I didn’t really get Black Lives Matter at first. I didn’t know what it was about. All I remember was that after the murder of Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter was trending. My initial reaction — which 16-year-old me regrets thinking now — is that all lives should matter, right? From then on, I didn’t pay attention to the Trayvon Martin case: to me, it was just another incident. Sure, George Zimmerman looks like an awful person, but what could I prove that the justice system couldn’t? Unfortunately, people still have this frame of mind today.
A couple of years later, I learned about Michael Brown. The Black Lives Matter hashtag was trending again, and I studied the case a little more than I did Martin’s. I thought, ‘Man, the cop who shot him is definitely going to jail.’ The case seemed clear: His hands were up, he was unarmed and he took multiple shots in the front of his body. From what I gathered, Michael Brown had been murdered in cold blood.
I couldn’t believe it. Darren Wilson, the policeman who killed Michael Brown, was acquitted of all charges. I can’t remember ever feeling more empty in my life. It hurt to know that the officer got away with murder. I thought that nobody was above the law, and that included law enforcement. I was hurt, and from the Ferguson riots, it was clear that the country was hurting even more. From then on, I had looming doubts in my mind if the justice system truly serves justice.
I am not a Black man. But I am a person of color. I thought that if I had felt this much sorrow, I couldn’t even imagine what Black citizens were feeling, and I don’t think it’s my right to put their feelings into words.
Philando Castile was in the car with his girlfriend and daughter when he was shot several times by a police officer. His girlfriend streamed it via Facebook Live capturing Castile and the officer. In the video, you can see Castile’s blood dripping down his white shirt, the cop panicking, screaming “oh my god” and the daughter crying as she watched the police murder her father.
Castile, a lawful gun owner, informed Jeronimo Yanez that he had a gun in his possession — which you are supposed to do according to the NRA — but the policeman allegedly believed he was reaching for the gun to shoot him. Philando Castile was murdered for rightfully following procedure.
I thought, ‘This is going to be the one that changes the system. This is going to be the trial that finally puts a policeman away for murder and proves that even law enforcement isn’t above the law. People are finally going to realize that this isn’t a partisan issue, this is a humanitarian issue. Black people deserve to live, and this trial is going to bring attention to the broken system. This is the turning point for Black Lives Matter.’
Oh how wrong I was, and how wrong this country is.
Jeronimo Yanez was not indicted for killing Philando Castile, just like George Zimmerman and just like Darren Wilson. He will not face any consequences for taking away the life of a man who served his community. No murder, no manslaughter, not even an endangering child charge.
our legal system is not constructed for the charging and conviction of police officers who kill people – no matter the circumstances
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) June 16, 2017
there is pretty much nothing a cop can do to a black person—on tape or otherwise—and not get away with
— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) June 16, 2017
Castille’s mother put it best: “He loved this city, and this city killed him.”
Why is justice only for white people? It seems that every day I read about law enforcement actively being used against Black people.
On June 29, three Chicago officers were charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014. The officers were accused of concealing the facts to protect Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald 16 times.
There was a reason Chicago P.D. kept the dashcam video a secret until they were forced to release it nearly two years later: because the police misconstrued the facts and conspired to protect each other. It’s called a system. One that was made to get away with killing Black people.
First, there’s something we have to understand: the system isn’t broken, it was just never made for Black people.
We live in a country where a white man can murder nine Black people in a church and still live to see tomorrow, but a Black man can follow the law and be killed in front of his family. Or how Eric Garner can be choked to death by police after asking for help, or how Sandra Bland can be killed in police custody or how 12 year old Tamir Rice can be killed holding a fake pistol. It feels like it will never stop.
Many of us aren’t Black and haven’t had confrontations with the police, but we sympathize with the Black community and want the same actions to be taken. How do we, as people who don’t understand the Black American experience, help?
There isn’t a clear, short-term solution, but there are ways to help the cause if you are not Black:
- We have to listen.
- We have to realize that racism exists.
- We can’t be silent.
To a lot of people, this isn’t anything new. But if we don’t keep reminding ourselves, it’s easy to get complacent. If we see injustice and corruption in our law enforcement, we have to be vocal. Black lives depend on it.