On Sunday, May 31, I packed my camera bag and went into town to participate in a protest being held at City Hall due to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who has since been fired. I was not quite sure what to expect because the day before, a large swath of Center City had been looted and burned.
There was a calm and eerie feeling in the minutes leading up to the protest itself, and as the crowd gathered, it became evident that this rally, while it was powerful, was also very peaceful. The last speaker was a young lady around the age of 19 and what she had to say stunned me.
“My generation,” she began, “it’s not content to sit still and allow people to beat up on us and that includes cops. We are willing to die for this cause because we are tired of being murdered at the hands of police!” There was a stunned silence from the older people while the younger ones cheered her on.
It was at that pivotal moment that I decided to pay more attention to what the younger people were saying around me. They ratified her thoughts by repeating just what this young lady said. They believed that just protesting quietly is not helping at all, and that something had to be done to get the attention of this country.
While there is only a small fraction of the young people who are looting and burning buildings, a good portion of them are not upset that these things are happening because they liken it to the “looting and burning of our bodies for generations with nothing to show for it.”
On my way home from that peaceful rally, my companions and I walked right into the middle of a shoe store robbery in progress. It was frightening to say the least, and shook us to our core as we watched shoeboxes flying, people pulling up in their cars, grabbing stolen merchandise and driving off, and frustrated police officers coming from every direction to try and quell yet another disturbance in the city.
Parts of West and North Philadelphia are shells of themselves, and while some business owners like Jeff Brown — who is the owner of several ShopRites in the area are vowing to rebuild, so many more small businesses will never reopen.
In light of what I have been learning from the young people, what you will see below is a guest editorial from a 16-year-old who spoke eloquently from her own lens, the plight of being born in a culture that is demeaned at every turn.
Her name is Alana James:
“In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”
Over the past few weeks, I have become overwhelmed with grief, sadness and anger watching events unfold all over the country. In the 16 years that I have been alive, I have never personally experienced a national issue of this magnitude. I have never witnessed such a call for change and action as I have seen now, and it is both empowering and excruciating to watch.
While our cities are being burned down and stores are being looted, we only hope that this will build momentum in the fight for justice, not only for George Floyd, but for all African Americans who have always been treated as less than human.
Although this is a rough time, it is also a time to reflect, and realize that not only systematic racism plagues our communities, but the blatant disregard for issues regarding Black life in America.
Students have failed to realize the extent of the suffering that has fueled these riots and protests, despite the fact that these issues are not new. We have been oppressed for centuries. Those who have chosen not to use their voice to create a change have chosen to comply and support the mistreatment and oppression of Black people.
White privilege can be used to uplift, educate and create change, or it can be used to contribute to a failing system that has an agenda of keeping minorities silent.
The ability to ignore the issues at hand have gotten us to where we are today, and unless those with power and privilege make a change, we will continue to suffer from the racism, police brutality and inequities that will only lead to an increase of social and civil unrest, for generations to come.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, The Philadelphia Sunday SUN, the author’s organization, committee or other group or individual.