An open letter to those that don’t understand

Written By Kendra Summers, For The Globe

There aren’t enough words in the English language to encompass the mixture of sadness and rage I’ve felt in the pit of my stomach for the last several months of my life. With so much going on, it isn’t easy to attempt to write it all out like this. There is no possible summation, no simple way to categorize everything that’s happened, and nothing I can say will bring peace or justice to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. For those that are having trouble understanding the significance of these deaths, and are still classifying them as scattered incidents that shouldn’t be blamed on any specific thing, I’d encourage you to read this through. I cannot guarantee I’ll be able to change your position. All I can do is provide the perspective of a black person living in modern America and hope it strikes something close to empathy. 


For the last year and a half of my life, I’ve found myself dreading the fact that I must consume the news. I know what I’ll see. Jammed between reports of cute puppies and the weather, another black life snuffed out by the hands of a police officer. I’ve spoken to my black peers about this feeling and discovered that I’m not the only one who gets this way. As important as it is to keep ourselves educated, these cases are nauseating to watch, knowing that no justice will be given to the families or the victims themselves. Sickness quickly turns to anger, and anger inverts itself to numbness. After so many months of mourning a new face every day, we’ve become desensitized. We’ve accepted it as our reality, and every day we’re less and less surprised by the news until the time comes where we feel next to nothing. This isn’t a healthy or helpful way to process things, and no one (not even white people) should be okay with how common these occurrences are becoming. Police brutality isn’t something we should take with a grain of salt. 


As a direct result of the color of my skin, the police are not my friends. A valued and respected career path, United States law enforcement is made up of officers that we can supposedly trust with our lives. Sure, maybe they’re not all bad, but it’s very hard to pick out the good ones when they’re looking the other way as you’re being assaulted by their partner. Good cops don’t stand by and let things like that happen. If you can make the argument that there are good cops, you’ve already missed the point by picturing police interactions through your white point of view. A lighthearted conversation after you’ve been speeding through a school zone, a discussion of how you really shouldn’t keep that much pot in your car and a playful slap on the wrist (no ticket, of course) before you’re let go. Black people don’t have that kind of relationship with the police. We weren’t blessed with the positive, helpful law enforcement you were. While you’re looking up at your heroes, we’re staring directly into the faces of our oppressors. It’s not the same. 


The protests that you’re so vehemently against wouldn’t upset you the way they do if you weren’t so fully immersed in your own prejudice. I’ve been to protests started with tearful hugs and powerful spoken word, and I’ve been to protests that ended with shattered windows and clouds of tear gas. Both were necessary. If you’re appalled by the so-called violence of these protestors, think about how lucky you are to be in a position of observation rather than action. Not having to be out here with us is an extension of your white privilege. As nice as it would be, we weren’t all given the ability to turn a blind eye to brutality. You drive past our demonstrations and roll your eyes, shake your heads, wonder how we could be so disrespectful, and go on about your day. Your exposure to these protests can be condensed to the time it takes to sip your overpriced coffee at a traffic light. The fight for our lives is a minor inconvenience to you. Never forget that.


Right now, you’re thinking of George Floyd, and you’re probably set on the idea that these demonstrations are a lot to organize just for him. As important as he is, we’re not protesting purely for Floyd. It’s for every black person we’ve lost to a corrupt police officer, every unlawful traffic stop or search. There are too many names to list here, and if that doesn’t make you sick to your stomach — you have some serious introspection to do. This isn’t an isolated issue, and it’s closer to home than you may imagine. Antwon Rose II was 17 when he was shot in the back by a freshly sworn in officer in East Pittsburgh. He was unarmed. He died in McKeesport Hospital. You aren’t as separated from brutality as you’d like to think. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s not something we can ignore any longer. Floyd was the catalyst for something much bigger, a growing movement that will not stop until we see fundamental change in all of the systems that affect our daily lives. 


