Being Black in America Should Not Be a Death Sentence

Featured Artwork: Nikkolas Smith

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Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, and now, George Floyd, were all subject to the same fate: their deaths were written by white men. You can deny it but the facts won’t change, these were hate crimes and none of the incidents were accidents. Eric Garner was put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer in Staten Island. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when he was confronted and then fatally shot by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia. George Floyd had a police officer holding him down with a knee on his neck in Minneapolis. Like them, thousands have died at the hands of racism. Being black in America should not be a death sentence. After all, isn’t it the land of the free? 

Eric Garner was approached by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, in Staten Island. When Garner said he was tired of being harassed, an officer tried to arrest him. The officer had his arms around Garner’s neck, choking him, and wrestling him to the ground. Garner repeatedly told the officers he couldn’t breathe while lying face down on the sidewalk. Only when Garner lost consciousness, the officers turned him to his side to ease his breathing but he remained there, lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes before an ambulance arrived. Approximately an hour later, Garner was pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in a neighborhood in Brunswick on February 23, 2020, before being shot by two white residents. The Glynn County Police Department was advised to make no arrests. Would that have been the case if it was a white man who was shot? Would they have still advised them to make no arrests? The video of the shooting went viral after a local attorney provided a copy of it to a local radio station on May 5. It was after the public outcry that a grand jury decided whether charges would be brought. 

George Floyd’s death resembles Eric Garner’s, with both being caused by utter police brutality. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, while an officer knelt on his neck as he lay on the ground. The incident was captured on video and went viral, it showed the white officer on his knees and beside him was an Asian officer who stood compliant. What strikes the biggest resemblance, though, is that Floyd can be heard in the video shouting “I cannot breathe” — words that have now become a recurring nightmare. 

Police brutality isn’t new in America. It was prevalent and its reign seems to continue. The violence that occurs at the hands of cops impacts the colored community more than others. There have been reports of officers being ordered to crack down on minorities or people of color. Trial sentences are almost always exaggerated for a person of color, no matter the charge. The land of the “free” is only truly free for a white man. 

Growing up in Indonesia as a South Asian woman, I never had to worry about the color of my skin. I knew I was different, but different was good there. It wasn’t different in the way that you were a second-class citizen or different in a way that you would get lynched. Whether it’s Hong Kong, Istanbul, or Singapore, I have never felt like a second-class citizen because of my skin color. But in America, the feeling is there, and you don’t even need to go there to feel it because the prejudice is felt from a thousand miles away. 

With every passing day and with every life lost, I start to worry. Suddenly it’s not just the color of my skin that matters, it’s my race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. It all starts to matter. It gets to the point where you start to weigh out how susceptible you would be to a hate crime based on these factors. It isn’t just about skin color then, it’s every factor. I don’t like thinking about it, but it’s almost like I’m forced to weigh out whether or not something like the video I saw today could happen to me, and then I compare it to someone else and another person. 

The stacks are decked against certain people to the point where they have to tread lightly in every situation. Some households teach their kids to make sure that they should comply with everything a cop says, to avoid them at all costs, and to not cause any trouble with anyone. When you treat your citizens as second-class citizens instead of equals, you force them to tip-toe around all their lives. No one should have to walk on eggshells in their own home, it’s miserable. It’s not fair to have to think about every tiny move and its consequences — if I run tonight, I might get shot, but wait, if I walk in the daylight, I could get lynched. 

George Floyd was murdered as the result of anti-black racism. It’s deep-rooted not only in the white community but in the Asian community as well. However, as Asians, it is our duty and responsibility to stand with the black community. We are people of color and we have all been subject to racism because of our skin color. We are not any better than our white counterparts if we don’t speak up for the black community and all the black lives lost. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to the color of your skin. But that’s not how it should be. No one should have to die because of the color of their skin. Not because of their religion, race, or ethnicity. No one deserves to live as second-class citizens. White men have black blood on their hands — they have always had black blood on their hands. It needs to stop. We need to fight alongside our black brothers and sisters because Black Lives Matter. We can’t keep going backward.