George Floyd, a 46-year-old man in Minneapolis, was killed on Monday May 25 by Derek Chauvin, a police officer, who pressed his knee into Mr Floyd’s neck until he died while other police officers watched. George Floyd’s murder is an example of unjust police brutality and racism which is nothing new for the black community. This recent event resulted in multiple protests and riots across the United States.
I used to tell myself that I might know a thing or two about living in a place of unrest, injustice, violence and bureaucracy as I grew up in Karachi which was ranked the 6th most dangerous city in the world in 2013 (2020 rank: 93rd). However, the last few days have been a real eye-opener for me.
After moving to the United States and being a minority on many levels, a Muslim, immigrant, woman-of-color, it is dawning on me that safety, for most part, is a privilege I have been lucky enough to have in my life both in Pakistan and America. Just because I am a minority now, does not mean I can truly understand what other minorities face.
This last Saturday evening, as the protests were happening all over the city, I was on my way back home to downtown Chicago. I managed to get home barely twenty minutes before the bridges were put up and roads were closed — isolating downtown from the rest of the city. As our Uber was passing through the protesting crowds, despite it all being peaceful, I am not going to lie, I did feel tense and unsafe; of the unknown, of being attacked, of being put in a situation I was not opting to be in.
I made it home safe but as things escalated during the evening, hearing gun shots, seeing people protest down the street, reading the news, watching police officers and protestors get violent, cars and shops put on fire — my fears escalated too. All residential buildings were put on lockdown, all roads to and from downtown were closed. People indoors were scared for their safety, and given the magnitude of the riots — perhaps rightly so.
The tension heightened and the protests turned into riots. The once flourishing part of town, the very streets I walk on everyday were vandalized and shattered. I kept thinking, “Oh my god.. protestors, please don’t be violent. It is only going to make this movement difficult and validate the stereotype that people have of the black community. You can’t win by hurting other people..”
A few of my friends expressed how scared they were; those living away from family, and those with children. That, is when it dawned on me that the feeling of safety is a privilege the black community did not get to grow up with. They have always been in a situation they did not opt to be in. Therefore, who am I to tell them how to protest? Can I begin to even understand what it feels like to fight for one’s existence on a daily basis? Do I really know the sentiments of the people on the streets? All the loved ones they may have lost and the opportunities they never even got? Do I really have any idea about the hurt and the rage they have within their hearts? What it feels like when the law has denied them their entire lives? Before today, had I become immune to the oppression the black community has faced? Why did it have to hit so close to home for me to see things differently? Not to mention, what change have decades of peaceful protests brought?
It is the bitter truth but revolutions are not always peaceful. We forget that it is much harder for marginalized communities to be heard. Of course I am not justifying or promoting violence. All I am saying is, I found a new perspective to look at things. A perspective that I think brings me one step closer to the black community.
In America, black people are incarcerated at a rate 8.3 times higher than white people. I used to volunteer at a prison in California where the racial divide was extremely evident; it may as well have been called a Prison for Black People. I encourage you to read how I ended up in prison from my experience back in the day. Maybe, just maybe it will give you a glimpse into how, for the most part, our environment makes us who we are — and we all, are active contributors in creating that environment.
It is also extremely important to know that things are not always as they seem. Every time I read the news now, I ask myself if I am falling prey to confirmation bias. Do we really know if it is the protestors who are looting? The situation is way more muddled and messier than we may realize. Most people out on the streets are peaceful protestors but amongst them, many are both black and white looters with an agenda, the Antifa (left wing extremists), the white supremacy groups trying to intentionally give the black community a bad name, the bored and the high, the opportunists who see a broken store window and decide to profit off of that, and the police, who among them also have extremists and racists like Chauvin.
Right now, as Chicago is barely coming out of the pandemic lockdown, I am hurting for people who feel unsafe in their own homes, for businesses who have suffered through a pandemic and now the riots, for protestors who are risking their lives to fight for what they believe. I am hurting for those police officers who signed up to protect people but are now being dragged in streets, for minorities who have to constantly justify their worth, for George Floyd and his family, and for the entire black community who are discriminated only because of their skin color. I am really hurting, for humanity.
All the injustice that exists in Pakistan, America and elsewhere in the world has to do with race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. How hard is it for humans to understand that we all have the same feelings and functions biologically, mentally and emotionally?
All I want to say through this post is, think for yourself, and if there is any side you must pick at all — please pick the side of humanity. Power comes from unity. Just because I’m not black does not mean this is not my fight. #BlackLivesMatter.