The police killing of George Floyd has moved the Black Lives Matter movement and the issue of police brutality back into the public eye with more ferocity than ever.
In every U.S. state, there has been some form of protest against police brutality as Americans seek justice for George Floyd. Even here in Lancaster County, protests have been held not just in Lancaster city, where I’ve been taking part, but in boroughs like Elizabethtown and Ephrata.
Floyd’s death is one in a long list of killings of African Americans by police. This is no accident — these deaths have occurred in a system built to oppress minorities in this country. It is not enough for individual Americans to say they are not racist. The oppression still exists, and many white people still exist on the side of oppression that benefits them. That is white privilege.
White privilege encapsulates the benefits that being white, or fair-skinned or pale, have in this country.
Let’s consider this scenario: You’re stopped by an officer while driving with your partner and child; you have a licensed firearm, so you inform the officer of that fact, and give him your license. If you’re white, you may receive a ticket and be permitted to go about your day.
Philando Castile, however, did not have that privilege. He was shot and killed in his car by a Minnesota police officer. In a country that so often defends the Second Amendment, this black man, who had a permit to carry a firearm, was shot by a police officer who assumed Castile was reaching for his gun when he was trying to hand over his driver’s license and insurance.
That is white privilege, something that George Floyd wasn’t granted. Or Breonna Taylor, a paramedic who was fatally shot in her own home by police officers. Or Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by a white former police officer and his son. Or David McAtee, who was fatally shot by a Kentucky National Guard member during the protests over Floyd’s and Taylor’s deaths. Or Steven Demarco Taylor, a black man with mental illness who was shot and killed by police in a California Walmart.
None of these people deserved to be killed.
White people are stopped by the police, too, but generally are allowed to live another day. But the overpolicing of black Americans is just one part of the problem.
There’s also redlining, the denial of services and mortgages to African Americans. The underfunding of schools that serve minorities. The lack of representation in government. All of that and so much more puts black Americans at a disadvantage. The lashes of the whip are still festering marks on every African American; only now the lashes of oppression are more abstract.
Privilege is not something that should be politicized — it is a fact of life. No one can change how they were born, but acknowledging that the playing field isn’t level is how you start to make a real change toward true equality. The protests should be a wake-up call to all Americans that something isn’t right. We’re supposed to be the land of the free. Free for whom?
George Floyd’s killing shouldn’t have happened in an America where everyone is supposed to be free. No one should have had to die in order for the Black Lives Matter movement to begin gaining real traction.
It’s time to acknowledge these police killings are part of a pattern. And it’s time to start dismantling the system of oppression to make America a truly better place for everyone.
Lancaster city has made a commitment to this type of change; its leaders have sought to answer one part of the problem America faces. The city is heading in a good direction with its reforms to policing, but this is not enough. There is more work to do. The militarization of policing needs to be addressed. Police budgets need to be addressed. There needs to be increased accountability, and citizens should be allowed to monitor police conduct.
Every municipality needs more reform. We need not only to demilitarize the police, but reduce sentences for minor offenses and create the means of reviewing police to keep them accountable. We also need to put an end to qualified immunity — which shields police officers from being personally liable for the consequences of their actions. When a doctor makes a mistake that harms a patient, he is liable for that mistake. Police officers need to be held liable, too.
America needs to move forward. So acknowledge your privilege, listen to the protesters, and make real change happen. Everywhere.
Darien Harris is a Lancaster city resident and Millersville University student.