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Opinion: Changes to Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice System Must Start Now

By Sophia Alexandrou

February 26, 2012: Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after a physical altercation initiated by a police officer. He was armed with a bag of Skittles.

On November 22, 2014: Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer almost immediately after arriving on the scene. He was armed with a toy gun.

On March 12, 2015: Freddie Gray was arrested for the possession of a completely legal “switchblade.” He was put into a police transport van and found unconscious and not breathing, with his spinal cord severely injured 45 minutes later. Following a seven-day coma, Gray did not survive. 

On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was killed after police shot several bullets into her apartment. They broke in and despite their claims, did not identify themselves as law enforcement. Her boyfriend shot one officer in the leg out of fear of them being intruders, but the officer survived. Breonna did not. 

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed when a police officer kneeled on his neck rendering him unable to breathe. He was armed with an alleged counterfeit bill.

All of these incidents have something in common: they were racially charged attacks committed by police officers. According to Statista, black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. American law enforcement today is notoriously racist and corrupt, grown from, in part, by centuries of marginalization of black Americans.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement has been around for years, it is evident to see how much stronger it has become following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Since then, the world has seen countless protests demanding change in the United States’ law enforcement and criminal justice system. These protesters have voiced their anger, fear, and disappointment regarding police officers' long history of violence towards the black community. With chants of “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace!” it is clear to see how much reform is needed in this country. Most of these people are there to peacefully protest and demand change without inciting violence, as violence is the very thing they are protesting against.

However, the media has not depicted this movement as such. Instead of exposing the abhorrent behavior of law enforcement both regarding police brutality and their response to these peaceful protesters, they have made the Black Lives Matter movement appear as an organization with intentions on burning this country to the ground. This is not true.

Undercover police officers whose job it is to make the protesters look bad, have been exposed to have started many of these fires. While some demonstrators are responsible for some cases of looting, they are completely outnumbered by the millions of peaceful protesters all over the world. Many news channels have blown these instances completely out of proportion, depicting these protesters as completely violent people. Many of these “riots” did not become violent until the police arrived. They are the ones who have continued to incite violence against the people fighting for their lives. Many leave these once peaceful rallies with injuries caused by tear gas and rubber bullets. People have lost eyes. The police are responding to criticisms of the violence they cause and protests against the institution for which they work by inciting more violence.

Even disregarding the looting and the riots caused by the police, the ones initiated by civilians are still just. The people who criticize the demonstrators for rioting, are the same people who did not listen to their peaceful rallies. Very few movements in this country have been listened to by means of peaceful protest.

The Civil Rights Movement was not completely peaceful. This movement also included riots and altercations with the police. The Stonewall riots were not peaceful. These too had protesters come into contact with law enforcement. Even the Boston Tea Party, which the American education system has ingrained into the brains of every student as being one of the most patriotic acts in American history, was not peaceful.

However, all of these movements were extremely influential in the reforming of broken and corrupted systems in the United States. As Dr. King himself said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” One cannot support an institution that purposefully injures people at rallies who are protesting the violence that that very institution is responsible for, and then criticize the people who are so tired of being ignored that they resort to violence. 

This country is at war with the people who don’t want to die at the hands of their own law enforcement. President Trump has stopped at nothing to enforce the idea that these protesters are “thugs,” but has said nothing about the inherently broken and racist system that citizens are just supposed to trust will protect every single person in this country. Just a reminder, this is the same man who labeled the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville as “fine people.” Though, this isn’t surprising considering his long friendship with racism. His threats of using military force and enforcing martial law, while legal, will still be a direct infringement on the rights Americans pride themselves on every day. It seems like listening to concerned citizens and making change accordingly would be much simpler than trying to declare war on them.

It is clear to see with this administration how damaging power can be when given to an already corrupt individual.

This country continues to fight a long and hard battle with racism. It does not matter what laws were passed, who was elected president, or what reforms were made, racism has always been alive and well in this country. The systematic racism that exists today has been backed up by centuries of discrimination and inhumane treatment of the black community. This fight will keep going until people can stop being afraid of their own law enforcement. It will keep going until an institution that both incites and protects racially charged violence is reformed. It will keep going until the lives of Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless other beautiful people are avenged.

If we have learned one thing from George Floyd’s death, it’s that the Civil Rights Movement was never really over. The white man has been kneeling on the neck of the black man for far too long. Law enforcement is not a field that can afford to have “a few bad apples.” Change needs to happen now. As Malcom X once said, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

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