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Reality Check: Both sides need reconstruction

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Protesters march around downtown Minneapolis near the courthouse calling for justice for George Floyd after closing arguments in the Chauvin trial ended on Monday, April 19, 2021 in Minneapolis. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Anthony Clark Jr.

April 20, 2021. Thousands of Americans stood by anxiously for the final moments of the 10-month, 25-day wait to end. Would the American judicial system deliver justice, or would this be yet another moment in history where an individual walks free without any repercussions for their actions?

May 25, 2020. The Minneapolis Police Department announced a man had died due to what they initially claimed to be a medical incident during a police interaction. Had it not been for modern-day technology, the public would have been inclined to believe this headline. Instead, a crowd of bystanders witnessed and recorded the interaction between George Floyd and ex-officer Derek Chauvin. Within 24 hours of the video going viral on social media platforms, the nation was in an uproar.

Whether or not you choose to watch the incident, the death of Floyd sparked the revival of necessary conversations. This man, and the tens of thousands of other Black individuals slain by the hands of injustice were not meant to be martyrs for change. Many argue if Floyd wasn’t participating in illegal actions such as attempting to use a counterfeit bill, he would not have died. However, the fact that police officers are not to determine who is innocent or guilty when performing their duties continues to be forgotten. 

This is, undoubtedly, one of the most polarized states this country has been in for some time. Whether or not you voted twice for former President Donald Trump, or were an active participant in the protesting for social justice – not the useless riots – or think the broadcasting powerhouses CNN and Fox News Channel are seeds of division for this country, Americans must come to the agreement that there is a necessary change in many facets of our social, political, corrections, and education systems.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of good police officers in this country. Yes, U.S. police systems were originally developed to specifically police slaves while coddling to the white majority. This is an underlying reason why Black Americans and police officers struggle to trust one another. However, the stigma of modern-day white males becoming police officers to have the authority to police Black people has to be let go in order for the Black victimization feeling to dissipate, whether it is the truth or not. Think of the Dallas police officers who were viciously murdered by a crazed gunman while trying to protect and serve protestors shining a light on police brutality in 2016. Think of the officers who stood side-by-side, knelt, and/or locked arms with protestors who demanded change in 2020 and years prior. Think of the officers who purposely and/or unknowingly sacrificed their lives in an attempt to save others. The rhetoric of all police officers being corrupt has unfortunately negated any thought of what truly needs to be done – police reform.

Defunding and/or abolishing the police is an aggressive notion that gives those opposed to social reform more of a reason to deny its authenticity. Instead of saying it is inevitable for there to be a “few bad apples” in uniform, the question of how these bad apples were given a badge and a gun in the first place needs to be addressed and fixed. Chauvin had 18 complaints and two letters of reprimand during his career, yet he maintained his authority. Training procedures, policies, and police systems as an entirety must be reconstructed so civilians who are not trained to deal with stressful situations are not killed by those who are supposed to be trained to deal with stressful situations. If the white majority shapes the greater deal of police uniforms, these individuals need to be trained to relate to minorities on all levels. However, this will not occur if we as citizens of our cities, states, and country don’t take legal action instead of resorting to violence. We must construct petitions, hold our city and national legislators accountable, and vote for the reformation. By all means, protest. Do not stop utilizing your First Amendment right if you feel compelled to, just don’t incite violence when asking for peace.

As history continues to show, it is hard for humans to place themselves into the shoes worn by others. No human wants to endure obstruction to free education, food and house insecurity, and mental/emotional instability. Like many others, I am an individual who has experienced food, home, and financial insecurities. However, I have still been fortunate enough to experience what continues to be used to shame the white majority of this nation; privilege. I was privileged to experience heavy loads of diversity for just over six years while the most vulnerable years of my brain was developing. I was privileged to have on-demand access to school textbooks or laptops to bring home with the options of breakfast and lunch. I was privileged to have an educated single-mother of three children that raised her kids to be respectful, articulate, and well-mannered. The last privilege, at least one educated parent or guardian, is what has continued to be undervalued for human development. This is the most crucial aspect as to why so many Black Americans see themselves suffering more than prospering. The reason these facets of my life are considered privilege is because of the fact that there are millions of Americans, Black Americans more so than others, who are not privileged enough to experience such. Even as a fatherless, poverty-stricken minority, I am on track to be a first-generation college graduate in a few short months because of the privileges I was fortunate to have. However, I am one of few minorities to beat the suffocating odds. 

Imagine: you are a minority with great-grandparents who weren’t educated enough to pass along generational knowledge and wealth. This typically leads to a minimum of four generations that never talk about school obligations, social etiquette, financial education, and so forth. Meanwhile, these developing children live in impoverished communities with the likelihood of parentless households, little education, and high unemployment rates because of inexperience. Growing up, you live in a community that was forgotten or given up on with friends and neighbors who have no ambition or peace of mind. How do you expect that child to beat the odds of preventing the mental, emotional, or psychological burdens to affect them? 

