By: Shayna Sullivan ’22
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year old black man was killed by a white police officer. The police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, cutting off his air supply for almost 9 minutes, which ultimately killed him. This tragic murder caught the attention of millions of Americans across the country and incited people to take action in the fight for civil rights. It is unfortunate that it took the loss of another innocent Black man to create waves in this country and for non-black people to notice what this community has been fighting for all along. Black men and women should not have to die for others to notice that there is something wrong with the current systems in place. For 400 hundred years, Black people have been experiencing oppression and injustice and while we have come a long way since slavery, we as a people must not rest until a black person can walk down the street without fearing for their lives. America cannot claim to be the land of the free when not all of their citizens are living free of oppression.
The response to the death of George Floyd has been astronomical. Darin Denton, a student in the class of 2022 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst says, “It is not just one man. There have been so many protests and so many hashtags that people became desensitized to the treatment of African Americans. It took the riots of Minneapolis to bring light to the injustice. It’s truly sad that it takes violence to achieve peace”.
If you are surprised about the deaths of black men at the hands of white men, you have not been listening to the years of oppression. This is not a new issue, it is an ongoing occurrence. The deaths of human beings is not a trend for you to get likes or a following. Black people are fighting for their freedom and they deserve everyone in the country’s support. Equality of all people is not and should not be a political issue, it is an issue of morality. Racism is real and rampant in America in 2020 and even though it may not be as blatant as a sign that says “Whites only,” doesn’t mean that it is not happening. Racism can be something as big as using racial slurs to as subtle as clutching your purse a little tighter when walking past a black man in the street. People in America should understand that just because something is not their experience, does not mean that it is not the experience of another person.
Monique Gibbons, a student in the class of 2021 at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts explained to Valley Girl that she has been experiencing racism since the young age of six years old. A peer had used a racial slur against her when she asked to play on the monkey bars with her. Monique said “I think I paid more attention to how I looked different after [that experience].”
Darin Denton also recalled that the first time he experienced racism was when he was in second grade. Children do not act this way innately, they are taught how to discriminate and hate people of a different race. A six year old cannot teach themselves a racial slur and how to use it to direct hate to a certain group of people, that is on the people who have raised them. Children are not born hating others who are different from them, they learn their biases from their parents and from society.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a global organization that was founded in 2013 by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (BLM 2020). These three black women created this movement in order to provide black people and allies a place where they can effectively fight injustice. The main goal of the Black Lives Matter movement is to put an end to police brutality in America. Many white people disagree that police brutality does not occur in America, but that statement is false. Black lives are in danger everyday because of the biases white police officers hold. It is clear that some people confuse true Black Lives Matter activists with people who are anti white or anti police, but this is a dangerous misconception. Yes, there is violence that has come out during these protests, but we need to understand the difference between protestors and rioters and looters, just like there needs to be an understanding that there is a difference between good police officers and bad police officers. And even if violence does come out of these protests, it may be helpful to think “why do people feel they need to resort to violence?” Black people have felt like their voices have been ignored for too long and as Martin Luther King Jr. says, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” Not all police are bad, but that does not mean that we can ignore the fact that some ARE bad, and their behavior needs to be stopped. Where is the line between reasonable force and unnecessary force? When that line is clearly crossed, action needs to be taken. An arrest can happen, but death does not need to happen. Being guilty of a crime does not mean that it is okay when the force a police officer uses while the suspect is unarmed leads to a death.
Monique, who has grown up with a state police officer as a father said that she had never feared for her life around police officers until recently when she relocated to Los Angeles, California and Manhattan, New York. In these cities, the police officers do not know her name and she is “just another black girl” to them. But even in Massachusetts where her father is a household name for any state police officer, she still found herself being profiled by her father’s coworkers. She described a time where she was pulled over on the highway and the officer suspected her of stealing a car and did not believe that she was truly the daughter of a well known officer (Monique Gibbons, personal communication, July 6, 2020). She is lucky to have her last name mean something in the Massachusetts area because most black people are not this lucky and a routine traffic stop could become tragic for young black people anywhere, anytime. She says that “no one can be safe [around police officers] until we begin to make huge changes, but we cannot wait for the change, it needs to start somewhere”. We cannot tell ourselves that change will never happen, because even a little change could be the difference between life or death for a black man or woman.
Changes need to be made now to the way that policing is done. The problem is that some rules that have been put in place are being forgotten about when the time comes to actually use them. Monique Gibbons and Darin Denton both agree that there needs to be a more selective hiring process. Police officers need to be carefully monitored throughout their careers to prevent the injustices that we see happening to black people. Monique states that mental health checks should be mandatory for every police officer to ensure that they can do their job to the best of their ability at any point in time. “There also needs to be consequences for life threatening actions against unarmed people”, says Gibbons, “If you aren’t here to protect and serve every life that you encounter, then you should not be in that line of work.” Police officers risk their lives everyday on the line of duty, no one is taking that away from them. But what needs to be acknowledged is that when injustices happen, action needs to be taken in order to correct what was done. There needs to be accountability and a person’s bias should exclude them from working in a field that holds so much power in this country. The black community should not have to live in fear of those who are supposed to be protecting them.
Protests are a very good way to incite change. They get people to think and help communities that have been pushed down to have a voice. Monique says that change will not happen overnight, but that we need to continue to take steps in the right direction. Darin says that past changes have come from a minority group taking action and that right now, black people and their allies are taking action which will hopefully create change. Monique cited her favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “ hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Peaceful protests are the way to go in order to create change in this country. Darin Denton also falls on this side of the argument but counters by saying, “ I am afraid that without the violence, the media would have forgotten about us in a matter of days.” Monique says that she refuses to become the violent stereotype that has been placed on black people.
It became a trend to take the slogan of “Black Lives Matter” and counter it with “All lives matter”. This response has been proven to be extremely ignorant as this movement does not mean that no other lives matter besides black lives, but black lives have not mattered to many Americans for hundreds of years. Monique uses a metaphor of a burning house to explain the point of the BLM organization. She tells Valley Girl, “If you have a neighborhood of houses, and one is on fire, we have to tend to that house because if it is not given immediate help, it will burn down. One could say ‘Well what about my house,’ but the simple fact is that if you care about your neighbors house, you will let the fire be put out first. Just like we need to lend our hands to the lives that need it most right now.” No one who stands up for the Black Lives Matter movement believes that other lives do not matter. With a little research into this organization, anyone could find this information. It is our job as Americans with access to an incredible amount of resources to educate ourselves on things that we do not understand. Valley Girl Magazine would like to encourage you to take it upon yourselves to research and learn the other side of the American life. We need to acknowledge that white privilege is real. It does not mean that you have not had to face your own challenges, it just means that you have not faced those challenges because of the color of your skin.
White people need to join the forces of the BLM movement because our black brothers and sisters need us right now. They are reaching their hands, begging to be helped and it is everyone’s job to take their hand, pull them up and fight along their sides. Olivia Johnson, who is a student in the class of 2023 at Assumption College says that “white people are the ones in power, so it is crucial for them to help and encourage their friends and family to support us [BLM] as well. If white people care about the black community, want to form connections, and learn our culture, it is in fact their place to speak up and educate their peers as well.” As the majority race in this society, we have the power to create the change that the Black Lives Matter movement has been fighting for seven years, and many other black people have been fighting long before that. Olivia says that even though white people do not experience the oppression black people or other POC experience, it does not mean that we cannot speak out. The movement needs allyship from all sides to make real change in our country.
There are many ways that you can help support the Black lives Matter movement. Everyone now has a platform due to social media, even if it is a small platform, speak out and raise your voice there. Sign petitions, donate if you can, email authority figures about racial injustices happening in their cities/states, and share these resources with those who follow you. A simple share to your story could be what gets a person to join this movement. Olivia says that she is speaking out by “being unapologetically black,” what this means is that she is rising above the stereotypes and not changing who she is, which allows her to use her voice and influence others around her. We also need to educate ourselves on what oppression is and how it ingrained in our country. We are only taught one side of the story in school and due to technology, we have the ability to learn more than just that one side. Please, listen to something other than your news station of choice, because no matter which one it is, there is a guarantee that they are not telling you all of the facts. White people owe it to the black community to educate ourselves with the right information on the racial injustices that happen everyday in America. Help the Black Lives Matter movement to give a voice to those who can no longer speak. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and countless more. Someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandchild, and friend. Say their names. When there is no justice, there is no peace.
What You can do to Help and educate yourselves
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How to Be Anti Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
What to Watch:
13th (Documentary on Netflix)
When They See us (Netflix)
Fruitvale Station (Amazon Prime)
Seven Seconds (Netflix)
She Did That (Netflix)
All American (The CW and Netflix)
Dear White People (Netflix)