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(Left to right) George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor all died at the hands of police officers.

Credit: Isabel Liang

Racism remains a key component of America’s identity. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd highlight how Black Americans are not only dying from COVID-19, but racism. It fertilizes America’s soil, fuels the mass incarceration system, widens the wage gap, and kills our people. When I learned about racist-fueled murders, I am reminded that the noose is now the gun. Lynching never went away.

Rest in Power, Breonna Taylor. 

Breonna Taylor's case is a stark reminder that the criminal justice system has the wrong name. 

Since the officers had already found and placed their suspect into custody hours earlier, the officers entered the house unlawfully. In fact, with the fourth amendment protecting individuals from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” the officers’ entering was a clear violation of the couple’s fourth amendment rights. 

What is most disheartening is how it was Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, not the officers, who faced charges. Trying to defend himself and his girlfriend, he shot one of the officers in the leg. So while her boyfriend was charged for shooting an officer in the leg, the officers faced no charges for killing a woman. The officer’s leg will eventually heal, but Breonna Taylor will never come back. It is a blatant disregard for Black women’s livelihood, and I wonder if the officers would feel remorse if she were white. 

At first, I would have said that the officers tricked the system to work in their favor, since they still have faced zero charges. However, the system has always worked in their and in those with a lighter skin complexion’s favor. In America, white equates to innocence. The system doesn’t protect you if you are innocent. It protects you if you are white. 

Rest in Power, Ahmaud Arbery. 

When I think of Ahmaud Arbery running, I think of Black Americans running on the track — how some Americans only like us when we run for their own entertainment in sporting events. When I used to run track, my mom would jokingly tell me to run as if someone was after me. But the joke isn’t funny anymore. Remember the fear many Black Americans will feel when they run, and remember that we aren’t your entertainment. 

I wonder how Ahmaud felt seconds before he died, when the imminent danger was only brooding. How did he feel while running through his neighborhood? I can only hope that he felt a sense of joy before his life flashed before his eyes with a bullet.

Today, Black culture is feeling as if you are free, only to be reminded that people perceive you in chains. Black culture is feeling like you can run in the sunlight, only to have the light taken away from you. 

Black Americans deserve the freedom to run ⁠— beyond entertainment. Was it silly of us to aim high during the Civil Rights Movement, and demand for rights when America still denies us basic freedoms 52 years later? The hard answer is no. We have to remember that there is power in demanding more. There is nothing radical about equality, yet we are still trying to prove our humanity. I wonder what Martin Luther King would think of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. Isn’t it ironic how MLK died for having a dream, and half a century later, Ahmaud Arbery died for running? 

Rest in Power, George Floyd.

Eight minutes. The average length of time you sit watching commercials is the same length of time George Floyd cried that he couldn't breathe, while an officer choked him to death with his knee. Not only does this duration of time highlight the officers’ blatant disregard for Black life, but their ability to continue choking Floyd, despite being recorded, suggests they knew they could get away with it. 

The American criminal justice system has proven that officers have nothing to fear. Six years ago, Eric Garner, similar to George Floyd, died after begging officers for air. While one of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death has been charged with murder, I can only hope that justice will be served every time such a tragedy occurs.

Oftentimes, Black parents have a talk with their sons explaining the importance of putting your hands up and ceasing to resist when confronted by the police. Once handcuffed, George Floyd did not seem to resist. How naive were we to assume that ceasing to resist would be enough? 

Similar to George Floyd and Eric Garner, the Black community can’t breathe. We move cautiously and we live knowing that we are hated. We are aware of the racist thoughts people think: 'He only got in because he is Black.' 'No way, she got the job on merit.' Although some Black allies may not hate us, they most certainly look down upon us. Regardless of socioeconomic status, the knee of white supremacy will forever be on our necks. 

Moving Forward

It’s scary to think that our advocacy alone cannot carry out change. Paradoxically, the power to change the problem comes from the very people who created it — white people. 

The Black community is trying to live peacefully, yet our houses are being entered unlawfully. The Black community is trying to run freely, yet we are being watched and recorded. The Black community is trying to dream, yet we are living a nightmare. The power to live peacefully, run freely, and dream, lies with the people in power. 

If you are not Black, take this time to reflect on the covert thoughts you have when no one else is listening. Microaggressions eventually turn into macroaggressions. Which stereotypes do you slightly believe in, and succumb to? Do you sometimes fear Black people? 

Remember the lives of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd when you vote in the upcoming election, and pay attention to who perpetuates hurtful and degrading stereotypes of the Black community. Covert white supremacy is unacceptable, and change starts with reflection. Say their names out loud. Don’t just read words on a screen. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Say their names. Say their names. Say their names. 

** I want to express my deepest condolences to the family members of the individuals whose lives have been lost to police brutality. 

EMILIA ONUONGA is a rising College sophomore from Middletown, Del. studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Her email address is eonuonga@sas.upenn.edu 

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