Antonia Alakija

Whichever stance you take concerning the events in Ferguson, I believe every American can agree that painful images of decomposing dead bodies on the pavement, mourning mothers crying on our televisions and police officers receiving death threats weigh heavily on the American conscience. However, it would be ignorant to believe these events are new occurrences in America. Racial violence and systemic injustice defined the Jim Crow era and these events remain a reality in the 21st century despite their less obvious forms. The events in Ferguson only served as theboiling point that returned this issue to the forefront of national discussion.

On Nov. 25, 2014, my family and I sat in front of the television in utter disbelief. Although the verdict flashed repeatedly across the screen in big bold letters, we could not begin to wrap our heads around the grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Wilson. Judging by the silence in our living room, neither my parents nor my little brother could easily swallow the non-indictment of Officer Wilson either. A solemn tear rolled down my mother’s face as we watched the people of Ferguson embrace Michael’s mother as she bawled openly on national television. For a moment, our wet eyes met each other and I knew we were thinking the same things.

What do we now tell my little brother, a young Black boy just like Michael, to make him feel safe growing up in America? In this instant, we reached our own verdict as a Black family, we cannot assure him of anything without lying. I cannot tell my brother the police have his best interest in mind because law enforcement officers fail to show African Americans that #blacklivesmatter. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau, Black drivers are twice as likely as White drivers to be arrested during a traffic stop, even though consensual searches of Blacks were 37 percent less likely to uncover weapons, 23.7 percent less likely to uncover drugs and 25.4 percent less likely to uncover any other type of contraband than consensual searches of Whites.

Fatal occurrences of racial profiling such as the events in Ferguson have stripped many Black mothers of their opportunity to gently parent their innocent Black sons. Instead of giving my little brother comforting assurance of the equitable laws of our nation (as every American parent should be able to do), that night my mother opted to address my brother out of fear and love, a pitiful combination. She told him he must address police officers as “sir” (but not to even make eye contact unless completely necessary), to get rid of all his black hoodies, stop blasting loud music through his Beats and to always wear his hat facing frontwards. Basically, she told a growing Black boy, “Be the antithesis of a stereotypical Black man in society and then you will be safe. Be the antithesis of who society expects you to be so that you can be safe in America.” My little brother can change the clothes he wears, but the color of his mahogany skin is indelible and will make him a target in the eyes of law enforcement officers nonetheless.  My mother’s pleas were merely hopes that my goofy, intelligent, six-foot, 13-year-old Black little brother will not be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong police officer.

Society has made it clear that Black teens are seen as threats not children; we are born with two strikes and racial profiling assures that we do not receive “the benefit of the doubt.” From the viewpoint of a Black youth, I know firsthand that events like the murders of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are slowly stealing away the innocence from the African-American childhood experience.

In a press conference in the Rose Garden in 2012, President Obama commented sentimentally on the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. President Obama’s words revealed pity and sadness for such a discriminatory event when he said, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon… when I think about this boy I think about my own kids.”

After the release of the verdict of the non-indictment of Officer Wilson, President Obama opted to address the nation as the President rather than a father. “First and foremost,” he began, “we are a nation built on the rule of law.” In these few words, Black communities across the nation saw that President Obama had already chosen which side he would stand on. He told the nation and the people of Ferguson that if communities of color fight against the system for social justice, law enforcement will always win because America is a nation built upon the rule of law.

I was shocked by President Obama’s bipartisan response to such a racially charged issue, considering he’s a Black man and the nation’s first Black president. He urged Blacks to accept an unfair verdict in order to uphold a code of law that rarely protects minorities. As the chain of unarmed Black men legally murdered by the bullets (or chokeholds) of the police continues to grow longer, it becomes more obvious that the American system devalues Black life. James Baldwin once said, “Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.” Peaceful protesters from around the DMV area have assembled on numerous occasions to lobby against legalized racial profiling and police brutality and most importantly, to remind our nation that #blacklivesmatter. This incident in Ferguson is not a white, yellow, brown or black issue; it is an issue of Americans deciding to side with their consciences and finally eliminate legalized discrimination from our legal system.

Antonia Alakija, 17-year-old African-American female, is senior editor-in-chief of the student run newspaper at the National Cathedral School, and can be contacted at