about me behind my back, and I know how it feels to have an innate attribute of myself spoken about with derision. Although I can’t say I know what racism feels like, I know it must be at least as bad, and no kid (nor adult) deserves that. I wish I had been taught and had the confidence to challenge it then, but I promise to do better.
I also want to point out that I don’t believe for a moment that any child is born racist, or even that any child is likely to come to be a racist by their own experience. Rather, I am certain that those racist attitudes were learned from parents, friends, or communities. I’ll circle back to the reason that I think that is significant a little later.
My visibility on this issue was very limited, however. As a white person, and who knew very few black people, I never had to live or experience the true extent of racism. My perspective was plainly biased. I think this is the most important thing that I considered in making up my mind about this issue. I think a lot of us white people fell for the “seeing is believing” fallacy. Because we didn’t see it happening, we assumed it wasn’t. I think anybody who finds themselves in that frame of mind needs to consider that before believing that they are unbiased and have seen the whole story.
The only way to see through this bias is to listen and watch. Go out and listen to the people that have been affected by racism and police brutality, and as has become easier now more than ever with the extent of video recording technology, watch for yourself how black people are being treated, and imagine how you would feel if that was your family or your friends being treated that way.
I believe strongly that most people are good people, and that most people want a peaceful world, and that most people want to help bring about that world. I believe that even the best of people can have bad opinions, be it because of bias, or being lied to, or simple misunderstanding. I’ve changed my opinion on a great many things over my life, including this. I’ve come to hope that we’re at a turning point in history, and most people are starting to see racism more clearly. I know that the change should have happened sooner, but the present is all we can affect.
So what can be done?
This is a question with an endless number of answers, and there will be just as many opinions on which ones are good and which ones are bad.
I’ll cover a couple of my thoughts, but by no means do I believe I have all of the answers.
For one, I think that the police have been given too much authority via qualified immunity, and too little internal and external oversight.
Qualified immunity needs to be ended. Nobody should be above the law, especially not those who are dedicated to enforcing it, and qualified immunity effectively gives preferential treatment under the law to law enforcement.
Furthermore, officers need to have more avenues to question the actions of their peers and superiors without fear of retaliation. I think a lot of officers are hesitant to take action against police brutality they witness because they do not want to jeopardize their career. I’m not saying that their career is worth more than protecting people (and I doubt they would say so either), but in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to know the consequences of inaction, and I think the good officers would intervene more often if they knew they had a clear protection for doing so.
I also think that the way that police shootings and other killings are investigated needs to be improved. As it is now, it seems like the motivations of the state officials who investigate are likely in favor of finding the officer’s actions justified so as to avoid a lawsuit that the state itself will have to pay for. I’m not sure of the best way to solve that, but I do think there is a significant conflict of interest there.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I think we need to teach people (especially children, but a lot of adults could stand to learn as well) not only that black people are people, but we should show that racism does happen (especially where police are concerned), what racism looks like, and how to take real action against it. We should also teach how to recognize biases, fallacies, and persuasion techniques so people are better equipped to resist white supremacist propaganda and manipulation. Like I said, racists learn racism from others who convince them that it is the truth.
Lastly, I’d like to say that I’ve seen a lot of hate toward police officers as a whole, and the anger is certainly understandable, and our national, state, and local policing systems are responsible for much of their problems and it is on all of them to help influence change. But when I see some people saying that “all cops are racists” or “all cops are bad people” or “all cops who support the protests are just trying to fix their PR”, it’s a bit disappointing. Police officers are people too, and a lot of them (in fact, probably most of them) agree that racism and police brutality are a serious problem, and are committed to being part of the solution. That should be encouraged, and that sentiment ought to be rewarded. Those are the people who will actually do something when they see another officer mistreating somebody, and they’re the ones that we need to help solve this problem.
I hope we can keep the anger directed toward racism, police brutality, and the leaders who have allowed or even encouraged these crimes to happen. I hope that real progress is finally made on an issue this country has failed to solve for such a very long time. And finally, don’t forget everything that happens now when you go to vote.
And for what it’s worth, I promise to do better, and be a better ally to those who have been hurting for far too long. Black lives matter!