Humans enduring underprivileged environments are less susceptible to develop ambition, understand how to “act properly” in various life situations, nor can they be expected to trust a government that swears to serve each citizen equally as they witness their loved ones, friends, or neighbors suffer tremendously. Conditioning is what shapes humans. So, when a brain knows nothing more than poverty, food scarcity, unstable and abusive environments, and is exposed to a bare minimum amount of education, this human will metaphorically have better odds to win the lottery than to live up to the standards expected of them. This has been the reality of Black Americans since June 19, 1866. The abolishment of slavery didn’t suddenly give the proper resources to Black Americans to build solid foundations that would mature over time for future generations. If you cannot imagine how it would feel on any level to endure these forms of pain and suffering, you should appreciate your privileges. However, this does not mean you have the privilege to ignore the fact this is the reality for millions of Americans throughout the nation. We, as honorary judges and jurors, lawmakers and government officials, teachers at all levels, and the common folk of society must realize and address this fact until it is a rarity.

To expand on the previous thought, education is how an individual will prosper in life. If a child does not have proper education, they will have a more difficult time growing up as respectful, law-abiding citizens. Children from underprivileged communities are likely attending public schools that have minuscule funding to pay staff salaries, to provide necessary school amenities including computers and nutritional meal programs, or to refurbish centennial buildings with outdated or nonexistent heating/cooling systems. How can a child surrounded by these conditions each day, where they are required to learn, truly be expected to retain any beneficial information? These are children who maintain a thin layer of innocence that aspire to be doctors, lawyers, or professional athletes, but don’t have the necessary tools to keep them afloat. These factors should be heavily addressed when considering educational reform. Free public education is certainly a privilege offered to all Americans, but the underlying factors that prevent education retention is why the education gap continues to exist.

In 2019, Trump requested $59.9 billion be spent on the K-12 education budget, a $6.6 billion decrease from the previous year. That number is over $20 billion less than the nation’s correctional facilities budget. Education reform won’t eradicate the inevitable chances of an individual leading a life of crime, but, there are overwhelming statistics that should spark interest for improved and expanded access to education. A few to keep in mind: as of 2014, high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. While 68% of imprisoned males do not have a high school diploma, nearly 80% of all prisoners are either high school dropouts or recipients of a General Education Development (GED) credential. 

The judicial system was created to decide who is innocent and guilty in this society, but the rhetoric of the judicial system favoring the majority and perpetuating minorities is true in far too many cases. The length of sentences and harshness of penalties for minorities is why prison reform should be argued. The implicit biases and stereotypes, police strategies, and the lack of resources in underprivileged communities are reasons why Black Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than the majority. As of 2019, $80 billion was invested into the budget of correctional facilities across the country – that is the publicly known figure. Long before the Trump administration took office, the gap between the United States education and prison budgets have been lopsided and in favor of the latter. One could argue without this amount of money spent on correctional facilities there would be far more crime, especially in minority communities. Would there not be a way to prevent crime rates from increasing by funding American education far more than the government has in recent years? Instead of assuming this amount of money is necessary to keep this country in order, why isn’t there more investment in educating young minds on how to be successful individuals? Prison reform starts with education. Until our nation’s leaders understand this, the recidivism rate will continue to climb.

Let’s be real: racism, homicides, and prejudice do not limit themselves to white towards Black individuals. There continues to be hostile feuds between Hispanic/Latin Americans and Black Americans, minorities mocking Asian heritage, and racial infighting that negates minorities from prospering. In order for any and all minority groups to prosper, we must organize and accomplish our goals together to achieve what each culture is fighting for. History has shown what can happen when the entirety of a minority group unites; now imagine what degrees of change can come into fruition if all minorities came together. Change has to start somewhere, especially in this area for Black Americans: the disregard of Black women.

Black women are one of the top disrespected demographics in the United States. Black women are a second-to-none contributor to this nation, and yet, are still the back-burner conversation and the butt-end of racial stigmas. Black women have overcome and conquered an unimaginable list of adversities while fighting for their freedoms and social respect, and yet they are still treated as second-class citizens by the majority of demographics. Until the era of the “Instagram model,” the physical characteristics of Black women were typically seen as appalling by non-Black individuals. Today, alterations of physical appearances – lip and buttock injections, hair extensions, fake-tan applicators – that resemble the natural and altered characteristics of Black women are sought after heavily, while Black women receive no apology for the centuries of disrespect. Black individuals, especially men, cannot expect to be respected, treated fairly, or given reparations when Black lives, more importantly, Black women, are not protected, cherished, and uplifted the way they should be – especially by their own people.

The problems addressed are not limited to why this country needs reconstruction nor will they be resolved overnight – but our only option is to start somewhere. Understanding our privileges, no matter our color of skin, is what will allow the mind to open and be conscious of what others lack. All Black men are not angry, and all white police officers are not racist. Until minorities come together, we will continue to face social disparities. Until the larger portion of the majority ceases denying there is indeed systemic racism that needs to be dismantled from the most critical human development systems, the country will remain stagnant. Until we as humans can acknowledge, accept, and cherish all humans, society will not reach its full potential. Our communities, minority or majority, will be prevented from starting any healing process if we do not help one another overcome our personal and shared adversities.