Hands up, don’t shoot. I can’t breathe. Nine minutes. Simple words but once put into their deadly contexts unleash a world of anger, frustration and most of all, desperation for change.
In 2014, Black Lives Matter protesters adopted “Hands up, don’t shoot” as their slogan after unarmed Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. The last words Eric Garner uttered on July 7, 2014 were “I can’t breathe” after being placed in a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo. On May 25, Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes before Floyd’s eventual passing.
The end of May has been defined by worldwide protests, with thousands of protesters taking to the streets, police cars being burned and stores looted. Starting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hundreds of people came out in protest of police brutality the day after Floyd’s passing. The very next day, protests erupted in cities across the U.S. such as Los Angeles and Memphis. Throughout the week, peoples’ anger escalated to the point that mayors are enforcing curfews and the United States National Guard was called in to control protesters.
Violent protests in particular have sparked backlash, with individuals criticizing protests on the basis that violence should not be fought with violence. A person who channels their efforts into condemning all protests because of violence is missing the main message that is being sent: that black lives matter. It is not a new idea, it is not a complicated idea. Yet, somehow it is an idea that our society turns a blind eye to time and time again. Black lives matter and we must do everything we can as a society, as human beings, to work toward ending this senseless cycle of police brutality and injustice.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 by organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman after he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Since then the Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc has expanded into a global organization whose mission is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes.”
The use of #BlackLivesMatter across social media platforms and the influence of the movement exploded in 2014 following Brown’s death and a Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson on first-degree murder or manslaughter charges. A similar narrative played out a mere months later when Pantaleo and the other officers involved with Garner’s death were also not indicted.
Since then, we have seen firsthand how little progress has been made over the years. In 2019 alone, U.S. police officers nationwide killed 1,099 and black people made up 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population. African Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police officers in comparison to white people. To top it all off, not only are black people disproportionately targeted, justice is almost never reached for them. 99% of killings by police from 2013 to 2019 have not resulted in an officer being charged with a crime.
Effective reform within our police departments is long overdue and it needs to truly start happening now. Before he was arrested for the death of Floyd, Chauvin was involved in a fatal shooting of another and had eighteen conduct complaints filed against him, two of which resulted in reprimands.
It has been proven that when a police department adopts new use of force policies, there are significantly less people dying at the hands of officers. When a department requires their officers to exhaust all other options before shooting there is a 25% decrease in police killings. The same drop in killings is also seen when a department makes police officers report all uses of force.
Despite the progress these policies can make, only 42 out of 100 of the U.S.’ major police departments actually require their officers to attempt all other means before using deadly force. When it comes to reporting uses of force, only 25 out of the 100 departments currently enforce this method.
Many police departments, including the Minneapolis police department, across the country have already implemented implicit bias training as a part of their routine training for officers. Yet, considering what occurred with Floyd’s death, it is more than clear that there needs to be an update on how things are done. Out of 155 police departments from across the nation, about 59% of the agencies said that they do not have a way to measure the success or failure of their programs.
It is not enough to sit your officers through a training program one or two times and hope for the best. Implicit bias training not only needs to be mandatory in all U.S. police departments, but moves need to be taken to ensure the training is productive as well. It is not possible to erase all implicit bias within a person because it originates from fundamental issues within our society. However as a police officer, and a person who holds the life of others in their hands, it is their responsibility to know how to not act upon their biases. It is also the duty of their respective departments to make sure the training given to officers is truly working.
As police departments face the challenge of changing, the average citizen must take steps to push for change as well. There are petitions that can be signed to demand the arrests of officers who stood aside as wrongful violence happened and donation funds set up for the families of victims and protestors. If possible, there are also peaceful protests one can take part in happening in cities across the nation, including Riverside. Regardless of race, gender and any other quality that others may use to separate us, we all have the ability to enact positive change.
George Floyd left behind two daughters. Eric Garner was a husband, father of six and grandfather of three. Michael Brown was 18 years old and was two days away from starting a training program at a technical school. Jonathan Ferrell was 24 years old and a former college football player. Atatiana Jefferson left behind her parents, a sister and a nephew. John Crawford III is survived by his two sons.
The list of names goes on and without proper action the list of victims will only grow longer. It is inexcusable that we are still seeing African American lives being lost in ways eerily similar to deaths that happened years before. Black lives matter and we must show this fact in our everyday actions moving forward. While it is quite possible that real change won’t happen overnight or by tomorrow, we still must continue fighting for what is right. We as a society, as humans with the capability to feel empathy for each others’ losses, must do better.
Amani Mahmoud, Editor-in-Chief
Silvia Ferrer, Managing Editor
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