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If you’re sick of injustice but on the sidelines, it’s time to step up

People of color need to be heard. Seen. And believed. They must be at the center of these conversations. We cannot “restore peace” in our communities if we don’t step outside of our privilege and listen to those who are suffering.

Adam Neves
Adam Neves, 6, holding a sign during a June 1 rally in Boston, Massachusetts.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

On May 25, George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight just 20 miles from my house. A week later, the president called my city a laughingstock. Instead of focusing on the murder of an innocent man, there are some who want to turn our attention to the rioters. But why have the cries for justice for Floyd been so loud? Why is the anger so strong?  Because people are sick of this injustice that is not new to Minnesota or the U.S. Our country was built with the blood of African-American slaves, our cities segregated by color to protect the sanctity of whiteness, and our schools have become pipelines toward incarceration for our students of color.

George Floyd’s murder rekindled a fire across our nation. The same fire that brought MLK to Birmingham, Kapernick to his knees, and thousands of people onto the streets today. Our communities of color are hurting, they are in pain, and they are traumatized by yet another deadly incident of police brutality. The hunting and killing of black bodies is not new to America, but it has become a norm many of us have all too easily been desensitized to. If this week in Minneapolis has taught me anything, it is that I too have been complicit for far too long.

Jessica Melnik
Photo by Sarah Whiting, Minnesota Women’s Press
Jessica Melnik

Listen, then act

As a white woman, who hasn’t lived this experience firsthand and who has privileges too numerous to count, I worry that it isn’t my place to speak. But then I realized that that is the problem — that white people don’t think we have a responsibility here. The communities of color are already toiling away; now it is our turn to step up. White people made racism into the monster it is today. As Martin Luther King says, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and we must actively seek to hear those whose voices have been stifled for so long.

In the midst of the chaos, I decided to reread MLK’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, which I was assigned in high school two years ago. At the time, it felt like a history lesson; now it is current events. MLK writes, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.” The cup of endurance has run over this week.

Many of my friends have attended the protests and riots in Minneapolis. My friends of color have been tear gassed, threatened with violence, and blamed for the destruction of safety and peace in our communities. The people demanding change have been pushed aside for far too long. They are not thugs and they are not looters; they have been looted of their freedom and lives.

Focus on inequities and injustices

George Floyd’s murder brought thousands to the streets of Minneapolis, and it has caused uprisings across the United States. Cities may have been on fire after his death, but the fire of racism has been felt by  the hearts, minds, and souls of black people for generations. I hope we address the inequities and injustices of the destruction of black bodies with the same swiftness that we did the riots. As we put out the fires across our country we must remember what sparked the first flame. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the mass incarceration of people of color was not peaceful; we must remember our own history before we judge the path of others.

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People of color need to be heard. Seen. And believed. They must be at the center of these conversations. We cannot “restore peace” in our communities if we don’t step outside of our privilege and listen to those who are suffering.

George Floyd should still be breathing. Let’s hold people accountable, create meaningful change, and demand racial justice. Only then will we finally be able to take a breath together as a nation that fulfills on its promise to all of its citizens.

Jessica Melnik is a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She is a graduate of Hopkins High School and the founder of Girls United MN

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