2020 showed us eye-opening disparities and awareness of the need for racial justice that Americans have not seen since the Civil Rights Movement.
Oppression, racism, injustice and privilege are all topics that create feelings of conflict when raised no matter how they are approached. We look at others, and within nanoseconds, we automatically categorize them into societal groups. It’s almost robotic.
Being a social work student has pushed me to reflect on these topics, with a recent emphasis on my white privilege along with the opposing subject of oppression. My reflections keep reminding me we continue to grapple with racial tensions, and the color of someone’s skin matters in this society. Depending on that color, you could have a rocky (and sometimes deadly) road, a smooth ride or somewhere in between.
In February, we celebrated Black History Month, where we recognize the general movement and history of Black Americans. I have also come to recognize the injustices African Americans face; the focus recently surrounding police brutality against people of color. We all know this is not a new concept from the past year, but I need to talk about it because there should be no silence on the topic.
The death of George Floyd in May 2020 has forced Minnesotans to confront racism, specifically among those who are supposed to protect and serve their citizens. Based on data collected in Minneapolis alone, police officers use force against people of color seven times more than their white counterparts. When we widen our lens, we see in the United States, people of color are twice as likely to be fatally shot or killed by police compared to white people.
This should not be normal, especially when there is a lack of accountability with police officers.
For example, Jamar Clark, 24, was shot and killed in 2015 when police were called by paramedics who said Clark was interfering with efforts to treat an assault victim. According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Clark refused to take his hands out of his pockets. The officers tried to handcuff him. Clark was wrestled to the ground and shot in just more than a minute from the time officers arrived at the scene. The officers were not charged.
In 2016, Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed after being pulled over by police for a busted tail light. Castile said he had a gun in the glove compartment where his registration was and was reaching to get the registration. The officer fired seven rounds at close range, with five of the bullets hitting Castile. The encounter was less than a minute. The officer was acquitted of any charges.
In 2018, Thurman Blevins, 31, was fatally shot. Officers were responding to a 911 call about an apparently drunk man walking down the street firing a semi-automatic handgun into the air and ground. Blevins refused multiple commands to drop the gun and put his hands up, and instead, led the two officers on a foot chase that ended in an alley. Blevins took the gun from his pants pocket and began to turn toward the officers. The officers fired 14 shots, four of which struck Blevins. No charges were filed.
George Floyd, 46, died in 2020 after police responded to a call about possible counterfeiting. The officer who allegedly kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes goes on trial March 8 for second-degree murder and manslaughter. Construction crews have been setting up concrete barriers, non-scalable fencing and barbed wire around several Minneapolis buildings where protests are expected.
The question is, why are protests expected? Will we see accountability for this officer and justice for Floyd? Or, is the lack-of-accountability trend going to continue?
To change centuries of deeply ingrained racism would take an army, sweeping policy changes and, at the very least, recognition of systemic racism. The confederate flags and nooses waved at our nation’s capital Jan. 6 are a clear indication that we have a long way to go.
The conversation of racism, police brutality and injustice cannot stop. I encourage you to do your own self-reflection as I do every day. If you believe we live in a just society where we are all treated equally, then maybe what you see in the mirror is the problem.