America is Burning. What now?

America is on fire, literally and figuratively. It is a symptom of a problem that's over 400 years old. So what now?

photo credit: Amber Kipp

The country that we live in is built on the backs of our ancestors. Since the first slaves from west Africa arrived on our shores in 1619, many of us feel as if slavery has not really ended, just taken on a new form. Although we have endured several unjust murders at the hands of police, which is often referred to as a new form of “lynching”, the killing of George Floyd ignited a spark backed by over 400 years of generational anger that has started protests and riots in all fifty states as well as other parts of the world.

As a community, we are demonstrating that we are done carrying this weight and we are ready to burn the house down before we let it completely break our backs.

While, I can definitely understand some of the logic that is being used to justify the rioting and looting- the main one being that this is a statement against a capitalist society that essentially values money over our lives - the looting has overshadowed the point of the protests and has allowed our community once again to be labeled as “thugs.” The point that is at the core of all of the unrest is simple: we should not fear the ones who are there to protect us.

As a member of the black community I understand that it is ridiculous and unfair that we have to teach our children how to act when they have an incident with the police as a precautionary measure so that they don't lose their lives.  And even after taking the proper precautions, they could still lose their life. And the part about it that is even more unfair is that the offending officer may never be held accountable. We are tired of adding to these list of names, and we are tired of fearing who will be next. However, throughout these protests there is still a list of names that are overshadowed and forgotten.  Those who lost their lives that we don't even know about.

Police are taking the lives of black people in more ways that the unjust murders than we are seeing.  The police have played a hand in ruining the lives of scores of black people.  They act as the front line of the criminal justice system which has wrongfully incarcerated scores of innocent black people.   The implications of this go way beyond destroying individual lives, and the lives of family members.  In a small but significant way it strips an entire community of their voting and political power, because a convicted felon cannot vote.

In school, we are taught that our progress as a community is linear and now we have more political power than we have ever had, and that is false. Right now, our political power continues to be under attack.  It's important that we understand our history and remain diligent so that it doesn't repeat itself.  Just one example of the overt stripping of our political power, was in Wilmington North Carolina on November 10, 1898, the “only acknowledged coup d’etat in United States history.” A white supremacist mob seized political control of this city who had elected a biracial city government just two days earlier.  They killed and intimidated hundreds of black people, and as a result they instated their own mayor.

I had never heard of this significant point in our history until my junior year of college. Obviously black political power was clearly seen as a threat to the system of white supremacy. This directly applies today, because we need more that police departments and individual officers to be held responsible for their misconduct including murder, but we also have to question the whole system that slaughters black bodies and steals black lives. 

We need a reform in who polices us, how they police us, and who holds them responsible when they mess up. We need more people who look like us in positions where voices are heard, and policies can be changed. Individual racist cops may murder us, but a corrupt system is complicit in this reoccurrence because it allows them to get away with it, and that same system allows innocent people to serve time in prison which is in violation of the most fundamental aspect of the system itself.

We are tired, and our backs are breaking, and right now we are at the point where the match is lit and about to be thrown into this house. Instead of burning it down to relieve this pressure, why not build a new foundation with our own hands to relieve this pressure. We need more political power, more diverse voices to create real change. Now the question is, who will be the first to put down the match and pick up the hammer?