Blog: Change starts with seeing us as human

Why is human life so worthless to people?

A couple of weeks ago, Americans watched a man have the life squeezed out of him as he called out for his mother. His name was George Floyd, and he was an unarmed African American man. The force police used on Floyd was unwarranted. Outnumbered four to one, he was beaten in the police car, pulled out, and thrown on the ground. Then to restrain him, former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck and back for eight and a half minutes, killing him.

As a Black college student from Detroit, attending Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, my heart hurts for Floyd, for his family, and for his friends. He was taken too soon from his loved ones. And I am reminded that he is not the only one.

Breonna Taylor was asleep in her Louisville apartment when police forcefully entered without even knocking. There was a “confrontation,” in which unidentified police and Taylor’s boyfriend, suspecting intruders, exchanged shots. In the end, Taylor was shot eight times, and she wasn’t even a suspect. The worst part is: The suspect they were looking for was already in custody.

Why couldn’t these supposedly “well-trained” police officers deescalate the situation when they found out the suspect wasn’t there?

In cities across the U.S., we talk about how well-trained our officers are, but studies show that may not be the case. If police were better educated, they might resort to violence less often.

In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics published a study showing that only 8 percent of U.S. police departments require a 4-year degree. Another study in 2010 by Police Quarterly shows that officers with some level of college education are less likely to resort to force. So why aren’t we requiring our officers to attend college or another adequate form of higher education?

Traditional police academies are not effective at fully training police officers. As someone putting in the time to earn my degree in media communications, I would like to see officers held to a higher standard. After all, they have a license to kill. I would also like to see smarter decisions being made to keep our communities safe. In the wake of protests following Floyd’s death, demonstrations across the U.S., including Fort Wayne, have been quelled with riot gear and tear gas. However, studies show that the militarization of police doesn’t keep cities safe. In many cases, it only exacerbates pre-existing problems.

As a Black man, I don’t feel safe in the presence of police. Every time I see another Black person die at the hands of police, I can’t help but think: That could have been me or my brothers.

I was in Sanford, FL, when Trayvon Martin was murdered by a neighborhood crime watch volunteer. I was 14 years old; he was seventeen. His life was taken only 15 minutes away from my home.

When I see people who look like me on TV being killed for just living, it infuriates me. And while it would be easy to say that this problem is relegated to a few “bad apple” cops, it’s also about the individuals who justify these murders. Excusing murder is part of the problem. Those of us who watch murder happen and don’t do anything about them are just like the officers watching and allowing Floyd to be killed. We are complicit.

The problem isn’t just a law enforcement issue. It extends to the American media, too. I’m traumatized and desensitized from seeing so many African Americans and People of Color killed in the street like animals on the news. The mainstream media thinks it’s helping by showing brutal killings multiple times on air. They think it brings awareness to the issue when, in actuality, it's a part of the problem.

If a person already has a prejudice or bias toward a group of people, and that group is constantly shown on TV being killed, what stops the prejudiced from thinking about the act or carrying it out themselves? News reporters pay special attention to how they report on suicides because news of one suicide can lead to another. Isn’t it time we started paying more attention to how we report on the brutal murders of People of Color, too? As a media communications student, I would like to think so.

And it’s not just the media who desensitizes us to the killing of People of Color. It’s also our schools with their history textbooks and curriculums. I remember being one of the only Black students in my middle school history classes where we were shown pictures of gruesome hangings and killings of African Americans. No other graphic deaths were shown of other races.

It’s discrepancies like these that cause us to think about the death of Black people in America differently than the death of white people. Being pro-Black isn't being anti-white. We aren't ignoring your existence when we say “Black Lives Matter.” Our goal is to shine a light on the injustice that People of Color face every day.

When you see the protests against the murder of George Floyd in your streets, know that they are not just protesting the death of one Black man, or the oppression caused by one broken system that can be easily fixed. No. They are protesting a multitude of systems and layered injustices that continue to oppress and target People of Color in the U.S. (either overtly or covertly).

Redlining is real. African Americans and people of color still can't get into certain neighborhoods, even if they have the money. Employers still put names that sound “more Black” at the bottom of the hiring list.

Many of the reasons these systems are the way they are is because we, as People of Color, have not been given a seat at the table to help build these systems in the first place. In fact, many of these systems were explicitly built to oppress us.

If our nation wishes to change this, we need to rethink the way things are done from the ground up. But even getting to that point starts with something deeper and more fundamental. It starts with recognizing and feeling for Black people as your fellow human beings.

It starts with seeing us as human.
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