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‘No justice, no peace’

Something has been bugging me since I started my job at the CKNJ.

As the paper’s only dedicated breaking news reporter, I wasn’t sure what it would be like listening out for fires and wrecks on the scanner, especially in the event of a fatality, but realizing how infrequent those tragedies are has eased my mind a lot.

What still worries me, though, is the frequency of suspicious person calls about black people — just out walking around.

In the United States, 38% of our prisoners are African American, despite them making up only 13.4% of our population.

Without context, someone might look at that statistic and think they’re more likely to commit crimes. However, many police departments use “predictive policing” models in which officers are trained to view black people and other racial minorities as having an inherently higher chance of being a criminal, meaning they get stopped more frequently.

When a police force disproportionately targets African Americans, they make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population.

As a result, even if a police officer does not hold racist views, they may follow methods of policing which have racism baked in.

That said, some law enforcement may just be racist. In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned law enforcement across the country of infiltration by members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups.

They know the law can be used to enact racist violence with frustratingly few consequences, as do African Americans, who bear the brunt of that violence.

#JusticeForBreonna

On March 13, three white narcotics officers with the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) carried out a no-knock warrant at an apartment occupied by 26-year-old Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, both of whom are black.

Walker, a licensed gun owner, shot in self-defense at the plainclothes officers he believed were criminals breaking into his residence.

Breonna Taylor

The LMPD officers shot Taylor eight times, killing her.

They did not find drugs in the apartment, nor evidence drugs had been in the apartment.

They arrested Walker for firing at them, claiming he should’ve known they were LMPD, but his attorney argued that the officers had no identifiers on their cars or clothing and did not announce who they were before entering the residence.

Walker has since been released, the FBI is looking into how the case was handled, no-knock raids have been suspended in Louisville and the LMPD’s chief of police announced his resignation before later being fired.

But, that won’t bring her back, and protesters have made it clear that, rather than merely justice for Breonna Taylor, they want to end what they see as the LMPD routinely devaluing black lives.

There are countless more stories like Taylor’s across the country, and with every additional name, it makes more and more sense that African Americans in towns where the police seem to decide whether they live or die would consider this country to be actively hostile toward their existence.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Gov. Andy Beshear both have voiced disingenuous support for the protesters. They have put more effort into justifying police crackdown with unproven stories of “outside agitators” than they have put into outlining how they will ensure not one more black person in this state has to suffer racist policing.

As I’m writing this Sunday night, WFPL News in Louisville has just reported that the LMPD is firing tear gas and advancing upon peaceful protesters, telling them to disperse before the city’s 9 p.m. curfew is even in effect.

“This protest appeared peaceful until police acted. People are now running and screaming,” read a live news update posted to the outlet’s Twitter account at 8:27 p.m. “Reporters on scene confirm they feel the effects of teargas. People seemed confused about why they were being asked to disperse before 9 p.m.”

A city official later told WDRB News that the officers feared the leaf blowers some of the peaceful protesters carried were “filled with bleach” and said the officers believed the protesters intended to spray them with it.

Aside from being one of the least believable excuses for firing off teargas I’ve ever heard, I don’t recall law enforcement teargassing the white, far-right, anti-government Three Percenters carrying assault rifles around the state capitol because they believed they would be shot, even though they support folks like Ammon Bundy who have engaged in shootouts with law enforcement.

I wonder what the difference was?

Besides, leaf blowers are a standard tool for protesters to blow away tear gas. The WDRB reporter who posted the LMPD’s reasoning to social media emphasized in a follow-up post that she was only reporting what they were told and thanked protesters who were present at the protest for giving their side of the story.

Jason Clark, the white CEO of an advertising company based in Louisville, told WFPL that he had taken his 12-year-old son out on Saturday to learn about the importance of protesting peacefully.

They were both in the group police teargassed, and Clark was one of the people who told WDRB he saw no sign of any protesters in the group loading leaf blowers with bleach.

Unlike Clark and his son, though, so many of the black people teargassed in the streets of Louisville over the weekend come from families who have suffered from poverty and discrimination for generations in a country that has stacked the deck against them from day one.

If You’re White

African Americans have endured persecution for nearly two and a half centuries because of the color of their skin.

They can draw a line from things today like lower wages, lower life expectancy and a heightened chance of being seen as a criminal to the days of segregation and Jim Crow to a time when their ancestors were kept in chains and treated as property by white people.

Can you imagine having the police called on you just for the simple act of taking a walk?

I know I can’t, and if you’re a white person living in the United States, you probably can’t, either.

That’s why I am calling on you to interrogate the way you view these protests.

If you saw the news about broken windows, cars on fire or buildings burning and thought law enforcement needed to start shooting, you are part of the problem.

The LMPD and the National Guard responded to a report of a group of black people breaking curfew in Louisville’s West End late Sunday night.

They say they were fired upon by someone nearby and thus returned fire, killing “beloved BBQ man” David McAtee, a black entrepreneur who was known to serve free meals to law enforcement working the West End.

David McAtee

In the aftermath of the shooting, the police chief was fired because his officers’ body cameras were turned off, and one of those officers is being investigated for social media posts mocking peaceful protesters who law enforcement had attacked with less-lethal rounds, in some cases causing such severe injury the protesters required hospitalization.

When you watch TV news and see “riots,” I am asking you to refuse to let that diminish the causes for which these protesters are fighting, and to remind yourself that violence is not justified just because an agent of the state is behind it.

Take a moment and ask yourself if you would have chastised Jesus when He started flipping tables in the temple courts, upset at the total disregard merchants had for the sanctity of the temple.

Would you have been disgusted with His lack of decorum? Of course not, because even though He was destroying property, He was right.

I believe every black person protesting in the streets of cities across the U.S. is acting righteously, bearing the full weight of the pain this country has caused their families, their communities and their ancestors on their shoulders.

Living through this moment in American history is already a struggle; the gap between the rich and the poor has grown farther and farther apart in recent years, but statistics show the growing wealth gap has disproportionately made life less livable for our black friends and neighbors.

It is no wonder that the constant barrage of killings and brutality at the hands of law enforcement would be a catalyst for the protests we’re seeing right now.

What Can Be Done

Our country’s reactive approach to crime, with arrests and jail time being the most commonly used tools in our arsenal, will never be able to keep the peace the way we could with a proactive approach.

We must focus our efforts on addressing the economic and social inequities that make people desperate enough to commit crimes in the first place.

Demilitarizing law enforcement, reducing our military spending budget and limiting the hoarding of wealth with progressive tax rates skewed towards putting the burden on those with the most to give, along with an empowered IRS, would allow us to invest hundreds of billions into bettering our society.

We could improve our schools, eradicate homelessness, make mental health interventions and substance abuse treatment free, provide skilled job training and offer so many other public services for those among us who are suffering.

In doing so, we can elevate those in poverty and distress to the point they can make a comfortable living without fear of returning to poverty, disincentivizing crimes like shoplifting, burglary, drug dealing and more.

The path forward to a better country seems so clear to me, and I’m sure it looks that way to many of those protesting, as well.

But, troubles arise from the fact that I, like millions of others, have lost faith in our politicians’ ability to put the general welfare of working class and impoverished people over the well-being of corporations and campaign donors.

If I feel that way, given my relative privilege of being white, college-educated and from a middle-income family, it’s not hard to see why someone who is statistically more likely to be far worse off than I am would feel that way as well, which is why we cannot put the onus on politicians alone to fix our racist society.

Every single decent person must call out racism, white supremacy, hatred and bigotry and rebuke it by name.

An injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us, and without justice, there will never be peace.

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