A focus on injustice sparks a new era of change

A protestor talking to police officers during a protest in Newark on May 30
(Photo by Daniel Han )

Over the past two weeks, the entire nation has been taken over by a wave of protests demanding an end to police brutality and racial injustice.

On May 25, a 46-year-old unarmed African American man by the name of George Floyd was suffocated to death by a white Minneapolis police officer. The Minneapolis Police Department fired the officer, Derek Chauvin, after video footage of the incident surfaced. A new surge of activism against racial inequality is bringing significant awareness to the issues of police misconduct and racial profiling throughout the nation. 

Despite the fact that this particular incident occurred in Minneapolis, racial profiling is still an issue that hits close to home for many WHS students. “[One time] I experienced racial profiling was in a hotel in Texas for a volleyball tournament,” said WHS senior Uzi Ijoma, who is African American. “A security guard approached me and stated that there was a complaint about me and questioned if I was a guest at the hotel. I explained the situation and understood through our eye contact that we both knew why he was questioning me in particular.”

For several days, protesters have taken to the streets of Minneapolis and other cities across the U.S. to demand justice for Floyd, at first demanding that Chauvin should not just be terminated from his job, but charged with murder. After a few days of protests and public outrage, Chauvin was officially charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers who were complicit in Chauvin’s actions are also now facing charges. However, protests have still continued throughout the nation in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement as a whole, some peaceful, others disrupted by violence.

In recent days, the violence at the original protest site in Minneapolis has started to die down a bit, yet prior to containment, the brutal clashes between local authorities and protestors transformed the entire city into an almost war-like atmosphere.

I want them to see that the Black Lives Matter movement is not an issue of politics, but an issue of human rights.

— Uzi Ijoma '20

“I am really sad about [the situation],” said a police officer from the neighboring city of St. Paul who chose to remain anonymous. In an exclusive interview with Hi’s Eye, he said, “Right now, we have been working 12-hour shifts with no days off until things start to settle down. The last several days have been blocking roads trying to keep protestors safe. [Most recently], arrests were made for curfew violations, but they were all peaceful.”

For days, storefronts were looted and destroyed, police stations and cars were vandalized, tear gas was used by authorities at protest sites, and as of now, the entire city is still on lockdown as a result. 

WHS junior Grace Endy has shifted her perspective about the violent acts during the protests. Although she didn’t initially support the violence, she has since had time to reflect and spend time educating herself about the issues at the heart of the matter. “Now that I have educated myself and tried to view this situation from the point of view of black Americans, I have changed my opinion,” said Endy. “[Comedian] Trevor Noah explained how society was a contract between a certain group of people who agreed upon a set of rules that they would all follow. When these rules are continuously broken, as they have been by white people, this contract is no longer valid. White people cannot expect black people to abide by the rules if white people have not followed them for so long.”

Newark police officers at the protest on May 30 (Photo by Daniel Han)

Although the wife of the St. Paul police officer, who also opted to remain anonymous, and her husband are strong supporters of the movement, she empathizes with small business owners whose properties have been destroyed, and also with impoverished residents of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul who have little access to food, medicine and other essential items. “Everything around here is boarded up,” said the resident in an exclusive interview with Hi’s Eye. “I have the privilege of [being able to] go out to a suburb and buy gas, but there are people around here who can’t even do that.”

Even though relations between the police and the residents of the Twin Cities are currently tense, many people feel that there is still a reason to hope for a brighter future.

“Police culture has definitely changed during my time in St. Paul, for the better,” said the St. Paul officer. “Our younger officers are very racially diverse, and we have both men and women who are openly gay and recently [we hired] a transgender officer. This would have been unheard of 20 years ago, so I hope things will get better. I wish everyone could see each other as people.”

The protests in Newark were largely peaceful, but that doesn’t mean that they were placid. They were very emotional.

— Daniel Han '19

However, clashes between protestors and authorities are not only confined to Minneapolis. They are also taking place in other cities, such as Atlanta and New York. Despite this, violent protests are few and far between compared to peaceful demonstrations. In New Jersey, many local governments and residents have participated in and organized peaceful protests in honor of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement. On May 31, thousands of activists from all over took to the streets of Newark for a peaceful demonstration with support from local authorities.

“The protests in Newark were largely peaceful, but that doesn’t mean that they were placid. They were very emotional. People were yelling, chanting, some were dancing,” said Daniel Han, a WHS and Hi’s Eye alum and freelance reporter who photographed and documented the protest. “What I saw was that some of the police in front of the precinct were actually speaking with the protestors. They were having dialogues, conversations, and it seemed constructive.”

Han also pointed out that at this protest, although there were some points where tensions were high, journalists like himself were welcomed into the event without resistance. With the arrest of the CNN news team in Minneapolis, the destruction of the CNN building in Atlanta, and the arrest of a journalist covering the Asbury Park protests in New Jersey, Han acknowledged the fact that journalists are not treated this way everywhere, and that the media is currently seen in a negative light by some Americans.

Even with this negative perspective held by some Americans, as these demonstrations continue to spread through the nation’s biggest cities and most tight-knit suburbs, it is clear that the recent spike in media attention towards these protests has led to an unprecedented new era of vocality and education surrounding racial inequality in the United States. 

Just as important as these large protests are simple measures anyone can adjust in their daily lives to combat racial injustice or insensitivity. “I want [white students] to think before they name their babies in health class names that are rooted in black culture simply for the fun of it when in reality the names of black people are one of the reasons why they may not get a job,” said Ijoma. “I want them to see that the Black Lives Matter movement is not an issue of politics, but an issue of human rights.”