At 12 years old, I watched Trayvon Martin’s case on TV and cried because when I saw Trayvon, I saw a reflection of myself. A young African American boy, in the blink of an eye, could be killed. For several days, I was in a state of shock and anger at the world, attempting to process how a Black boy could be killed for walking in his own neighborhood. My mom began to talk differently to me about racism and privileges present in the world. She told me it was important to act in a manner that was not going to be perceived as a threat or make me look like a resistant individual, that my darker skin could be judged before words left my mouth. I felt like I lost part of myself because I had to act differently based on perception — a perception that seemed very outdated yet still relevant because it had social implications. Now, in my early 20s, I question the safety of being a Black man in America more than ever.
The past few days, I have watched my hometown of Austin demand justice for George Floyd and Mike Ramos outside the Austin Police Department. Floyd was wrongfully killed after he allegedly paid counterfeit money in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Officers put Floyd in the police vehicle only to take him back out and abuse him.
Former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd stated multiple times, “I can’t breathe.” Three additional officers stood and failed to step in to restrict Chauvin’s excessive force. Ramos was a man of color fatally shot by a police officer in the Austin area even though he was unarmed. Thousands of protesters held signs, passed out water, and marched for miles through the city. Protesters risked their lives by entering the I-35 highway demanding the injustices of police brutality to be acknowledged. I was so proud to witness so many individuals wanting to see a change in their communities, especially white individuals who identified the privilege they hold in society and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Individuals who are manipulating the Black Lives Matter movement for their own opportunity to vandalize and loot is disheartening. An innocent homeless man lost the mattress he slept on to people who set fire to it for no apparent reason. He shouted in disbelief and sadness. Be sure that you are correctly displaying Black Lives Matter and the purpose of these protests of injustices. This is not a trend for fun; lives are at stake.
I leave my house and sometimes ask myself if I will return home alive. I fear for my life and the lives of Black men in America. Why are we killed when we are abiding by the law? Why are we told as kids that those who are sworn to protect us might kill us? My stomach turns watching countless videos of Black men being treated less than white individuals. I am tired of seeing Black families torn apart while no reform is enacted. Instead, I’ve seen more instances of police brutality and a lack of accountability from law enforcement. My feelings of fear and anger have resulted in writing to reach those who may not understand what Black individuals have been fighting for hundreds of years. White privilege is identifiable in many social contexts within America, and I am hopeful more people will acknowledge the disparity.
As Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.” I cannot either because of the polluted environments of systemic racism and injustices. I encourage you to find a space you are comfortable in and assist where you can. We need a collective effort to push for change. I am proud of my dark skin and value those who advocate for human rights.
Enough is enough.