Black Lives Matter: Protesting for Change (EDITORIAL)

June 12, 2020

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(Photo Credit: Adriana James-Rodil/Achona Online/Piktochart)

“The Black Lives Matter movement means everything to me. It means the collective exhaustion and frustration of Black people all over the world coming together to make this movement so that people will finally listen to us. To me, it means a way to be heard and a way to advocate for change. I have been participating in protests and marches, as well as signing petitions and donating what I can. I’m actually speaking at one of the protests coming up, “ said Tress Jacobs (‘20).

Disclaimer: In an effort to do our part to spread truth and stand up for justice, we have collaborated to write this story. We don’t want to remain silent during this monumental moment in history out of fear saying the wrong thing because we believe there are always opportunities to improve and better educate ourselves. However, we also acknowledge that we are both white passing individuals and thus recognize our privilege to be able to speak on this. 

Eric Garner pleaded for his life as he said “I can’t breathe” in 2014. Here we are again, in 2020, and an unarmed Black man named George Floyd uttered those same words before he died at the hands of police. 

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. 

Not only have these three words become the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, but they also accurately portray the suffocating and systemic inequalities that have haunted and troubled the Black community for centuries.

Raquelle Elson (‘23) said, “To me, Black Lives Matter means that Black people are finally fed up with the treatment we’ve received and are forcing people to face the fact that we matter and don’t deserve to be treated like we do. I have not been to any protests, although I would love to go, but I have been signing petitions and doing whatever I can without leaving my house.”

Although we are a nation built upon the fundamental principles of equality for all, Black people have not truly been granted this and have suffered from violence, stereotypes, and the violation of their basic human rights.

Academy Alumni Chanita Belcher (‘19), who is also planning on attending a Black Lives Matter protest, said, “Myself, personally, I have experienced a lot of systemic racism whether it be micro-aggression or blatant racism; it can vary. I had an experience when I was 12, and I talked about this also at Academy, when a store owner thought I was stealing. Then, I experienced micro-aggression when someone came up to me and said, ‘For a black person, you sound very articulate.’ and ‘Is that your real hair? Can I touch it?’ It’s just little things like that, that people need to understand fall under systemic racism. It’s the tiny things that make the glacier tip over.”

The Black Lives Matter movement does not solely aim to eradicate police brutality, but also to raise awareness about housing discrimination, healthcare disparities, redlining, gentrification, and many other social issues that have plagued the Black community.

As the video of Floyd’s cruel and merciless murder circulated the internet, the Black Lives Matter movement resurfaced again with a greater force, magnitude, and influence. Floyd was only one of several Black people who were victims of police brutality in the year 2020 alone. NPR reported what they were doing before their lives were taken from them:

“Eric Reason was pulling into a parking spot at a local chicken and fish shop.

Dominique Clayton was sleeping in her bed.

Breonna Taylor was also asleep in her bed. 

And George Floyd was at the grocery store.”

Since Floyd’s death, Americans have banded together to question the ability for people to be content with the American system and society, even if they combat the very meaning of freedom and equality. People are protesting with the strength and courage of a modern day Civil Rights Movement marching with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in their minds hoping that, one day, the deaths of unarmed Black people by police amounts to zero. 

Most of the protests have been peaceful, as shown by this TIME article: “Massive, Largely Peaceful, Protests Against Police Brutality Continue Across the Nation.”

However, “Protestors should not be looting” and “violence is not the answer” have been two common responses to the Black Lives Matter movement and the country-wide protests as a result of the media plastering scenes of violence across the internet. This has overshadowed the mostly peaceful protests across the country; it is important to recognize that the looters (who in many instances have not been involved with the central movement) and protestors are separate entities; thus, the violence of one small group should not overshadow the meaning of the entire movement.

In addition to this, the role of non-black individuals is to understand why people feel the need to protest in the first place. We understand that the reactions of protestors are a result of over 400 years of oppression. While we condemn looting and violence, it is important to recognize that the loss of human life at the hands of police and the peaceful protests should be the focus of this moment in history.

Social Studies Teacher and Passionate Outstanding Women Encouraging Respect (POWER) club Moderator Stacy Filocco said, “I think it is really important as a history teacher, but also as an American and a white person, that these are not isolated incidents and when we consider the entire body of information, we could begin to fathom some small portion of the trauma people experience on a daily basis. There is a collective identity to some extent that when you are a part of a group, when something happens to it, it happens to you as well which also takes a toll. It takes a toll emotionally, academically, economically, and on your physical and mental health.”

