As I sat in silence watching the video I found myself emotionless for a period. Even after the video ended and the screen of my phone went black I simply sat in dead silence, almost paralyzed. I felt a sharp jutting in my chest and I began to weep. I began to cry because I didn’t know what else to do.
I am a 19-year-old white college student in this country. I could stay silent because this does not affect me, but I am choosing to stand up and speak up for my black brothers and sisters. I am white but I am with you, I am white but I am taking a stand against a broken and racist system.
To really understand the events taking place across our country it is important to remember why these things are happening. The history of injustice and horrific acts against African Americans is well documented, dating back to when Africans were first brought here on slave ships, to Jim Crow laws which made them second-class citizens, to the more recent adaptation of oppression against people of color. That current adaptation I speak of is, of course, police brutality.
I could sit and list the names of those who have been unjustly murdered by white police officers, but that would take up this entire piece. Instead, I’d like to highlight the untimely death of Eric Garner. Similar to George Floyd, Garner was restrained on the ground due to suspicions of selling loose cigarettes outside of a gas station. Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” as an officer kept him in a chokehold. Garner died due to compression of his neck and chest as a result of the officer’s chokehold.
After Garner’s death, just as after Floyd’s death, some popular misconceptions of statistics were spread, including the statement that more whites are killed than blacks by police. White people make up 76.5% of the United States population while African Americans make up 13.4%. A black person is three times more likely to be killed by police than a white person despite being 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed.
I do not have to face this reality because I am a white man in this country, but I want to use the platform I have available to help create change.
Many people have been frustrated by the rioting and looting that has been taking place. I recognize the frustration and I do not necessarily encourage that behavior, but I do understand it. I acknowledge the hurt and anger from the African American community.
Police brutality has been a widespread problem and it has sadly affected African Americans most severely. The amount of unarmed police killings that have been captured and shown to the world thanks to technology is staggering.
As I have stated, I am a 19-year-old white man so I’ll never understand what it is like to walk in a black man's shoes. But I have had the opportunity to have some amazing African American men and women as my close friends and I took the time to speak to them about everything. I can never truly understand, but I have done my best to educate myself and learn as much as I can.
I can tell you that men and women of color everywhere are hurting, they are tired and scared. Mothers and fathers have to teach their sons how to interact with the police. Not knowing if they will be targeted and killed as they walk, jog, drive or simply play with a toy gun like any other 12-year-old.
Their lives are not the same as mine and I acknowledge that. I am sorry. All that I can say is that I am sorry. For those of you who don’t believe white privilege exists, I ask you to truly educate yourself and try to understand what these men and women of color have to deal with on a day-to-day basis because I can tell you that they live a very different life than you and me.
I feel it necessary to make this my final point because this is the one I would like to stick with my fellow white men and women who read this piece. I ask something of each and every one of you. It is something simple and easy for you to do, but also very powerful.
Use your voice and your white privilege to stand up with your brothers and sisters of color, stand with them and let them know you are right there with them. Let them know that you love and cherish their lives just as much as anyone else’s.
Donate to charities and movements pushing for racial change, go to a protest and make your voice heard or write a simple post on social media letting them know you stand with them. I have chosen to use my voice and my ability to write to let people of color know that I am with them.
I do not understand the hardships you face, but I am with you. I am here to fight this battle against systemic racism and oppression by a broken system. I am with you and I will never leave your side.
Black Lives Matter.
Austin Knippelmeir is a sophomore Sports Media and Communications/Broadcasting double major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.