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I am exhausted.
While partaking in the plethora of civil rights protests last year, I was hopeful.
But now, watching a Black man’s character being assassinated — as his actual assassin nonchalantly sits in the same room — I am exhausted. What I have learned from this past year is that after Black people die, after we are brutalized and harassed, we’re the ones on trial.
On May 25, Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, for over nine minutes. We’ve seen this before. Perhaps in a different font, but the words were the same. By the time paramedics arrived, George Floyd was dead. Over the past couple of weeks, Derek Chauvin has been on trial for George Floyd’s murder. This, we don’t see often.
At the beginning of the trial, the defense team floundered for any scruple of evidence to justify Derek Chauvin’s excessive and unnecessary use of force. And so it began. What I thought to be a murder trial became a campaign of dehumanization and reiteration of the usual phrases that white people have continued to use to justify racism. “He was a drug addict.” “He’s a porn star.” Hearing these phrases, I was almost in awe of the extent to which politicians and civilians are willing to justify the brutalization of Black people. Then I began to wonder what they would say about me.
Throughout my life, I have made sure to do the right thing. With two parents from Nigeria, I was their ticket to the American Dream, and I did everything in my power not to jeopardize the sanctity of those hopes and dreams. As a Harvard student, I feel like I have mostly risen to those expectations. But through further reflection, I remembered some of the mistakes I’ve made.
I mostly disregard the rules for pedestrian walkways. When I was five, I had a moderate proclivity for stealing chocolate bars from the 99 Cents store. I have lied before, I’ve cheated, I’ve made decisions that I’m not proud of. I know what some of you may be thinking. A police officer would not accost a child for stealing candy! Yes, they would. Well fine, but you can't be killed just from jaywalking while Black! Yes, you can. With George Floyd, it was a counterfeit 20 dollar bill, and only a few months after his murder, news outlets and right-wing media ran with his addiction to prescription drugs. But it doesn’t matter how minuscule or nominal our mistakes are. You can do everything right, but as long as you are Black, your survival is never a guarantee.
What I need everyone to understand is that George Floyd should not be on trial. He is a victim and needs to be treated as such. I have heard fellow Harvard students claim that George Floyd did not deserve such a draconian style of death because he had a family and loved ones, a daughter to whom he never was able to say goodbye. I have heard that Derek Chauvin is wrong because he committed these atrocities without knowing the character of George Floyd, that George Floyd was not a bad person. But even if he was, so what?
He was a human being and that is enough. It doesn’t matter who he leaves behind. I do not care if he was a drug addict because it does not matter. Our personal vices are not justification for unrelenting racism and violence against our livelihood. Black people should not have to be hypervigilant about the mistakes they make or the conflicts they cause, in order to survive. Instead of actively attempting to justify white supremacy and police brutality by perusing through the past of Black people, we have to address the pervasive racism ingrained in our society. As we face the brutal systemic violence against people of color, we must shift the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.
There are going to be more acts of violence like what happened to George Floyd. That is a fact. As these deaths continue to occur, I’m pleading with each and everyone one of you: Stop putting Black victims on trial.
Chrystal Aluya '24, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Adams House.
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