Ahmaud Arbery. Sean Reed. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Tony McDade. Yassin Mohammed. These are the names that have recently been added to the Black community’s ever-growing directory of murdered souls. These are the names that have been etched into our minds. The names that we will shout every time we have to fight for justice. Their lives, their stories and their deaths have become integral parts of each and every one of our experiences. From strangers to something much stronger than family.
Every Black person in America has a defining moment when we come to terms with the fact that no matter what we do, this nation will never accept us. For me, it was when I was 12 years old and Trayvon Martin was shot. February 26, 2012. The day when a young, bright and hopeful 17-year-old Black boy was killed while holding an Arizona and a packet of skittles. Oh, and wearing a hoodie. Trayvon’s murder, the not guilty verdict and the aftermath that ensued proved to me, and countless others like me, that Black lives in America are disregarded.
From then on, every Black person that was killed, whether by the police or citizens who decided to take matters into their own hands, shaped me. Eight years later and I’m still being shaped. Eight years later and my community is still affected. Eight years later and we still feel so much pain.
The recent wave of protests and demonstrations that have been sweeping the nation are born from an agony which no words can adequately describe. America was built on the broken, bruised and beaten bodies of Black people. It is our blood that soaked through the soil and allowed this nation to grow. It is our sweat and our tears that watered it. Our hands picked and removed what we were told were the weeds that were preventing the nation from being great. In response to our blood, sweat and tears, which poured out from every gaping orifice, America, like an insolent child, turned her back on our ravaged remains.
For centuries, Black people have cried out against racism, against oppression, against injustice. And for centuries, our cries have gone unheeded. These protests didn’t suddenly arise; they are the culmination of injustice after injustice. The result of one not guilty verdict after another. These protests are our way of forcibly bringing attention to the plights that ravage our community.
In the midst of a pandemic which is disproportionately affecting and killing Black people, we also have to deal with police brutality. The existence and responsibilities of police officers are not specifically enumerated or elucidated in any of America’s founding documents, and yet these agents of global oppression exist.
Police and prisons were established solely to oppress and subjugate Black people after the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery and constitutionalized penal slavery. Police forces can trace their lineage directly to slave patrols and conflict in the aftermath of the Great Migration, which nationalized Jim Crow policing through the 20th century. The persistence of these institutions is direct proof of America’s despotism. Their presence not only runs contrary to America’s façade of a perfected democracy, but also serves as evidence that the suppression of Black people has always been this nation’s priority.
Police officers are the biggest purveyors of force and violence. They masquerade as envoys for law and order, yet in reality, their very existence, words and actions are far from lawful and orderly. Their fetishization of power and control is consistently amplified by the military grade weapons that are at their disposal, as well as the christening by those outside the Black community of their actions as inconsequential.
For far too long, police officers have been allowed to prey on Black people and Black communities without fear of reproach. They’ve been allowed to barge into our homes and kill us and our children. They’ve received paid leave, and nothing more than a two finger tap on the wrist after leaving us to die. They’ve been allowed to roam free and have received minimal, if any, charges, while our blood remains on their hands. The sentences for their crimes have been nothing more than incomplete thoughts.
The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 ignited the current protests and demonstrations. As the video circulated and we heard George Floyd cry out and beg for his life, we were once again reminded of those who had come before. His last words echoed in our minds as it was revealed to us that all four officers, all four murderers, weren’t immediately arrested. And even now, only one of them is in custody.
Until this moment, Black people had not remained idle. We had endured the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Yvette Smith, Philando Castile, Botham Jean and countless others. We had marched and protested in their names and in their memories. We had witnessed their murderers go unpunished. Once again, we were fed up. Once again, we were sick and tired of being sick and tired. We had persevered but had not forgotten. With our history and our present-day experiences, we decided to force a change. What began in Minneapolis has spread through the nation and the world. In eight minutes and 46 seconds, the seeds of a revolution were sown.
Black people are tired of dying. We’re tired of being criminalized just for existing. We’re tired of living in a world and navigating a society that has decided that the melanin we take pride in makes us guilty of a crime. We’re tired of being incarcerated and eviscerated. Every day that we survive serves as a reminder of how easily we could die. Every trending hashtag becomes a memory, a firm lesson to be passed down for generations. Every rally, every march, every protest is a poignant reminder that our day-to-day activities can be fatal.
It seems like every day we hear of a new death. One that could be avoided if the murderers didn’t immediately see Blackness as a threat. We live in a world that has told us that we are expendable. The same nation that profits from our culture and our style is the very one that whitewashes our history and tries to erase us and our achievements. Historically and contemporarily, Black people have had to fight for our lives. We have had to fight to show that our lives matter. This is not a moment soon to be forgotten. This is a revolution.
Peggy-ita Obeng-Nyarkoh is a rising senior from Ghana, currently residing in Worcester, Mass. She is studying Africana Studies and Molecular and Cellular Biology. She is the Research, History, and Education Chair for the Black Student Union; a member of the African Student Association; and the Vice President-elect of the Rho Omega Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.