Being black in the USA and why #BlackLivesMatter

Meron is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea, who is passionate about addressing the current human rights situation in his home country and the rest of the world. 

In less than 24 hours, two black people from Minnesota and Louisiana were fatally shot by police officers. As always, many communities couldn't take the continued killings which they faced every so often. This has led to protests throughout the country, blockages of highways, and in some cases, heavy violence. 

These events were followed by the killing of five police officers in Dallas by a lone attacker, Micah Johnson. According to the Dallas Police chief, Johnson "was upset about the recent police shootings", and said "he wanted to kill white people, especially white police." The incident was recorded as the single deadliest day for law enforcement officers since the September 11, 2001 attacks. 

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Thousands marched in Oakland, California to protest the fatal police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. 

Several other incidents of similar nature have occurred throughout other parts of the country. Since the death of a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, over 2,000 people have been shot and killed by police, of which the majority of them were blacks, followed by Hispanics. Many of them were unarmed and weren't posing significant threats to anyone. In the last year, African Americans have been arrested and shot at more than twice the rate of whites by police, according to President Obama.  

President Obama has stated that "these are not isolated incidents - they are symptomatic of a broader set of racial inequalities that exist in our criminal justice system."

The United Nations, via Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has urged the US to comprehensively address discrimination, including racial disparity in law enforcement.

The average household has made it a part of their daily life to teach their kids to stay away from police and to be obedient. Yet during the incident where Philando Castile was shot in Minnesota, his girlfriend stated in a live-stream video on Facebook that Philando had told police he was carrying a fire arm and hence trying to comply,  but he was killed when trying to reach his wallet for his ID. Philando was pulled over for a broken tail light. Many are asking, 'What is the point of complying with the law if it still gets you killed?', and 'How does one comply better than Philando did?'

The Minnesota Governor stated that, "police wouldn't have shot and killed Philando Castile if he had been white" and called for justice. He was known as a local cafeteria worker serving students. 

This incident has led many families to feel helpless, uncertain, and fearful. Many communities are questioning the purpose of police, highlighting the point that they are meant to protect the public, not kill individuals. 

Prior to my arrival in the United States, I knew little about the systemic racial discrimination in the country. Once you arrive in the US and try to integrate in the society, it is not that hard to find yourself wondering why things are the way they are. 

For the average asylee, refugee or immigrant, there is an even more direct, imminent threat. If you are black as well, you cannot escape racial discrimination, whether in restaurants, shops, or institutions. Many of these people find themselves doing low paying jobs because they are not immune to racism either.

Back when I was living in Africa, the most enjoyed, exported US culture was that of African Americans. Which child didn't want to wear Michael Jordan shoes or a t-shirt with his picture on it? We loved hip-hop and R&B artists such as 2Pac, Michael Jackson, 50 Cent, and black Hollywood actors. Yet arriving here in the States and witnessing black people get targeted by a police so often, I cannot imagine anything worse. Yet time and again these incidents continue to happen. Seeing videos on social media, it is not hard to witness police brutality against black people. Many black families in the US feel the justice system is against them as the police have been responsible for the deaths of their children. 

This undermines the value of any black person, whether in the US, Africa or any other part of the world. Why? Because many look up to the United States as a role model on many human rights issues. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the treatment of blacks. Many similar events occur around the world, where little attention is given to black lives; this perception definitely has roots here in the US.

In Africa, there have been many incidents which should have received needed international attention, such as the abduction of hundreds of school girls by Boko Haram, or the shooting of more than 100 university students in Kenya by Al Shabab, or the drowning of hundreds of Africans in the Mediterranean Sea. These incidents throughout other parts of the world get much different, lesser degree of treatment. This brings me to the idea of why "Black Lives Matter".

To state "Black Lives Matter" doesn't mean that other lives don't matter. However, since black lives have not been respected or given equal treatment as those of other races, particularly those who are white, a voice that is louder and clearer is needed to make this point. 

A black and white person wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking on the street should get equal treatment. A black and white man carrying a licensed gun on the street should have equal rights. Over the past few months and years, what we have witnessed in videos on social media clearly demonstrates that this equality does not exist. Blacks have been harshly treated, and many have been killed in cold blood. 

Such acts of savagery are reminiscent of slavery and the Jim Crow era. Attitudes against blacks have persisted in white America.

Humans depend on each other for safety. The safety and equal treatment of a black person correlates directly with the safety of a white person. 

What could be done:

- Deadly force must always be the last resort. It should never be an option when someone is complying with the law. -

- Police departments need to represent the faces of their communities. You cannot have too many white officers in a black community who do not understand the nature and culture of the community. 

- Educational institutions have to make room for disadvantaged communities, especially the black ones.

- Politicians need to create an environment for communities and police to engage peacefully and work hand-in-hand to keep each other safe. Communities cannot live in fear with the police and vice-versa.

- Congress needs to pass anti-gun laws to keep society at peace. 

- Blacks in Africa and those who have immigrated to the United States need to show strong support and solidarity with the African American community as they strongly fought to end slavery, colonialism and apartheid. 

- We all, regardless of our race, have to call for an end to racial discrimination. It is long over due. We are in the 21st century. The next time you see any discrimination be it race or gender-based, stand up for those who are oppressed.