Government officials and the media have been divided in their response to the movement. President Donald Trump has blurred the line between protesters and looters as he called Minneapolis protesters “thugs” and also stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On the other hand, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote, “protesters in Minneapolis had faced ‘a far harsher police response than anything faced by the country’s gun-toting anti-lockdown activists.’” President Trump characterized these armed Minneapolis protesters as “very good people,” (on May 1) and were left alone to exercise their rights granted to them by the first and second amendments of the Constitution, but the same could not be said for Black Lives Matter protesters.

In Tampa Bay, a protest that began peacefully on Thursday, Jun. 4, ended in violence and with a demonstrator in jail. Protest organizers such as Emadi Okwuosa, Anthony Koedel and Terron Gland, stated that police were targeting and unlawfully arresting them. A police report stated that Okwuosa, for example, was inciting violence. He reacted by stating, “It’s baffling to me that they can lie so bluntly. It’s baffling to me that they can literally create stories against us.”

Across the nation, this is just one example in which peaceful protests have turned violent, and in many instances, as a result of the police. Videos have been shared of police running over people with cars and using teargas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and even targeting and arresting journalists like MSNBC correspondent Garrett Haake and CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez. 

The issue of systemic inequality within America is not a matter of politics or partisanship. Despite this, the movement to raise awareness about systemic inequality has received some backlash. In response to all of the events that have occurred, the phrases and countermovements “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” have been used as rebuttals to the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of these phrases are problematic as they aim to undermine Black Lives Matter while also missing the entire purpose of the movement.

It is important to clarify that saying Black Lives Matter does not mean other lives do not matter or that other lives are worth less. It is a given that all lives matter. However, black lives are the ones being actively killed and systematically oppressed in this country, and the Black Lives Matter movement aims to highlight this. The usage of the phrase “All Lives Matter” redirects attention away from black lives and ignores that America’s entire social structure revolves around whiteness as a default. Every life is valuable, but not everyone experiences discrimination and systemic inequality due to the color of their skin.

Similarly, the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” is equally problematic. The phrase “Blue Lives Matter” equates a uniform to skin color. The usage of this phrase ignores that at the end of the day, an individual can remove his uniform and shed his identity as a police officer. For Black individuals, their identity and the oppression they experience as a result of it is part of them 24/7. By equating these two things, the “Blue Lives Matter” movement ignores this and implies that the policing system is more valuable than the lives of Black individuals.

Furthermore, we recognize the need for widespread reform of our policing system. Just as COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black communities, so has police brutality. According to Mapping Police Violence, “More than 1,000 unarmed people died as a result of police harm between 2013 and 2019 . . . About a third of them were black.” Deaths caused by police in 2019 rose since 2014, and, in 2019, people of color (Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander) were 54% more likely to be the victims, and only “about 1% of police officers involved with these deaths” have been “charged with a crime and even less [have been] convicted.”

Police need to be trained differently and held accountable for their actions. When there are reports of police brutality, the officers involved must be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law — immediately. In many instances of police brutality, officers get away with abusing their power. This needs to end.

Prosecutors have filed a charge for second-degree murder against the former police officer who was responsible for George Floyd’s death, and the three other officers at the scene were also charged. Although these four police officers are being held accountable, they represent only the surface of this issue. Countless other police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black citizens have not been held accountable, such as the officers who killed Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner. There is still a long way to go until all victims of police brutality receive the justice they deserve.

This issue continues to thrive in our society as a result of insufficient governmental data and studies on police violence and the use of force, as U.S. News reports. We will never know the full extent of this issue, as many instances of police brutality are never recorded. There needs to be more government research on the issue of police brutality and use of force within this country if we want to eradicate it.

In addition, we believe that several reforms could drastically reduce police violence. For example, a police reform project by Campaign Zero called #8cantwait proposes eight policies that have been proven to reduce police violence. Policies that ban chokeholds and strangleholds and require de-escalation, warnings before shooting, exhausting other means before shooting, officers to intervene when excessive force is used, the use of a force continuum, ban shooting at moving vehicles, and require comprehensive reporting could reduce police violence by as much as 72%. Yet, only one of them is currently in place in Tampa’s police department.

Qemamu Reddick (‘21), the President of POWER, said, “I believe that this movement is very important when it comes to the change that we as a community would like to happen. But it is more than just peaceful protests and social media posts. For me, it is all about changes and reform, like actually being held accountable for these wrongful acts that have been done. I believe it is important for actual changes to happen. With my part in POWER, I hope to educate people in any way I can and have a positive effect on the movement as a whole.”

