Current and former foster youth weigh in on racism and police brutality.
I took interest in social justice after being exposed to protesting. I was only 15 years old in 2016 when Philando Castile was murdered by the police during a routine traffic stop in my city. I couldn’t understand what motivated an individual to commit such a horrendous act. I began to research other fatal police encounters with minorities and was utterly despaired at the information I found. Even more concerning was the fact that the education system I was brought up in made no attempt to educate students on the topic.
I chose in that moment to recognize the privilege that I had as a white individual, and to not identify with the views I was taught as a child. Having grown up in a conservative household, I was able to have a firsthand view at the bias that my family held – an unconscious bias. My family would claim they had no bias, that “we treat everyone the same,” but would model much different behavior to me. Having awareness of the matter, I aimed to educate my family about the unconscious bias we all hold, and the importance of recognizing it and consciously making an effort to do better.
With recent attention being turned toward the injustices currently presented in our society, I began reflecting on my own experiences as a foster youth. My mind started skimming the countless interactions I had with authorities throughout my adolescence. The biggest indicator surrounding my encounters with police is my skin color. As a white female, I was never profiled by the police specifically for my demographic. However, being a foster youth perpetuated the bias from authorities, simply from the stigma of being a foster child.
Having extreme behavioral issues as an adolescent, police encounters became a normal routine for me. My experiences were all different, which created an inconsistent perception of how to interact with authorities. A few experiences stood out in my memories. Having two male officers search me, while groping me in uncomfortable regions, was an encounter that’s engraved in my psyche. Following this interaction I became nervous, fearful and terrified to ever interact with authorities. Why does there seem to always be a correlation between power and abuse?
Being that police have power, I became reluctant to speak out about the negative interactions with them. At the time, I was dealing with PTSD from being sexually assaulted. Feeling increasingly anxious and depressed from the assault, I began isolating and ultimately shutting down. After being assaulted a second time, from the police, my mind became even cloudier, and suicide ideation was very prominent. I couldn’t process either of the traumas; instead I reacted to all situations in a flight/fight/react mechanism.
Feeling violated from the people we are supposed to feel protected by threw me for a loop and resulted in a further disconnect from my safety. Before these traumatic interactions, I never thought police had the intention of invoking harm on others. This is a clear representation of my privilege, being that I had no insight to the negative attitudes from law enforcement. After these interactions, I internalized that positions of power will always draw narcissistic individuals who undoubtedly want to hold power, whether that be negative or positive.
I won’t just speak about the bad experiences. I have had positive encounters with authorities. I’ve had officers who have helped me through anxiety attacks, talked to me with respect and advocated for my well-being. I’ve had empathetic and supportive encounters dealing with authorities. At the same time, I’ve had traumatic and impactful encounters that resulted in a fear of police and the power they hold. When different officers follow different ethics, I don’t know how to engage in conversation. Acting a particular way with one officer may not translate with others, which is highly concerning for any individual. Personally speaking, this created an anxious environment which, on multiple occasions, was misconstrued by law enforcement.
In my opinion, policing requires community involvement, mutual respect and trust. We clearly do not currently hold any of these characteristics. Those in power must not abuse their privileges, which we have seen continuously reoccur. The entire structure of our system has been founded to systemically target minorities. This creates a huge gap and disadvantage for individuals, strictly based on the color of their skin. This doesn’t include the plethora of challenges – socioeconomic, educational and geopolitical adversities – that minorities must tangle with every single day.
I understand the rioting. I sympathize with those who are faced with the incredibly biased and disadvantaged system that they’ve been subjected to for the last 400-plus years. I can only imagine the disproportionate structure in our society that makes individuals feel trapped in an unbreakable racial caste. It becomes challenging when forming opinions around whether rioting will help create change within our current system. I support the theory that power is in numbers; however, I also recognize the corrupt political system that’s present and the challenges accompanied with it.
Once you begin to understand the complexity of our deep-rooted system, there’s no questioning the importance of striving to change our society. I have decided to raise awareness through educating those who can’t grasp the concept of our broken system. Specifically, providing an understanding and empathetic environment for those who want to learn, but don’t want to speak incorrectly and possibly say something offensive. I wholeheartedly believe all humans are capable of change, hence why I remain optimistic.
Policing policies need drastic reform, but that alone won’t result in more equity for minorities. Being that our whole system is rooted in racism, our whole system must change. This includes education, law, equal opportunities, job markets, access to health care, etc. And this is just the start. Everything must change, which is why it’s difficult to verbalize exactly how we can accomplish such things. Seeing the solidarity in Minneapolis (where I live) that has resulted from the recent chain of events is both comforting and emotional. Finding strength and courage within our communities will inherently help progress social change. We must fight for the equity that is long overdue for our minority communities.