For a while, I went back and forth with the idea of writing this article. After all, what do I, a well-off white girl from New York City truly know about the indecencies of police brutality or aggravated racist assaults on members of the black and hispanic community? The answer is: not enough. Viscerally, I will never, and I could never understand. I know that, and I recognize that. The pain, the fear, and the anger will never cut as deep, and so, is it socially unjust for me to be writing for a position I will never truly understand? Maybe. Yet, in the end, my plea is the same, not because it is “in vogue” to be socially aware, or because I want to be perceived as some liberal snowflake, but because the level of inequality and racist aggression in this country today is sickening, it is blood boiling, and it makes absolutely no fucking sense. And so I find myself, especially in the midst of a pandemic where the concept of free will itself is brought into question, asking “how am I supposed to be okay with living freely if the person next to me can’t?”
Everyone is saying “I don’t even remember what we used to talk about before coronavirus.” How could we?! Not a minute goes by where I don’t receive a news notification about something in relation to the virus, but just because we are overconsuming COVID-19 news does not mean it is the only thing we have to worry about, to care about, or to speak about. COVID-19 does not mean that social violence stops, in fact, in many ways stay-at-home policies and social distancing restrictions have only exacerbated the problem. And while the circumstances for many right now are grim, one can only hope that the undeniable polarization of race and class brought to light during this time will help make aware those blinded by their own privileged experience.
So while I understand that these issues are not selective to this current moment, I choose to focus on these last couple of months, where a motto of “stronger together” has circulated around a country that couldn’t be more split apart.
In the last few weeks, many news outlets have released information relating to racial discrepancies in the enforcement of corona-virus protocols. In New York City, between the dates of March 15, 2020 and May 5, 2020, the NYPD gave out 374 summons for violations of social distancing protocols. 304 of those summons were given to black or hispanic people. What’s more? During that same time period there were 40 arrests made for the same violation, and of those 40 arrests, 35 were black, four were hispanic, and one was white. Now, this is NOT because members of black and hispanic communities neglect the rules, no, it is because they are targeted, and the police use these new regulations to somehow justify their acts of discrimation. Documentation through photo and video has shown the radical differences between the way social distancing has been enforced in white communities versus black communities. On a sunny day in New York City hundreds of young white folk gathered in a park on the lower west side, maskless and packed closely together. Police patrolled the area, but instead of dispersing the crowd and writing violations, they handed out masks and checked in with citizens to see how they were doing. A few blocks away, on that same day in a black neighborhood, multiple arrests were made, many summons were written, and video evidence shows how white police officers used unnecessary and excessive force when “enforcing” protocols. It is the fear of this brutality that sits on the shoulders of these individuals, individuals that have been the most heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis because of circumstances beyond their control.
The examples and the evidence are many, and taking a quick moment to research the racial discrepancies as it relates to this current moment will highlight flaws in structures and systems that are not spoken about enough.
Recently, social media went into an uproar over the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, with a new video surfacing explicitly showing two armed white men chasing Arbery down, shooting and killing him in cold blood. The murder itself took place in February, meaning that it took nearly two months for his murderers to even be questioned. And while the video provided indisputable evidence, it wouldn’t have carried the same weight without hundreds of thousands of people sharing it, condemning Georgian officials, commanding justice, and creating a media storm impossible to ignore. Now, with the two men under arrest, we may not let our anger simmer, but rather we must pose the same anger as we confront the root of the issue, as we work to ease unlawful discrimination during this time and moving forward.
There is a recurring pattern with situations like this and there always has been. The stories that matter, are the ones that make headlines, multiple headlines. They often draw peoples’ attention or concern for a few days or a few weeks, but over time, the concern fades, new news appears, and the spotlight shifts. It is during moments like this -- moments of vast shared experience -- that are meant to unify, yet, it is easy to become selfish, to become distracted, and ultimately unaware of circumstances beyond your own. And so, as we are told to take this time to reflect on and better ourselves, I urge you to look beyond yourself, beyond your circle, and into the lives of those you don’t know, to find compassion towards issues you may have not known existed, and work to fix them, so that one day we can re-enter a world better than the one we’ve left behind.