Of course, these reforms are only temporary, immediate action that our government should take to resolve these issues. For far too long our community leaders have relied on police to solve the problems of the poor, and these actions have only exaggerated violent policing. As well as reform, we recognize the need for long term solutions, such as defunding the police and channeling resources into other areas of our community.

“I think the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t really want just the police killings to stop but also the defunding or the dismantling of the police force, which I think will happen [in other places] since it already did in Minneapolis,” said Elson.

In the long run, limited resources could be shifted into building up communities and addressing the problems of the poor. We must demand that local leaders commit resources to non-police solutions such as investing in housing, employment, and healthcare. Through diverting money to the areas of the community that really need it, the role of police would decrease.

Tress Jacobs (‘20) said,I can’t really say what will come out of these protests, but I hope and pray that it’s legislative change to prevent police from killing Black people as they please without consequences. Personally, I would like to see the police force as a whole be defunded so that they can put that money to something that we really need, like teachers or hospital supplies.”

We want to encourage others to believe in the Black Lives Matter movement, and we hope that the movement will continue with its current vigor. In order for this to happen, it is up to the public to point out injustices and champion solutions. 

Question biases and educate those around you. Dismantle the negative stereotypes — in which people associate race with violence and crime — surrounding the Black community. Continue to have difficult conversations with your family and friends. It is imperative that society continues to challenge structural and individual racism, as that is the only way to bring about change.

“As non-black individuals, we have to remind ourselves that Black lives matter. It’s important for us to remind ourselves of this message because that is not a message that our society gives to its members. Nor was it society’s intended purpose when it was established,” said Filocco. 

Within the Academy community, President Art Raimo sent an email indicating that the school stands in solidarity with the message of the SNJM sisters regarding the brutal killing of George Floyd. In addition to this, Raimo described the steps the Academy has taken to improve diversity and honor the SNJM message. Through POWER, working with diversity trainers, engaging more people of color on the school board, sending students and teachers to the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and contributing to the Central Florida Diversity Cohort, the school has worked to increase diversity and encourage tolerance within the community.

“As far as the school goes, I’m a little disappointed to be honest. The school put out a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but that’s all they did. They say they have POWER and the Black History Month [BHM] program, which both deal with diversity, but BHM is only a month, and they don’t really give POWER much authority over the diverse handlings of AHN. The atmosphere is polite, but that’s it. There’s nothing beyond that, no conversation or action is made. What I’m saying is that I speak for the Black community at AHN when I say that we think it’s nice we’re receiving prayers and thoughts, but we’d really appreciate it if AHN did more to actually support its Black students on this issue. As an educational institution, [they should] properly educate their students on these issues rather than depend on a club to do it,” said Jacobs.

The Academy stands united with the Sisters of the Holy Names.

Posted by Academy of the Holy Names – Tampa on Monday, June 1, 2020

 

Our school community has taken several measures to challenge racism and encourage diversity, as listed above. As a staff, Achona has also committed to serving as an agent for change through guaranteeing that all voices are heard. In addition to this commitment, Achona’s Multimedia Editor Chloe Mintz has started a virtual book club to use literature as a way to discuss current events and social issues. We have also added several new contributing writers for the 2020-2021 school year to showcase a wider variety of perspectives. Sophomore contributing writer, Anna Anderson, will soon have a faith-based column dedicated to covering social justice and religious stories. We recognize these efforts to change and want to simultaneously acknowledge that there is still room for improvement within our community.

“We do have a diversity committee on the board of trustees, and I am a member, and we do have a newly formed, in the last year or so, diversity committee in the high school among teachers and administrators. [However] I think we have a lot of work to do as a school to embody our message of ‘to be rather than to seem,’” said Filocco. 

As protests and the fight for justice continue nationwide, we want to emphasize that it is not enough to be complicit in this situation. We must actively be anti-racist, as that is how change is accomplished. If you choose to be silent or neutral in the fight for racial equality, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Continue to fight the good fight. There is a long way to go before racial injustice is eradicated and equality for all is achieved, and we are all responsible for influencing that change.

“I want to be optimistic and say that racism will stop, but then again, it starts in the household. I just hope that my generation and the generation after me will not have to go through what I, my mother, and my grandma went through,” said Belcher. 

What Individuals Can Do:

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