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To fully appreciate how powerful racism is to know how two back-to-back grand juries could decide to not indict two cops for killing unarmed black men isn’t the first time black Americans are being reminded of where they stand within the law. As a people, we have had a long history–perhaps our entire history–of being reminded of this sad fact. In our own individual lives, in every story we hear, we remember that those lives are our own lives, our children’s lives, the lives of the ones we love. The neighborhood where Trayvon Martin died is the same neighborhood many of us live in. The police officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner were those same individuals in the same departments that have sworn to protect our communities. It is for those reasons that the pain from these events will continue to endure. The stakes are too high to be numb. This epidemic has gone unchecked for too long, and so the urgency is very real for black people.
To be blunt: race is not biological–it’s a social construct. Racism is not a mindset–it’s structural forces, and systemic underpinnings that reinforce that construct. So when you look at Mike Brown’s body being left out for 4 hours, and when you see a video of a man being strangled to death for selling a cigarette–without any attempt to press charges and restore justice–you aren’t simply seeing people who don’t value black lives, you are seeing the very nature and system of racism and what it was created to do. You are seeing racism in its truest form, you are seeing what racism is.
Many white Americans could not see that racism behind Mike Brown, but they could make the clear distinction with Eric Garner. For them, the events of Ferguson weren’t obvious enough for them to pick a side. But what they don’t understand is how most cases involving the slaughter of black people never are. The black American plight is a complex one, and Mike Brown’s killing showed that white people were unable not only to understand what it is like to walk in a black man’s shoes, but to live in them. When you claim that the proof presented isn’t good enough to indict a man for shooting an unarmed teenager, you are making a clear statement of which side of history you wish to stay on. The ambiguity that lingered on every level of the Mike Brown case kept white people in the bubble of privilege they have been so comfortable in.
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