Say Their Names

Ayana Challagalla, Social Media Editor

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Daunte Wright. We have all heard these names dominating the media in the past year. Just a month ago, Derek Chauvin – the police officer who murdered Mr. Floyd – was found guilty on three charges by the jury. While this might be a huge step in the right direction, it’s far from justice for the black community. Justice for George Floyd would be him being able to sit down and have dinner with his family today. Chauvin’s conviction does not mean justice. It means accountability. America’s criminal justice system is broken beyond repair and the road to justice is far from over.

It seems as though every time the justice system takes one step forward, it takes a hundred steps back. Since Mr. Floyd’s testimony began on March 29, over 64 people have died across the United States at the hands of law enforcement. As an American citizen and a woman of color, not only am I ashamed to be American but also horrified for America’s future. I shouldn’t have to live my life in fear, knowing that it is a very real possibility a police officer with years of academy training and experience could somehow “mistake” their taser for a gun and end my life.  

“Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist,” Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted after Daunte Wright was killed. Was law enforcement in the US always seen in this way? The first official police force in the US, or ‘night-watch system’, as it was called at the time, was created in Boston in 1838. This force was mainly created to man the shipping ports. The majority of police forces in the country, however, were concentrated in the South. The economics that drove the creation of these forces were heavily centred on the preservation of the slave trade. Most primary policing institutions were slave patrols meant to catch runaways and prevent mutiny. If the US policing system was first created as a means to keep Black people oppressed, how can we expect it to be any different now? 

There is a memorial website dedicated to unarmed people of color who were killed by police, sheriff deputies, and security guards. This list dates all the way back to May 23, 1968. Henry Dumas was a writer and poet. His final works echoed violent confrontations between white and black men. He wrote about black people killed by cops, and then he himself was killed by a cop on the platform of a New York subway station. 

Little investigation surrounded Mr. Dumas’s death and there was barely any media coverage about it at the time. The only New York City Transit Police documents describing the investigation of his death were apparently destroyed in a routine “bureaucratic merger” in the 90’s. The justice system failed Dumas by simply “losing” his case and not giving him a fair trial. To this day, he is a symbol for the hundreds of people who have been mistreated, maimed and murdered by the police. 

The name “United States of America” is contradictory in its nature – the country is anything but united. In order for the US to heal as a whole community, the first step is for true justice to be served to all the nameless and faceless victims who did not get their day in court. Until then, the United States is a ticking time bomb that will destroy anything and anyone in its path, just to keep its conservative values alive. How many more lives must be taken before real change is implemented? Not just a change in the justice system, but a change in the mindset of the people who continue to ignore the root of the problem. We must say their names. All of their names. Every single life matters.