In the past couple months, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained unprecedented traction in America and around the world. Considering the 246 years of slavery and additional hundred years of segregation, the history of racism runs deep in the United States. Even now, racism is extremely widespread in our communities.
In order to combat racism today, we must understand systemic racism. One of the most pernicious and recent forms of systemic racism is called “redlining.” Redlining refers to government agencies drawing city maps to divide desirable and undesirable neighborhoods for investment. Banks and insurance companies used these maps for decades to deny Black people loans and other services based purely on race.
As a result of its racist history, America tends to hide incidents of racial violence from the public eye. For instance, not many have heard about the Tulsa Race Massacre. In 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a prosperous Black community known as “Black Wall Street” was burned to the ground by a lynch mob targeting a Black man named Dick Rowland, who was falsely accused of assaulting a white elevator operator named Sarah Page. Ten thousand Black people lost their homes and their property, and not a single white person faced jail time for the 300 Black people murdered and 800 injured. Despite being referred to as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre has been intentionally omitted from history records and textbooks.
In spite of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Black Americans encounter racism everyday. In response, the Black Lives Matter movement began in February 2012 when seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. In the past couple months, the media has also brought the racially driven police killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to light. Then, on May 25, 2020, a viral video showed white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of a Black man named George Floyd for nearly nine minutes until Floyd died.
Following the tragic death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests have erupted in all 50 U.S. states and over 60 countries. The earliest rallies and marches in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd was killed, have now become an international phenomenon demanding justice for Floyd and countless others dead at the hands of the police. From San Francisco to London to Tokyo, tens of thousands of people have displayed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the streets.
Amid these nationwide protests urging for reforms against police brutality, calls to defund the police have gained unprecedented support. Advocates of the “defund the police” movement propose the reduction of police department budgets and the reallocation of funds to community-led social services, such as education and housing. Proponents say that reinvesting in social programs and replacing some officers with trained, specialized, and unarmed social workers would address the issues responsible for increased crime and violence. Accordingly, the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis police department and replace it with a community-led public safety system.
Although the “defund the police” movement has gained considerable momentum, more concrete measures have been proposed at the federal and state level. For instance, House Democrats have recently introduced the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that would ban the use of chokeholds, require training on discriminatory profiling, and create a federal registry to track police misconduct. Another bill, named the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, has been proposed in the House with the aim of eliminating qualified immunity, a doctrine that shields police officers from legal accountability. Meanwhile, many state governors have banned the use of chokeholds, prohibited no-knock warrants, and established commissions to examine the certification process of law enforcement officers.
In response to racist social media posts recently linked to its students, Saint Francis hosted a series of listening sessions with Saint Francis parents, students, and faculty. Mediated by Eugene Whitlock, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources at University of California, Berkeley, these listening sessions were intended for Mr. Curtis and Ms. Teekell to be able to listen to members of the school community, better understand their thoughts, and ensure that all voices are heard.
On June 11, 172 Saint Francis students attended the student listening session. Each was asked to share one word that expressed their feelings regarding the current situation. The most common sentiments shared by students were “disappointed,” “frustrated,” and “disgusted.” Students also responded to a poll with questions about equality at Saint Francis. When asked if Saint Francis should be doing more to address racial injustice, 95 percent of the students in attendance responded “Yes.” Additionally, 87 students responded “Yes” when asked if they had personally witnessed or experienced racial discrimination or harrasment in the Saint Francis community within the past year.
The responses to these poll questions incited powerful conversations on implicit biases and how offensive comments should be dealt with on campus. Students shared testimonies and propositions through spoken statements and private comments which were read aloud by Mr. Whitlock. Many students expressed their desires for a more diverse faculty and an expansion of the affinity groups introduced last fall to serve as a safe space for minorities on campus. Students are generally hopeful that Saint Francis will be able to address these issues and institute change.
As members of this community, we must raise awareness of racial injustice. Even high school students can make an impact by attending protests, contacting local and state government officials, and calling out racism in person or online, especially in the classroom and on campus. Perhaps the most important action one can take is educating oneself on racism in America. Reading articles about the Black Lives Matter movement and its history would provide a better understanding of current events, while movies, TV shows, and books are also helpful in understanding the gravity of the situation. Some movie recommendations include The 13th, Just Mercy, When They See Us,and The Hate U Give. The following books discuss similar themes: The New Jim Crow, White Fragility, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and How To Be an Antiracist.
As we take the time to educate ourselves, remember that the Saint Francis community, whether present on campus or virtually, is a family, and every member of this community deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Every student, parent, and faculty member is responsible for fostering change in our school community by actively listening to one another, accepting responsibility for any mistakes, and apologizing for any hurtful actions in order to make our campus a safe and equal space for everyone.