Current and former foster youth weigh in on racism and police brutality.
From a young age, we are taught that the men in blue are our friends, protectors and allies. We put our faith and trust into the familiar uniforms that are responsible for our collective and individual safety and find solace in knowing that they will be there when we need them. The American system has been brought up on this premise of self-governance run by the people, with the people and for the people. However, with this torch to bear comes an immense deal of civic and personal responsibility. Police departments all over America are subject to public scrutiny after allegations of racial inequality and prejudiced brutality grow in numbers. As America struggles to grapple with the coronavirus health pandemic, people are also struggling to disentangle themselves from the long-existing epidemic of police violence against people of color and minority citizens — notably against African-Americans.
A quick Google search will yield innumerable examples of police misconduct, mistreatment, abuse, and even murder on innocent and/or unarmed citizens. There are disturbing realizations to be made by the American people about why these “bad apples,” who are tasked with protecting their communities, have gone severely awry. Rodney King, Kathryn Johnston, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Aura Rosser, Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are just a few names of people who have notoriously suffered at the hands of our deleterious systems.
These senseless tragedies grow in numbers each day and cast an ominous shadow on the racially driven injustices and inequalities that are plaguing minorities, especially Black people. To add fuel to the fire, some of the officers responsible for the deaths of these victims were protected by their “blue code” and white privilege and were not tried at all, were tried and acquitted, were tried on lesser charges or were convicted and given a “slap on the wrist” sentence.
This is an infuriating example of privilege guaranteed behind a badge and the perpetuation of a system inherently flawed in its forgiving of white men who continue to commit these atrocities, including the killing of unarmed Black people. This is also an extension of the same sentiments that armed slavery for so many years; the fear-based division of entire classes of people and the protection of the side doing the killing. Recently, tension is mounting behind these overtly offensive proceedings where justice is a game with a clear winner and law is bound by a color-coded creed. Protests have sparked worldwide, and attention has been called to the fact that some of George Floyd’s killers still roam the streets today, as well as all of Breonna Taylor’s murderers.
My personal experiences with the police have fortunately been non-confrontational and it’s not evident that I’ve been distinctly profiled or targeted racially or intently during these interactions. That is not to say that all of my experiences have been positive or completely fair, as there have been times where I did feel subjected by my gender, age, or even racially driven stereotyping. However, in the very least, I was never worried about the dangers of being abused or murdered in these altercations. Even as an Arab-American, I was able to use my privilege to freely reach for my license and registration, insurance card, phone, radio dial, etc. after being pulled over and not think about the repercussions of how simply moving or hesitating could lead to my imminent death. I sympathize with the anger, fear and depression that Black people in America endure because of this and I stand in solidarity with my Black brothers and sisters who feel this weight every day of their lives.
The discord in American citizens is heightened by continual prejudices, hate crimes and other acts of racism as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gains momentum. The movement itself consists of a plethora of BLM-related hashtags, social media trends and challenges, community solidarity, discussions and policy reforms, protests around police stations and political buildings, and riots around cities. I can’t express enough the importance of solidarity and camaraderie in this fight for racial equality and justice — something that should never have been in question in the first place. It’s imperative that the uprisings around the country not be dismissed or pushed aside, as this invalidates and dehumanizes protesters working to reconstruct the structural injustices around the country.
As Malcom X put it, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.” The BLM movement is striving for the attainment of this ideal in the face of historical opposition, and a degree of change is needed on all levels of society to achieve this.
A society that still falls victim to acting on its stereotypes and prejudices is not a society that will thrive. If our society wants to succeed in fighting against this humanitarian epidemic of perpetuated racism and police brutality, we must first realize and accept its existence. This should be a given, despite the large number of people, many of whom are societally privileged, choosing to ignore this and continuing to operate on a countered frequency. After awareness of the issue is instilled, the arguably most important solution is to engage in self-reflection. Only by excavating personal experiences and finding the roots of our own stereotypes can we then analyze those experiences in the light of objectivity and reason. Often, we forget this crucial aspect due to the autonomous rhythm of our society’s behavior and the heavy bandwagon pulse that the media puts out.
Learning to differentiate between media portrayal of an entire race/ethnicity and who these humans are in our everyday reality is something to remember and entwine in how we act and think. They are our neighbors, business owners, Congress members, medical professionals, relatives and friends whom we owe our camaraderie and support to, despite any perceived differences or opinions. Lastly, a critical part of the solution is in the hands of those with privileges and positions of great influence or power who can legislate reforms to our outdated systems and healthily influence the heavy media presence that rings throughout our society.
As I enter into a master’s in public health program, I constantly find myself embracing politics in the public sphere as it will relate to my future work. In my concentration, I will attempt to convey data into digestible health policies for the public to understand and adhere to. But how can I think that I am capable of doing this successfully if large groups of people still adamantly deny the hordes of data suggesting racism and police brutality against targeted individuals are prevalent and prevailing in society?
I have been delayed in pursuing my degree by a semester because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but I find myself being mentally delayed by our current human rights pandemic where innocent lives every day are being abused and lost because of our society’s deep-rooted cognitive dissonance. A feeling of defeat washes over me as I read each story on police brutality, racism, prejudiced actions/words, and a lack of respect toward one another. I hope that we can all overcome each individual and collective barrier that is preventing us from looking past our surface differences and coalescing through our shared human experience.