Ruminations of a human being: Systemic racism, police brutality and America’s failure to teach empathy

By Martin Williams

The first time I remember experiencing racism was in the first grade during lunch. Two second-graders started picking on me for being Black. The bullying started out with comments about the color of my skin, which then escalated after a few days to them tying up my sweater so that I couldn’t put my hands through them, taking my food and calling me their slave whenever they saw me. 

I remember being confused because I didn’t understand why my race was a problem. I was one of three Black students in my grade at the private elementary school I attended. I started there in pre-K and did not see myself as different from my White classmates until this moment. My heart races when I think back to that time. 

When the teachers finally stepped in, they kept the incident quiet. As a result, none of my peers learned from this, which only reinforced their perception that racism was something that happened in history books and in places outside of their community.

Some White people learn how to deny or downplay the existence of racism in our society by believing that since their grass is green, coffers are full and status is maintained, all is well in the world. As a result, they believe that anyone who states otherwise is being over-dramatic or outright lying. These White people cling to the small number of Black people that support their views, such as Candace Owens, Walter Blackman and Allen West, and try to weaponize their experiences in this country by pointing to them as representatives for all Black people. 

They use coded language to bog down conversations on issues of systemic racism, police reforms and legal reforms. They fight reforms and hide their racist opinions by coyly demanding we respect states’ rights, individuals’ free speech and “the rule of law,” as though their freedom of expression justifies infringing on the rights of tens of millions of Black citizens.

They support the vast authority and judicial protection that police officers are guaranteed in this country. However, they do not question the embarrassingly simple requirements (high school diploma or GED and no felony conviction) or the short duration of training necessary (between thirteen weeks to six months) to become a police officer. 

Why are cops allowed to be judge, jury and executioner?

These White people excuse police brutality against unarmed Black people, claiming the cops were “scared,” “made a mistake” or “misinterpreted a situation.” They will shout, “ALL LIVES MATTER,” avoid eye contact or keep their mouths shut in tacit support of police brutality. However, they don’t stop to think about the mother, father, son, daughter, friend or mentor killed by the cops’ “fear” or “mistake.” They treat the death of the victim as insignificant, although they would be enraged and desire justice too, if a cop murdered their loved one.

If anyone is to kill or commit any violent act against someone that is unarmed, defenseless or vulnerable, they should be held accountable. As cops, because they are there to protect the community, they should be held to a higher standard and should receive harsher consequences when they inflict terror and death on people. Too often do we see them walk away from the situation and have the opportunity to experience the joys of life, while the victims rot and fade from people’s memories like Terence Crutcher, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Sam Dubose.

These White people don’t think about the perpetual fear millions of Black people feel about the unpredictability of interactions with the police. They don’t think about how millions of Black parents have to give their young sons and daughters talks on being extra submissive in any situation with a police officer.

They just tell us to suck it up.

They just tell us it’s our reality.

They tell us that the justice system will right the numerous wrongs of the country, even though the justice system has been shown to be biased against Black people.

How is that fair?

How is that justice?

Cops that commit acts of brutality and murder — and the people who continue to defend them — are assuring that I will have to fear for my children’s safety one day as my parents fear for mine. Those that believe inaction or maintaining the system is a valiant cause are culpable of thousands of deaths and injuries from police brutality. Their support has allowed for these actions to persist, and the blood of thousands of Black people will continue to stain their hands as long as Black people are denied equality in practice.

Martin Williams is a member of the class of ‘20.