A police officer murdering a black man with his bare hands is unlawful, and so are lootings and riots. But protesters are suffering. Another American is dead. Another husband, father, son, mother, are all dead because of their skin color. If an injustice killed someone you love, how would you react?
I know I would go through grief and sorrow. I would not be able to use my words to express my grief. My instability would overwhelm me, and I would want the person who created my pain to feel the same way I did. But can you convey pain and suffering through a poster? Would you be able to stay silent? I know if this happened to me, I would demand justice.
But for black lives, this hypothetical disappears. They wonder if they are the police’s next target, and they need all Americans to understand this. In times of extreme duress and suffering, physical responses are natural and understandable. People feel endangered and devalued by the police who were sworn to protect them. Many Americans feel like we can no longer trust the government to take action on our behalf. We must create change ourselves because there is no more time. There is no more time to hope for change before there is another murder.
When protests arise, we make a choice. We decide to either stand for or against the protested cause. But, people are often afraid to admit they disagree with the cause. They will redirect blame to the methods of the protesters. There has been devastating destruction and looting on a national level, but it is no match against a militarized police force opening lethal fire on civilians.
There is a deliberate criminalization of protesters in America happening in the media. For example, the American media praised the protesters in Hong Kong. They supported the protesters for standing up to the Chinese government. The protesters were rarely, if ever, called “rioters.” Hong Kong reports reveal the capabilities of the media. The media can destigmatize protesters, but are currently choosing not to.
These protests also serve as a moment for reflection. We can condemn the rioting because people’s lives could be collateral damage. We must also realize that the police opening fire on these same people creates even more terror. Also, there is an important distinction to draw between rioting and protesting. Riots come with provocateurs igniting violence among crowds. They try to escalate the situation and create justifiable police action. They betray the protesters by shifting the public’s opinion away from protesters. Americans are now less inclined to support and justify their cause. The riots are detrimental to society. They redirect anger toward racism to the violence in the protests.
Mobs have a tendency to go wild. Especially when people are suffering for living in a country that has revealed itself to never have been an ally to black lives. We must ask ourselves, when have black lives ever mattered to America? Was it during slavery or segregation? Or during the war on drugs, or the murders of black Americans caught on video up to today? The institutions holding the most power and wealth in our country can make a change, but they have always devalued black lives.
Sanaz Mizbani will be a senior at Head-Royce School in Oakland. She participates in a community engagement task force with the National Network of Schools in Partnership and reached out to the Review in hopes of sparking more teen commentary around the Black Lives Matter movement.