OP ED: Let Me Breathe

Jordan Davis, Senior, Staff Reporter

As a young African American male, I have experienced so much. In school, I learned about slavery and the other hardships my race has suffered over the years, from racial slurs, to brutal beatings, and the origin of their ongoing fight for equal rights. In school, I was was also introduced to derogatory racial terms aimed both at me and my African American friends and acquaintances. Although I have been blessed to live a life where I have not experienced the worst of the atrocious behavior other African Americans have lived, I refuse to tolerate the idea that any offense can be deemed acceptable. It has gone on for decades, and it only seems like it will get worse before it gets better. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has been all over the news after the recent murder of George Floyd. Floyd was a 46 year old African American male. He was killed in Minnesota by four policemen after trying to purchase cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. The four policemen involved in the murder were Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao, and Derek Chauvin. Despite overwhelming video and eyewitness evidence, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder, while his colleagues went uncharged. This provoked days of rioting before his charges were raised to second-degree murder and his colleagues charged with  aiding and abetting the crime.

Officer Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Now, a Caucasian officer slowly choking an African American man to death was bound to attract serious attention. Unfortunately, this was one of a growing list of such crimes. BBC News created a timeline of black deaths caused by police brutality that have happened over the past six years. One example was Eric Garner. In 2014, Eric Garner, who was 27 years of age, was wrestled to the ground by former New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, after said officer aroused self-suspicion that Garner was selling illegal cigarettes. Garner was put into a choke-hold, and he was barely able to get out the same words that George Floyd later said: “I can’t breathe.” The first time these words were spoken it sent the world into an uproar, and those words became a rallying cry of protests expressing the anger of the African American community who were literally being suffocated.  And there were others. Say their names: Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin. All died because someone in a uniform thought that their lives didn’t matter.  I’m not saying that every single individual in a police force is the same. Some have joined in the fight for peace and support for others, but every day we hear of yet another instance where it is becoming acceptable … normal … to not even share the air with people who are different… to let people of color breathe. 

As the brutal mistreatment of African Americans has become a daily occurrence, white supremacy has gone on the rise. White supremacy is defined as “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” Kirsten Powers, an opinion columnist for USA Today wrote, “You think the term “white supremacy” goes too far? I get it, because I used to think the same thing. But it’s actually an accurate descriptive term for the systems of the United States. Against all historical pretensions to the contrary (exhibit A: “All men are created equal”), this country treats whiteness, particularly white maleness, as the supreme value. It works to denigrate and erase any culture not white. It centers the feelings, cultural practices and experiences of white people above that of anyone who isn’t. This, quite simply, is white supremacy.”

There are those who even believe our president, Donald Trump supports such beliefs. According to an Insider poll, 57 percent of Americans surveyed said they think Donald Trump, at the very least,  “emboldens white supremacy.” Behavior is modeled from the top down, and if we have a leader who is on record for having said that Neo-Nazis at the Charlottesville protest were “very fine people” it isn’t hard to connect the dots to see how that may have led to some viewing the violence of George Floyd’s death as normal.

With all this being said, think about this. In the society we live in today, how content are you with the mistreatment of other races? Are you satisfied knowing that not all races are treated equally? If you go on social media or watch the news, you will see people express their opinions on the idea that “All Lives Matter.” But how can “all” lives really matter if black lives seemingly don’t? So many people have been driven to speak out. To use their platforms for the greater good, to instill a more progressive outlook into the hearts of others that do not believe in change for the better. But there are also those who do not think open-mindedly, that express their privilege as more important, and fail to recognize the major flaws in society.

I ask you to think about who you are as a person. If “All Lives Matter” to you, then how come black lives have evidently been excluded from that sentiment? When you see a Black man going on a simple jog (as Ahmaud Arbery did), or a Black kid playing with a toy in the street (as Tamir Rice did), do you panic? Do you wonder why they are there? Do you view them with suspicion — just another African American in the wrong place at the wrong time? Don’t be surprised at your own prejudices and fears. Prejudice kills. Fear stands on the sidelines and watches.

Now ask yourself, do you want to make the world a better place or continue to allow these senseless acts of inhumanity? Would you want to be the reason that an African American mother or father has to wake up one day realizing that they have lost their child? Is change something you believe in? If so, make it happen. We’ll all breathe a little bit more easily when you do.