by Imani Fonfield, Opinions Contributor
Graphic by Kaila Hanna
The condition of the United States is up in flames, and one of the destructive fires is the racist policing system that taunts black people every day. No longer are we terrorized by the leather handles of whips but rather stunned by the barrels of cold guns before our eyes. No longer are we robbed of the right to breathe by a hanging rope but rather struggle to gasp for oxygen while the pressure of a pale knee presses against our windpipes. Police officers grew from the roots of slave catchers and continue the legacy of dehumanizing black lives.
I believe in a national plan for safety and in those who enforce it. What I don’t believe in, however, is a system of racist methods that disproportionately control, incarcerate and kill black lives. I especially don’t believe in qualified immunity, the legal doctrine blatantly protecting police officers who use excessive force. As massively unjust as this system is, it is not the only fire. There are many more fires burning on Amerikkkan soil, and the unbearable flames of systematic racism can only be extinguished if all its fires are extinguished together.
After the most recent murders of Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, people across the nation and around the world busted through quarantine doors and hit the pavement in protest. Even in the South community, there has been a recognizable amount of virtual action. After a short period of violent silence, a large number of classmates and teachers finally realized the magnitude of this human rights issue that affects far more than just black communities alone.
All of this energy has been great — and it’s still going strong to demand the change that Black Lives Matter and the movements before it have been demanding for years, decades and centuries. That said, this momentum is just phase one of the growing movement. Phase one is the energetic recruitment phase that symbolizes initial reactions to the recent deaths: more people than ever in the country and around the world are now demanding justice and change. The thing is, the spread of both awareness and protest is just the first step.
Specifically, the killing of George Floyd opened the eyes of many to what activists and the black community at large have been saying for decades about police brutality. Yet, Floyd’s death also alludes to a much larger, more complex line of racist systems revolving around upholding power. That is, systems within America are designed to protect other national systems that work against black bodies. So, in order to be effective in the now multiracial, multigenerational and international Black Lives Matter movement, the other systems that are connected to policing need to be dismantled as well.
Policing — over policing, militarization of inner city communities, mass incarceration, police brutality, police union protection — is one multilayered system tied to poverty, voter suppression, limited healthcare, inadequate education and more. These too are silencing, hurting and ending our lives — only not by cuffs, guns or knees.
In addition to demanding justice for the recent murders, one major step across the nation to dig deep into phase two has been fighting to defund police departments and reallocate money to other services. With respect to education, for instance, 1.6 million students nationwide attend a school with school police but no guidance counselors, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
The use of “resource officers” in urban schools which majority black and brown students attend creates more mistrust and alienation than it does education and community building. Rerouting funding for school counselors and nurses in exchange for metal detectors and surveillance cameras would shift a culture of enforcement into one of learning.
Even within our own school, we have to actively fight our internal fires in phase two. I applaud and thank the faculty and students who have responded to the racial tensions in an effective way. Moving forward though, teachers and students should still be further educated on the concept of race and how to address it.
That said, the teachable moments can’t be the responsibility of black students and faculty members. The same amount of time and energy that South puts into maintaining rigor and academic excellence needs to go into transforming our school into a more socially aware community, an entire teachable environment.
In my eyes, hiring African American educators and implementing a race-based curriculum in a structure similar to required wellness courses and faculty professional developments can be an impactful start. While I personally feel supported in my education and achievements in many ways, I think our school can agree that we still have work to do.
It took 401 years worth of injustices to get to this tipping point, and it will take strength and time to put all the fires out for good at South and across the nation. This work is difficult and exhausting, yet we can’t let Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and every black royal before them die in vain.
Once we change hearts, minds and the system of policing, we must not lose sight of everything else that needs to be torn down and built again to embrace and represent all people. We’ve come too far to demand too little. Now is the time to remove every knee of injustice from our necks.