OPINION: Loyola men’s basketball player Lucas Williamson reflects in a guest essay on the killing of George Floyd and how he believes it was a breaking point and a call to put pressure on our local and national governments to enact change.
Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Alexia Christian, Jamar Clark, Natasha McKenna, Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and now, George Floyd.
What do they all have in common? They were all black people who were murdered by police officers. They were all murdered within the past six years. They were all murdered with only four officers receiving jail time. This is the United States of America in 2020.
Two weeks ago, Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight excruciating long minutes. He slowly deprived him of oxygen while officers Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao assisted and provided a perimeter. Floyd’s rights as both an American and a human being were intentionally violated. The entire incident was recorded by bystanders and went viral. Billions of people across the world witnessed yet another black man falling victim to police brutality.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, the United States and the world has erupted in protests. For many, what happened to Floyd was a breaking point and a call to put pressure on our local and national governments to enact change. Black and brown communities are fed up with their loved ones being gunned down in the streets and imprisoned for nothing more than fitting a description.
What happened to Floyd and the literal hundreds of black lives wrongfully ended by law enforcement is a blatant form of racism. It’s no secret that white people and people of color are treated differently when interacting with police.
For example, a failure to signal for a white woman driving might result in a ticket and she will be on her way. But for Sandra Bland, it was a death sentence.
Racism is a disease that, left unchecked, will plague our country perpetually.
Our current justice system fails people of color time and time again. Black and brown communities have a history of being profiled, targeted and then imprisoned for petty crimes. Judges will often give them tougher sentences for the same crime that a white person committed.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive prison sentences that are about 20 percent longer. This is because people of color are perceived as more of a “threat” to society, though the crime may have been the exact same. Also, privately run prisons receive funding from the government based on inmate population. Being able to profit off such an unjust system like this is the grim reality of the America we live in today.
In 2020, there should be no longer a discussion if racism still exists. It’s very real and it’s wrong and it’s even evident in our public school system.
In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the closure of 48 elementary schools and one high school due to budget cuts in the Chicago Public Schools. It was the largest school closing in Chicago history. Most of these schools were in impoverished black and brown communities.
When protesters call for defunding the police, they mean taking their $1.7 billion dollar budget and redistributing that to other areas. That includes education, employment, housing and many other civic issues. These issues all contribute to the systemic racism that has been created in America.
“Why are we focusing more on having to police people more than educating them?” said Jazlin Laboy, a high school teacher at Chicago Bulls College Prep. “I think we could be doing more. I think our focus is on the wrong department.”
Defunding the police does not mean enabling crime. It means allocating funds towards defeating the causes of crime in our impoverished neighborhoods. Schools would be able to provide programs like art, music, dance, mental health, gang resistance, intervention/prevention practices and many others. In offering kids more opportunities, it can encourage students to stay away from gangs and drugs. But with schools struggling to provide that because of budget cuts in CPS, students have to work twice as hard to keep up with richer schools in white neighborhoods.
“It’s a beautiful thing when you get out of that struggle,” Laboy said. “But our students shouldn’t be in the struggle to begin with.”
In a country that prides itself on freedom and equality, we will never truly be free and equal until we acknowledge that a virus has infected the United States. It has caused many to lose jobs, homes and in many cases, their lives.
You can catch it walking home after buying skittles from a convenience store, reaching for your wallet to show ID, selling cigarettes or even sleeping in the comfort of your own home. This virus does not care how rich or how poor you are. It doesn’t even care how old you are. The only thing that matters is the color of your skin. But we are all infected.
This virus is called racism. And it needs to end, and end now.
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The original version of this story spelled Laquan McDonald and Derek Chauvin’s names incorrectly as “Laquon McDonald” and “Derick Chauvin.” These spellings have been corrected.