The screams and cries of individuals demanding justice for George Floyd have reverberated across the country in at least 584 cities and towns throughout all 50 states in the U.S. The pleas of those fighting for Black lives have been also heard from areas around the world with over 10 countries joining the battle against police brutality and systemic racism. Together, individuals have made their demands for equality and civil justice too loud to be ignored.
To those who continue to deny the systemic racism that plagues this country, the reason each and every individual needs to stand up and contribute to this civil rights movement is clear. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blacks face not one public health issue, but two, the second being racial inequality: a disease far deadlier than COVID-19 and one they’ve faced since birth.
From the moment Blacks were brought to live on American soil in 1776, their black and brown bodies were deemed less than human. The wide arch of their nose, the fullness of their lips and the tight coil of their hair was often ridiculed and even mocked in plays by blackface performers for the amusement of racist whites.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Whites tortured, hunted down and denied Blacks of basic human rights while simultaneously using their strength in cotton slavery for financial prosperity. The U.S. economy was built on the bloodied backs of Blacks, and studies show that the profits garnered from cotton picking helped the U.S. become a leading global economy.
During the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, Blacks shed blood, sweat and tears fighting for racial equality. But while the movement was monumental and a breakthrough for Blacks throughout the U.S., systemic racism is still present today.
But Blacks are being hunted down and executed in a new way: police brutality.
According to a 2019 study, about 1 out of 1,000 black men and boys are susceptible to being murdered during their encounters with the police in the U.S. This is 2.5 times more likely than white men.
With the blatant disregard for black lives, the lives of many black men and women have been unrightfully stolen from their friends and families.
Floyd, 46, was murdered in broad daylight.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was murdered in her own home.
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was murdered while babysitting her nephew.
Mapping Police Violence has found that between 2013 and 2019, 99 percent of police officers weren’t charged.
There’s no reason why police officers should be able to abuse their power and use it for ill intentions.
This isn’t a White vs. Black problem or a Black vs. police problem, this is an everyone vs. racism problem. And it’s time individuals of every race stood together in solidarity to fight against the systemic racism and injustice that’s directed at black and brown bodies.
After all, Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Caitlin Piemme, a protestor in Bethesda, Maryland, refuses to be silent. On June 2, she marched along with 1,000 others, chanting things like “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name, George Floyd.”
“I just want to show my support in any way I can because I know that people are tired of seeing this,” Piemme said. “Even though I'm not as affected by it, it still really sickens me. And I just want it to stop.”
Nico Penaranda, a protester in Fairfax County, is also sickened by the mistreatment of African Americans. On June 1, he and a group of about 20 others used nine cars to block I-66 near the Nutley exit in Fairfax County for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that Floyd was suffocated by police officer Derek Chauvin. They then held up signs that said “I-66 protests” and “Honk for Black Lives Matter.”
“My hope is that what comes out of this movement is justice for George Floyd, but also in general, greater police reform so black people no longer have to live in fear of police brutality,” Penaranda said.
On June 2, Alex Craven, a protester in Winston-Salem, used her credentials to be an educational resource for individuals there. Craven recently graduated from Winston-Salem University with a degree in education, and there were a myriad of high school students who attended the event.
“My people fought for us to be here today, but the fight is not over,” Craven said. “I’m going to pick up where they left off from and continue it because I don’t want my kids to feel like they have to walk on eggshells. It’s not just about us.”
Nannie Jervis, a protester in Lexington, Kentucky, said that during a protest on June 4, she witnessed several individuals drive by with signs that said “All Lives Matter” and some with Confederate flags. There were also people who screamed racial epithets in their direction and told them they were wasting their time protesting.
Jervis said that at first, she was angry. But then she and the protesters took it upon themselves to scream back “I love you” every time individuals said something hateful. She said that for her this is a movement of love, not a movement of hate.
“People like that is why we need to be out here doing what we're doing,” Jervis said. “Just because people yell stuff at us doesn’t mean we can just sit down and give up the fight because this is something that needs to happen. We just have to push through.”
Systemic racism has been so entrenched in the way that the U.S. functions that it's an issue that won’t be easily uprooted. This is why the voices and pleas of not just Blacks but every race is needed to combat the heinous disease that's contaminated the U.S. system for over 400 years. Protesting can take many forms and individuals should make use of their talents to support this movement. This isn’t the time to be silent.
By putting all of our cries together, we won’t be silenced.
Jazmine Otey is a JMU ‘20 alumnae. Contact Jazmine at firstname.lastname@example.org.