Racial tensions still run high in today’s America
Three years ago, I drew the short straw: I had to be the designated driver for my three friends. After a night of bar crawling, I packed them inside my and ignored their drunken joking to drive them home. When I switched on my turn signal to pull into drunk friend #1’s apartment, the startling flash of red and blue lights blinded me: a police car.
Cursing, I pulled over, ordering my intoxicated companions to not be idiots. I’ve been pulled over before for various broken parts on my car, and the cops always gave me a warning and sent me on my way.
On that summer night, it was different.
An officer came up to my window, asking for the usual license and registration. He told me my rear taillight was out—of course it was—and he’d be right back. When he returned, he asked me to step out of the car. Instantly, I tensed up, as did my friends. Why would he want me to get out over a broken taillight? Awkwardly, I exited my car and the cop led me to where his partner was standing.
“Do you or your friends have any drugs?” was the question that came out of the first cop’s mouth. Stunned, I stuttered my denial, which probably didn’t convince him of my innocence.
Despite this, both cops kept insisting that if I admitted there were drugs, I wouldn’t be in trouble and my friends would never know I ratted them out. Still, I detested their absurd claim, my shock morphing into irritation.
After that, they began the car search and pat downs. One by one, my friends stepped out of the vehicle, were patted down, and promptly interrogated. And one by one, they sat down next to me in the grass strip by the curb as the cops searched my car for 30 minutes, searching for nonexistent drugs.
When my third friend climbed out of the passenger seat, something was immediately off. As he was escorted out of the car by the first cop, the second cop gripped his gun, his arms and knees bent as if he was ready to pounce.
To this day, the harshness of the second cop’s face is still ingrained in my memory; how he stared down my third friend with steady eyes and a steady hand placed on his gun—an action not done during the pat downs of my other two friends.
Why? Well, it may have been because my third friend is black.
That night, I witnessed racial profiling before my own eyes. I had heard of the accounts from minority friends, seen Facebook videos of racist rants, read books documenting racism-fueled incidents—yet that night was the first time I witnessed it firsthand.
To this day, that night plays out in my head: how much longer and more extensive my black friend’s pat down and interrogation were, even though the cops told me they were only suspicious of one of my white friends; the irate officers leaving my friends and I to clean up all of my discarded items after finding no drugs; my black friend’s shaken state of mind, even after the cops pulled off.
Today, there’s plenty of racial tension in our nation. In actuality, there always has been. There’s never been a period of peace for all races in America and yet, some still deny that modern-day racism is thriving.
Institutional racism doesn’t disappear; it evolves, adapts, and is reborn in different forms. From the Slave Trade and Jim Crow to today’s prison industrial system, institutional racism isn’t a minority-created fantasy conjured up to excuse their social and economic standing. Institutional racism and racial inequality are real threats to the minority community, as seen in the shortened lives of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and countless other black lives.
Time and time again, my phone buzzes with news alerts: 12-year-old black boy killed by cops, a black father of four gunned down in the street; a 32-year-old black man shot seven times in his car by a cop.
I had faith in the justice system—until George Zimmerman. When he was acquitted of any wrongdoing in the murder of Trayvon Martin, my trust and faith in the American justice system began to crumble.
Today, that trust and faith is a pile of blood-stained rubble.
How many black men and women have to be killed before White America realizes that racism and impulsivity are what’s pulling the trigger?
Both white and black people are fatally shot by police, and more white people are killed by cops than black people. Roughly 62% of the American population is white, compared to 13% of the population being black. Despite that gap, in 2016, 34 percent of unarmed people killed were black males.
And so, it’s been continually discovered that black people are more likely to be shot by police officers than white people.
Black Lives Matter isn’t anti-cop or anti-white. They want cops to have better training to be more well-prepared for their jobs. They want cops to be held accountable for their actions. They want to believe in the justice system again, but it continually fails them.
As a white person, I don’t have to worry about walking around in a hoodie with Skittles and being perceived as a threat. On that summer night three years ago, I wasn’t scared for myself—I was scared for my black friend. Today, I still fear for the lives of my minority co-workers, peers, and friends.
And so, what can we do to help the black community against racial injustice?
We can raise awareness. We can start those uncomfortable conversations with other white relatives and friends about what white privilege is. We can attend racial justice rallies, call our representatives, and speak out against public displays of racism and bigotry.
We can’t stop—because racism never stops.