As a black former foster youth who spent most of my youth in Los Angeles, I have seen how police brutality and racism is a constant struggle in black people’s lives. Far too often, I have witnessed acts of terror committed by the hands of police officers.
There are many challenges African Americans face proving that racism still exists through institutionalized and systematic means, which often reject racial equality and promote white privilege. Weighing in at 13% of the population, blacks are disproportionately killed or brutalized every year at the hands of the police, often with little or no consequences. The brutal beating of Rodney King is one story I can remember early in my childhood, and one of the first examples of how police can be recorded with clear evidence and still be found not guilty. They are often able to keep their jobs and continue to patrol communities with predominantly minority faces.
More than a quarter century later and we are still seeking equality, while being executed at the hands of officers. Like during the Rodney King riots, are we now – once again – forced to ask the ultimate question, who will police us from the police?
Truthfully, like many I cannot answer this question. I do not understand why black people are preconceived as violent and aggressive.
Some of my earliest memories of dealing with police officers was when I was removed from the care of my mother at the age of 5. Being a former foster youth, you interact with police officers during the initial removal, whenever you are given a seven day notice and placed in a new home, and every time you run away from a place you never asked to be. If you lived in foster care, you would know most of our interactions with police have been at an early stage in our lives. Most of these interactions are often unpleasant and have a psychological effect on you.
I remember, at age 10, my father being pulled out of his truck for driving without a license and then slammed against the hood of a police car. I remember, while in college, coming home from a wedding in Marina Del Rey and being forced to sit on the curb as the police searched for drugs and weapons in the car because we did not belong in that neighborhood. We were treated like criminals and my best friend was a Navy veteran who had just come home on leave.
I would need multiple sets of hands to count how many times I have seen unjust, forced, police interactions. One hand alone would be reserved for all the times I have been taken out of cars to be searched for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other hand doesn’t have enough fingers to account for the four close friends of mine killed by police in Compton and another two who died after being killed by police in Watts.
We have been killed for simply being human; for playing with toy guns like Tamir Rice; for walking like Trayvon Martin; just recently for sleeping in our own homes like Breonna Taylor. This death list only gets longer and often the victim’s only crime was being black. The very people sworn in to protect us have now become our “killers,” and they do not go to prison.
It seems none of us can win because the system has been fixed. The death of George Floyd has created a new civil uprising that has sparked peaceful protest, rioting and violence, and police brutality related to both. This in turn, has led to new conversations about racism, police brutality, and whether we should riot or peacefully protest. What options do we have to get our voices heard when we have been silenced for so long?
Should we riot and loot? Is protesting a better way to get our voices heard? I support both and argue we should do both. Some people seem to be only concerned about what people are doing and not why they are doing it.
The focus should be on the economic gap and why even after years of freedom from slavery and Jim Crow laws, there is still a huge disadvantage and distance from wealth. The focus should be on why minorities feel so hopeless, they believe their only hope is to walk through a broken glass window to get material items they don’t believe they can obtain any other way.
When people say, “why burn down your own community?” “Why not pull yourself up and be better?” I say because none of this belongs to us.
There have been several times black people have built black economic wealth and were self-sufficient, the devastation of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, The Rosewood Massacre, The Philadelphia bombing in 1985, the Black Panther party dismantlement. All of these are examples of times we owned our own stores, had our own resources, and it all was taken and burnt to the ground. If we are really upset with rioters, I ask, who taught them how to burn and steal? White America has done a great job providing the examples on how to be violent and commit acts of terror.
For years, we have been oppressed. So many of us do not own anything, and there is no way we can catch up. The police should be the authority that comes in and fix situations, but they are the ones killing us.
I am convinced no one can save us, and we cannot save ourselves. No one can police us from the police. Therefore, we will continue to die at high rates at the hands of police officers for often doing nothing. While the world questions why black fathers are absent from homes, but refuses to acknowledge the jail system and deaths at the hands of officers and its impact.
We tried to peacefully protest, we tried to kneel, and were criticized for doing that. What else can we do?
We are desperate. And while I don’t like saying this, I feel that we are hopeless.
Despite these feelings, I will continue to use my voice to speak to topics that plague our ability to succeed and be a parallel to the foster care community. I will continue to do all I can to uplift the voice of minority youth inside and outside the system. I will continue to provide safe spaces for foster youth to share their stories and get their voices heard.
Raquel Wilson is Youth Voice Program Manager for Fostering Media Connections. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.