The fight towards the liberation of Black people is a mission that I, Ella Baker, have been working towards for as long as I can remember. Without addressing the major issue of social inequality and police brutality, we cannot take the necessary steps to tackle systemic racism. As we see Black Americans getting their lives taken at alarming rates due to excessive police force, we have no choice but to fight for our lives. As a Black woman and an activist dedicating my life to fight for justice, the effects of police brutality cannot go unnoticed. Our children must go through scarring talks with their parents to find ways to hope they come out of a police encounter alive. Parents should not have to worry about whether or not their child will come home from the store down the street alive. We are not afforded the same privilege as white people, fearing that the color of our skin will be the reason we lose our life and have to leave behind our loved ones. It is not a struggle that white people will begin to understand, but they silence us. While my people are getting killed for simple things such as parking violations or a ‘suspected’ counterfeit bill, the cops that commit these crimes go off scot-free. What kind of example does that set for the rest of America on the treatment of black people? Who are we supposed to call in situations of danger? We must bring light to these topics and advocate for the necessary change and reparations that are long overdue for us.
Systematic racism is deeply embedded into the roots of the way our nation was built and is constantly overlooked. White people do not realize the privileges that they are given simply by the color of their skin. Ignoring their privilege and choosing to say it doesn’t exist is extremely harmful to us. They do not realize the damage that they do by believing that we are equal under the law. White people pose the narrative that we are lazy, drug dealers, lack motivation and so many other negative connotations. Instead of accepting the oppression we face daily, our voices are continuously gaslighted and silenced. We are prejudged just based on our color at first glance. In a 2010 study conducted by Margaret Beale Spencer, a child psychologist at the University of Chicago, it was found that when given the opportunity to choose between skin color from light to dark both white and black children were more compelled to pick the whiter tones. “It does lead her to conclude that even in 2010, “we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued.” (Billante and Hadad) Due to the lack of representation of us in the media and in positions of power, we are seen with no value. It is important to understand that the lack of value seen within us directly affects the way that we are treated. With a constant feeling that we are less valuable and not seen in a positive light, we are more likely to be victims in situations such as police brutality and racially motivated attacks.
The original purpose of the police force in the South was utilized as a slave patrol in order to sustain the slavery system of the South. “Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts,” (Waxman). The original purpose of these officers that Americans praise was to keep our grandparents and their grandparents before in a continuous cycle of torture. With this as the foundation of the police department, it is hard to hide the fact that they were and still are targeting people of color. In order to join the police force now, it only takes a few months of police school and training. To hold and use a gun, taser and be in charge of the lives of the American people, we only expect these officers to undergo a few months of training before putting them into the streets to protect the American people. It is no surprise that many police officers begin to get in their heads that they are above the law. They act recklessly and oftentimes get away with their actions.
Knowing that they can get away with these aggressions, many Black people face the brunt of the brutality. “An August 2019 study in PNAS concluded “about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police.” For white men, it’s about 1 in 2,500.” (Resnick) Ignoring statistics like this causes the lives of our Black brothers and sisters to be lost due to negligence. This comes at no cheap cost either. “Police brutality costs $1.8 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recently available data (2010).” (Merelli) They are willing to spend billions to cover up the issues that go on within the force but won’t fund that money to enact change within the system. They are dropping billions to watch us die, and the majority of the time we won’t ever receive justice. With such a large amount of money being spent on the loss of lives, why have there been no steps to create a solution to this issue? Physiologically, it has been shown in studies that many police officers carry a mindset called, “Negrophobia.” “The aforementioned racialized stereotypical assumptions can be deleterious because they can be used by Whites to justify shooting a Black person on the slightest of pretense.” (Chaney) This leads them to believe that every Black individual that they encounter is a threat and will harm them, and as a white person, the excuse of them being scared of our color is considered valid. With a mentality like this, it is hard to hide the fact that police officers are more likely to target minorities for crimes and hurt them in the process. This goes back to the idea that our struggle is so deeply embedded in the culture and the system that the nation is built upon, without dismantling the oppressive system and rebuilding it, we will never find true liberation.
The issue of police brutality in America is gaining more traction than ever and becoming a part of a bigger conversation that has been avoided for too long. After the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 was caught on video, riots broke out in a call for justice. A spark was created in the Black Lives Matter movement as more and more people began to see the issues within our system. Although this movement has been around for several years, this past summer was a major turning point. With social media, the awareness of certain issues was brought to light, and facts on the oppression that many people did not see were revealed. Social media is an important tool for us and our fellow allies to participate in this crucial fight for us to be able to get our voices heard. Protests continued throughout the summer in all 50 states, but no matter how peaceful, protesters were treated inhumanely. Large amounts of the police force were present at these protests abusing their power with pepper-spraying, tear-gassing, and macing innocent protesters trying to exercise their First Amendment right. With machine guns, tanks, military, and many other scare tactics to silence protestors, it is evident that they will do anything to stop us from speaking up for ourselves. We won’t stop. We cannot stop this fight. It is important that we keep speaking up until our voices are heard. This is a fight for the long haul, not just for our generation but the generations after us. It is difficult to find a light at the end of this tunnel, but if we keep persevering, our actions will do us justice.
Reforming police training is always a solution, however, I think it is important for us to understand the scope of the issue. Defunding the police sounds like an extreme idea, but it seems almost necessary to find some solutions for a larger issue. ““Defunding” the police is more of an effort to convince the public and the political system to shift its priorities.” (Yglesias) If we were to defund the police, we would be able to allocate the billions of dollars in budget that goes to the police to different sectors. This can help relieve the amount of responsibility that the police are required to take, such as mental health calls. This can create a new task force to answer different calls that are more trained in these areas, reducing the excuses that police officers make to defend against shooting at innocent people. However, we must not ignore the fact that police training does need to be updated. Only spending a few months in police school should not be enough and serious anti-racism practices must be implemented. I am not naive to think that this will be a solution that will create peace for us, but it will be a start in the reversal of the damage that has been done to our people for so many generations.
The battles that we face are not something that we should take lightly. We must do everything we can to protect ourselves and ensure that we take care of each other during these brutal times. Looking after each other is just as important as fighting for the cause. We must make sure that we are not losing ourselves in the process, losing our sanity at the cost of liberation. We will be able to find peace one day although we don’t know what that entails or will look like. We must ensure that we do not stop fighting for ourselves and making our voices heard. Freedom is a tricky thing, we don’t know what it truly feels like to have. However, if we want to think in the grand scheme of things, we must continue to fight for all. Police brutality and systemic racism may be something that is overlooked, but we cannot allow that to continue to happen. As a Black woman, living in America is no easy task. The anxiety of what is going to happen next and not truly feeling safe in my own skin is a burden I do not wish upon anyone. Black is beautiful, it should never be seen otherwise. Remember, we must understand the beauty of who we are and remember why we do not deserve the hatred we receive. To all my Black brothers and sisters out there, our fight is not over. We will be liberated from our struggles and get through this together. We will never turn our backs until freedom is heard for everyone.
Chaney, C., Robertson, R.V. Racism and Police Brutality in America. J Afr Am St 17, 480–505 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-013-9246-5
Billante, Jill, and Hadad, Chuck. “Study: White and Black Children Biased toward Lighter Skin.” CNN, Cable News Network, 14 May 2010, www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/index.html.
Waxman, Olivia B. “The History of Police in America and the First Force.” Time, Time, 6 Mar. 2019, time.com/4779112/police-history-origins/.
Resnick, Brian. “Police Brutality Is a Public Health Crisis.” Vox, Vox, 1 June 2020, www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/6/1/21276828/pandemic-protests-police-public-health-black-lives-matter.
Merelli, Annalisa. “Black People Are at the Center of Two Public Health Crises in the US: Covid-19 and Police Brutality.” Quartz, Quartz, 31 May 2020, qz.com/1862403/black-people-are-at-the-center-of-two-public-health-crises-in-the-us-covid-19-and-police-brutality/.
Yglesias, Matthew. “Growing Calls to ‘Defund the Police,” Explained.” Vox, Vox, 3 June 2020, www.vox.com/2020/6/3/21276824/defund-police-divest-explainer.