You’re scandalized by the concept of police abolition, and even more shocked that so many people seem to be on board with it. That would be because the phrase “abolish the police” makes you think we’re planning to create a lawless land — one where banks are being robbed every hour, buildings are being burned to ash, and no one is being held responsible for their actions. Who’s being radical now? If you took a step back from your own emotions, you might realize how entirely unrealistic that is. Deep down, you know that isn’t what we mean, but the idea of dismantling a system that so openly favors you stirs up an irrational amount of panic.


Minneapolis’ (the city where George Floyd was murdered) city council has already committed to dismantling their police department and replacing it with a new system of public safety. Although Minneapolis’ mayor (Jacob Frey) does have the power to veto the decision, and a completely formulated plan is not currently in place, the acknowledgement that we’re far past the point of reform is already a monumental step in the right direction. More cities across the country will follow suit, and over the next few years we will hopefully be introduced to an entirely new community-oriented system. The kind of system that everyone feels protected under.


Our racist law enforcement is just another symptom of our racist society, and if you’re overwhelmed now, you’ll be even more burdened to learn that we have a lot more to dismantle than just the police. Your whole country is subject to change. It isn’t as simple as just removing the police force. A house on a cracked foundation can never last, and if we don’t start dismantling the racism this country was built on, we’ll have to watch the whole thing fall apart. 


Performative activism is nowhere near enough anymore and will not be tolerated any longer than it has been. If you’re not completely sure whether you’re a performative activist or not, I can do my best to paint a portrait for you. Performative activism is taking pictures of yourself holding up a Black Lives Matter sign at a protest and getting ready to leave as soon as you hear the camera click. It’s sharing things without reading them, blindly adding things to your Snapchat story so you look educated without having to commit yourself to any actual activism. It’s lazy, disrespectful to the cause, and entirely self-serving. Believe it or not, posting black squares on your Instagram will not end racism or stop police brutality (shocking, right?). It’s time to do more than that. If you’re not racist, but also aren’t actively anti-racist, you’re still a part of the problem. You need to step up. Call out your racist friends and family members for the tone deaf things they say. Read black literature, expose yourself to perspectives outside your own. Join the protests, use your white privilege to de-escalate police conflict at these demonstrations. When you can’t protest, donate your time and money to petitions and cases on GoFundMe. There is no shortage of impactful things you can do to help the cause, it all comes down to your personal dedication and support of the things we’re fighting for. Don’t stand with us because you feel like you have to, stand with us because you’re as angry as we are. 


You will never understand what it’s like to live this way. You may say you do, but you’ll never truly be able to put yourself in our shoes. I’ve been stopped while driving by “concerned” cops, and if I didn’t have my rights committed to memory, or wasn’t with my peers, I might not have been able to get away as easily as I did. I told him why he didn’t have the right to stop me, and without much back and forth, he backed down and apologized. Without the proper education, or the shielding whiteness of the people I was with, I might not have been so lucky. When my father leaves the house at night, I’m afraid he won’t get to come back. My dad, the gentlest soul I’ve ever known, could be killed by a cop just for reaching into the glove box to get the registration the uniformed coward asked for. They don’t care that I can’t imagine my life without him. Thinking ahead, there will be a point in time where I have to explain to my beautiful, innocent child that the police aren’t their protectors the way they are for their white classmates. A point where I have no choice but to tell them their childlike aspirations of being an officer aren’t as glamorous as they’re made out to be. So many things that I should be able to live my life without thinking about trouble me every single day. You’ll never understand what it’s like to live this way, and for that, you’re lucky.


There will never be enough time (nor words) to sum up how I truly feel. It is most important to me that you understand these protests aren’t something that will die out quickly. I know you’re used to these demonstrations happening in short bursts—a week, maybe two, and then ending until the next big injustice happens. This isn’t like the other times. If I know one thing for certain, it’s that we’ll never go back to the way things were before George Floyd. We’ve changed. This could very well be the beginning of the revolution, and if you can’t fully commit to the cause, you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of history. For the sake of society, I pray you make the right decision.