OPINION: George Floyd, Amy Cooper, and the injustice of White Privilege

White privilege and a broken justice system showed its’ face, again.

Illustration+by+Michelle+Rodriguez

Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez

Joseph Acosta, Staff Writer

George Floyd’s life didn’t matter to Derek Chauvin.

That’s what stood out to me as I watched the video of the 46-year old Floyd being choked to death with the knee of the former Minneapolis Police officer on his throat. Three other officers kneeled on him as Floyd pleaded for his life, saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Christian Cooper’s life didn’t matter to Amy Cooper. 

The man asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on her leash, yet when the cameras began to roll, Amy Cooper threatened to call the police on Christian Cooper, saying that she would tell the police that “an African-American man was threatening me and my dog’s life.”

In one week, America saw another murder of a Black man at the hands of the police, and a White woman attempt to get a Black man arrested for something he didn’t do. Yet, as I cry out for justice and ask myself, “Why? Why did these things happen?” I’m again faced with the ugly truth: I, as a Black man, live in a place where the justice system is not built for me.

Allow me to explain: In the Declaration of Independence, a line in the second paragraph says, “All men are created equal.” Yet, when it came time for all men, Black and White to be equal, Black people were only counted as three-fifths of a man. 

White people believed African-Americans were below them. Therefore, they put laws and regulations in the government to prevent them from being equal. 

This is the textbook definition of institutional racism according to Racial Equity Tools, “ The systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color.”

The American justice system is no exception.

A Flawed Justice System 

In 2017, a study of all interactions between police officers and citizens via body camera footage shows that officers speak with consistently less respect towards Black people than the White community, even after eliminating the variable of the race of the officer. 

In a 2013 study, Black drivers are 30 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers, and Black drivers are more likely to get pulled over for alleged mechanical or equipment problems, and more likely to not be told why they’re being pulled over. 

The knowledge of this creates a spirit of fear for Black people, because I could be doing nothing wrong, and I’ll be pulled over and not told why I was being pulled over or stopped, as if I’m a second class citizen. 

I shouldn’t have to fear for my life if I get stopped by the police. My mom and dad shouldn’t have to fear that one of their five children is going to be the next victim of police brutality just because of the color of their skin.

My brother had an asthma attack in the car because my dad was pulled over by the police a couple of years ago. He should never have to live with that crippling fear, that every time his brother leaves the house, he could be a victim of a system not made for either of them to succeed in.

This broken system was fully evident in the death of George Floyd. A man being arrested for writing a false check doesn’t need a knee placed on his throat. The officers report said that Floyd “resisted arrest,” when additional video showed otherwise.

He begged for his life as he had his breathing cut off, for a simple misdemeanor.

Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own home in March by police officers who barged into the wrong home.

Dylan Roof went into a church in 2015 and murdered nine Black people in cold blood, premeditated murder, and the police took him to Burger King before heading to the jail

The justice system in America is always going to be skewed towards benefiting White people, because that system was built for them to get off free to do whatever they wanted, and they would be labeled “a misguided soul” or  “mentally ill”. Black people have never been able to have that opportunity, because the police shoot on sight.

This is why when the Blue Lives Matter movement started (in direct opposition to the Black Lives Matter Movement), many Black people took it with a grain of salt. The problem isn’t only the “one bad cop”, it’s the justice system that keeps allowing this “one bad cop” to continue to show up. Another problem is that the cops that see this action being taken, both on and off duty, say nothing. So if you’re a good cop, yet allow the “one bad cop” to continue to make these decisions and kill unarmed Black people, you are a part of the problem.

The officer that killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, has been involved in acts of excessive force before, and he remained on the force. In the video of Floyd being murdered, there were three other cops standing there, watching as Floyd lost his life. These acts of violence by police officers towards Black people happen, yet the people with the most power to get the “one bad cop” out of the force, continue to keep him there.

In response to the death of George Floyd, protests broke out in Minneapolis. Officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue Black protestors in what again is a story of two Americas. Peaceful protests were attempted by Black people, and were met with violence. 

Riots broke out in response, and now people are worried about the destruction of the community, and how this isn’t going to solve anything. No amount of monetary value that stores like Target loses during these riots will equal the life of a man murdered by the police. My life is priceless, yet America from the start has put a price tag on my life, because of my skin. 

In addition, these riots and the reactions to them are a story of two Americas. One of these Americas gets tear gas and rubber bullets for protesting the murder of a Black man and are called thugs. The other group brings guns around the street because they can’t eat at Subway or go outside during a pandemic, and are considered good people. 

The answer to why is simple, and is the crux of every problem dealing with institutional and systemic racism: White privilege.

The Injustices and Racism behind White Privilege

White privilege is a very simple term, yet some White people fail to understand that it exists, even going as far as denying its existence.

White privilege can best be explained like this: The reason Amy Cooper said that she was going to call the cops and say an African-American man was threatening her life, the reason a mother killed her autistic child and blamed it on two Black men right in Miami, is because they knew that the system would work in their favor, regardless of the truth (luckily, we have video). 

Black people shouldn’t have to deal with and try and get over White privilege if “All men are created equal.” The truth is, All Lives can’t Matter until my life is equal to a White person’s life. All lives can’t matter if the existence of White privilege allows for the murder of a Black man who are arrested for allegedly forging a check, but a White man can murder multiple people and be treated to fast food after.

Being Antiracist

Now where is the solution to this? For this I’m specifically talking to White people-if Black people could’ve solved racism by ourselves then we would have done that about 200 years ago. 

The solution to this systemic and institutional racism is to be antiracist. Now I’m sure that most people believe they aren’t racist-they have Black friends, they don’t say the N-word, they may have dated a Black person once. However, being antiracist and simply, “not racist” are two different ideas, and they can’t coexist. 

According to Ibram X. Kendi’s 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist, he says that being “not racist” signifies neutrality, “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” Kendi goes on to define being a racist as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea,” while being an antiracist is “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea”.

It’s not enough to just be “not racist”-that is the neutral. If you say that you’re not racist, yet empower and enable systems of injustice to continue to happen, what does that make you? It’s time for people to stop toeing the line between being racist and being antiracist. If you claim to be “not racist,” yet unequivocally support a president that openly endorses the killing of Black protesters who are protesting the murder of a Black man, what does that make you? 

There is no way to be “not racist”-you’re either against the power structures and systems that keep racial inequity alive, or you’re with them.

It’s time to start breaking down the systems of racism that have allowed for cops to kill unarmed Black men and get off because they “feared for their life.” It’s time to start challenging others to be fully against the ideas and beliefs of White privilege when we live in a country that champions “All Men are Created Equal.” 

It’s time for people to start being antiracist, because while they’re toeing the line and saying they’re “not racist,” a Black male like me is dying at the hands of a cop because the justice system dictates that my life doesn’t matter.

Joseph Acosta is a staff writer at the University Press. For information regarding this or any other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp