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Youth Empowerment Group manifesto on social change

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Social change is a concept that not many understand and is underestimated in its power to influence change in our present society. Many benefits that result from social change are used by social movements like civil rights, women’s rights, and more. Society has changed, cultural norms have been altered, and advancements have taken place, but there are evidently a lot of aspects that seem to be stuck in the past. 

As the Youth Empowerment Group within the African Leadership Group we are aware of the need for social change. Living as Black youth in the United States of America who are raised by African immigrants, we seek social change through a different lens. Our parents grew up being the majority in Africa while we are growing up as the minority in America.

As a result, we endure a hard upbringing growing up as Black and African children. We are students between the ages of 12 and 18, and are offering a way to promote social change through three main factors: law enforcement, the justice system, and education. 

Law enforcement

“ In my honor, I will never betray my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always maintain the highest ethical standards and uphold the values of my community, and the agency I serve.” That is the oath all police officers must make in order to join the police force. They must stand with this oath as they continue their service in the police force; whether it is weeks, months, or years they are obligated to work with this oath. This oath explains how officers must come forward if they commit or observe  wrongdoing. They must ‘ uphold the values of their community, such as anti- racism, and racial equality. However, these are values that not all officers uphold as they should.

Lack of Punishment

Many people are exposed to unfair punishments. To some officers the color of your skin is a weapon; to them it shows the kind of  person you are. In their eyes you are a threat to them. The police force lets some officers believe  that they can do whatever they want and not suffer the consequences. In some cases, officersare  with hatred or are just racist. According to a new report on sentencing disparities from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), Black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive federal prison sentences that are approximately 20 percent longer. This proves that not only do colored people get harassed everyday but they are also facing unfair additional sentencing time for committing the same crimes as white men. 

Law Enforcement Training – Defining what a threat is

Black people are seen as dangerous, or harmful to other people. White people can commit a crime or even murder somebody and it is ruled as “a mental health incident.” But when a Black person commits a crime it is because “it’s the way they were raised.” People of color are automatically analyzed as injurious. This kills people of color every day. 

A way to combat racial bias is to stop over-policing Black neighborhoods and normalizing the stereotype that Black people are dangerous. This causes police officers to be on their heels and see people of color as menacing. This causes police to arrest Black people too often, which results in statistics about Black people’s arrests to go off the charts. That only perpetuate racial bias. Not only does this cause Black people to be over arrested, but the teaching that we are dangerous also is the cause of most, if not all, deaths of Black people at the hands of the police.  Officer are supposed to “ protect and serve all.”  

Elijah McClain was a 23 year old massage therapist from Aurora , Colorado. Elijah was on his way home from a gas station, he was wearing a mask which raised suspicion. He was wearing a mask due to his blood disorder. A man called the  cops on Elijiah. Elijah was taken aback by the sudden contact with the cops.e was trying to get away from the situation when he was choked by the cops and was injected with ketamine. Ketamine is a synthetic compound used as an anesthetic and analgesic drug and also as a hallucinogen. He was rushed to the hospital and spent seven  days on life support. When he was taken off life support, he died of cardiac arrest. 

The police officers who murdered him were never charged, and in the rare case that police are charged they officers get a period of freedom  after they are accused of misconduct during which they are questioned by investigators. This cooling-off time can range from 24 hours to 30 days. Police officers in our country need more punishment so that when they are accused of misconduct they  get the same amount of punishment as a normal citizen in the same situation. It is horrid and absurd that policemen are treated so well after murdering Black people for no apparent reason, and they do not deserve this gentle treatment.

Diversity within Law Enforcement

Although some police officers still harass people of color, and they still are unfair towards them, they are there for a somewhat different purpose. Police officers are much more diverse than other workers in the justice department. Police departments have also become more racially and ethnically diverse: In 2013 27 percent of officers were racial or ethnic minorities, up from 23 percent  in 2000. Some 12 percent  of full-time local police officers in 2013 were Black, equal to their share of all U.S. adults. However, is this enough? When people are still facing and dying from police brutality, do we really have enough diversity within our law enforcement?

What is the true meaning of protecting and serving?

Police officers and everybody in the justice system has to go under oath and promise to protect and serve EVERYONE no matter their race, their skin color, their gender, or where they’re from. “Protect and Serve” is a phrase we see on the side of many police cars and is the motto of most police forces. The words define the mission of the police, which is to “protect” citizens and “serve the public.” But too often it appears to mean, “to protect officers and serve the police force.” They are taught that not only do they protect citizens but they also must protect themselves, often for the wrong reasons and innocent people, too often Black are unfairly hurt or killed.

While this is not the only cause of police brutality, this soldier-like, disconnected, hateful state of mind that policemen are trained to have is a big factor. The solution to this? Make the officers who protect a community be from that community. Educate them and train them to understand that the people they are hurting (and sometimes arresting) are people, and should be treated as such. When they go out to patrol the streets, educate them  not to see danger in every Black person, but to see a friend, see a human being. Teach them to make protecting a priority. Educate them to see a Black person and not be scared, but stop and interact with them, or maybe even have a conversation, because they are not the enemy, but the people they’re meant to protect.

Let them know, and teach them that a skin color is never a weapon, and never to normalize stereotypes as being true. They are not there to protect the people anymore, but to protect themselves. We as people deserve more, and need more, and better, from the police.

Injustice Within Our Society

Justice is a principle which implies that people should receive what they deserve. Our country has built a justice system that doesn’t serve all people equally. Day in and day out people of color are treated miserably and rarely receive the justice due to them. People get mistreated simply for the color of their skin. Are you not tired of seeing another person die who did not deserve to, because of their skin color? 

When is race important?

Race is important when a Black man gets a knee to the neck for allegedly using a  counterfeit 20 dollar bill but a white man who kills nine innocent African Americans in a church then gets brought Burger King right after. Dylann Roof is that white man, George Floyd is that Black man. 

Race should be important when we are giving credit and praise to a colored person who has achieved something great, yet often they do not get that praise. In this society race is important only when we do not do something so well. Race becomes a matter of life and death when Black parents have to teach their kids about how to act, talk, dress and present themselves. White parents do not have to do this, whether they are racist or not. This is an injustice because it is not fair how Black parents have to go the extra mile to teach their kids how to behave, not  because of etiquette but because they fear for their child’s life. 

Racial Prison Rates

Imagine two men committing the same crime but getting two different sentences. What is the only difference between these two? Their race. The following narrative is all too common; a man of color may kill two people and a caucasian person may kill 20 people but yet the man of color gets a death sentence while the other only gets life in county jail, not even prison. It is a widely accepted  norm that committing a crime as serious as murder has severe consequences s- life in prison. These are the standards in America, a country that is supposed to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” where every man, woman, and child has equal rights and should be judged fairly in the eyes of the law. 

However, this isn’t reality. An article in The Washington Post titled “Black men sentenced to more time for committing the exact same crime as a white person,” states, “Black men who commit the same crime as white men receive federal prison sentences that are, on average, nearly 20% longer…”  Prisons are funded with taxpayer money which suggests these sentencing discrepancies are  the American way. The system is purposefully putting people of color in prison to build our economy. This is why we constantly see innocent people in jail for crimes they did not commit, or serving longer and harsher sentences than their white counterparts. This is unjust.  

Racial Stereotypes

There are many stereotypes against Black people: Black men are dangerous, they steal everything that they can get their hands on, they’re never going to finish high school, they are in a gang, getting into trouble with the law, murder, drugs, etc. These stereotypes against the Black community are another injustice,  passed down to children who are not correctly educated by their parents and society.  Being Black doesn’t mean that we are poor or that we do not have enough to live off. Yes, there are some people of color who are poor or do not have enough power but instead of judging and criticizing them, help them.  Every parent  has the responsibility of teaching their children their rights. But for people of color, especially Black Americans,  it is different. African American parents must teach their kids how to act if an officer puts a knee on their neck. They are taught never to go outside with a hoodie on in the dark. They are taught to be quiet and listen to whatever an officer says because if not, that child might not come home that day. 

It is sad that Black men and women fear bringing a child into the world because the same officer that is supposed to protect and serve might just take their life. The fact that Black parents have to teach their child the proper way to dress and because they fear for their life is  unreal. Even if a white parent taught their child how to dress and how to act, they would not do it out of fear; they do it to ensure that their child has proper manners. Racial stereotypes are the reasons why families of color have to act this way. Instead of being seen for who they are, they are being prejudged just because of the amount of melanin in their skin.

Education

Malcom X said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”  If this is so true, why is education limited to what politics wants us to learn and not what we need to learn about our history? We learn history so it does not repeat itself, so why is it not being taught as it is? When history teachers are asked, “Why is this so important? Where am I going to use this in my life?” they always provide the same response, “So that we do not repeat past mistakes we have made as a society.” 

Why are so many key points in our history being cut out when they are the things that everyone should know? If some of the most influential and life-changing historical stories are being hid from all of us, how are we supposed to prevent grave mistakes from happening again? If we can’t rely on our education system to educate our children properly and fully, how can we expect them to be ready for tomorrow? 

What does history truly mean?

History is whatever the white man wants to create and keep in books about the past. The history of any other race in this country will only be shown as the terrible things they have done, not the good or the great, but the bad. The truth is that our history books are full of lies and cover-ups that portray America as the greatest country in history, built by our founding fathers. 

In reality, it was built off the backs of slaves imported to do the work this “great country’s” citizens didn’t want to do; this is a stolen land built by stolen people. We need to educate and teach the true and real history of this country within our education system.

Although many people claim “the past is the past,” it really is not as it continues to have an impact on the present and the future. Many parallels can be seen between history and today’s world. Whites dominated history and even today, they still seem to  have a hold on the policies that are taking place, and other factors that define who we are as people, and our values. Instead of teaching history from the white man’s point of view, it is important to consider the other view, the oppressed instead of the oppressor’s. 

The role African Americans have had in history

African Americans have played an important role in our history. Although white people had not provided African Americans with the opportunity to prove themselves beneficial to society, their impact on what the United States is today needs to be acknowledged. Without them, America would not be what it is today, and it would be ignorant to say that African Americans  did not have a role in building the infrastructure that sustains America.Not only were African Americans a fundamental part in establishing the United States as a global economic power, they also took part in inventions that broadened the scope of national advancement.

 

For example, the ironing board invented by Sarah Boone in 1892, the home security system co-invented by Mary Van Brittan Brown in 1966, the three-light traffic signal invented by Garrett Morgan in 1923, automatic elevator doors invented by Alexander Miles in 1887, carbon light bulb filament invented by Lewis Latimer in 1881,–  the list goes on and on. Think of how many times you have changed a lightbulb and did not know the one you are using, that could last you months, was invented by a Black man. 

How many times have you pulled out your ironing board to iron a pair of pants without knowing it was invented by a Black woman? How many times have you gotten on an elevator in a mall or a hotel without knowing it was invented by a Black man? Think about the home security system you own. You are able to protect your home because of a Black woman with an innovative idea. These are just a few examples of why we should educate society about the impact African Americans have had on history and not just about their history of being enslaved. 

Educating on the true history of Black people

Educating society on the true history of Black people is a crucial part of encouraging more in-depth learning of African culture and history that are not centered around slavery. It is not something that needs to be acknowledged, not  only in times of social change but always. But while slavery is a substantial fragment on the experiences that many African Americans have undergone, it does not represent the totality of Black history.

There are so many parts of our history and heritage that are completely disregarded and that acknowledgement of which would help avoid the difficult times we are facing. Before Africans were taken from their homelands and subjected to cruel and unfair treatment, they had their own culture filled with customs and traditions that could still be practiced today. African American history should not only be talked about only in the context of learning about the Civil War, or even when the civil rights movement had begun. 

Many holes exist within Black history that if filled in would be vital in finally gaining a deeper understanding about the hardships that had occurred and the prosperity that had eventually taken place. If schools are only teaching students African American history in terms of slavery, then Black children will struggle to understand that they are more than that. Progress will occur only  after acknowledging problems  in the methods of teaching right from wrong, and there are solutions found to combat the issue. Educating about African history before slavery, and all of the amazing empires and materials that we possessed have a hand in showing that we are more than  what people see us to be.

For example, we should be learning about the Mali empire, which was led by Mansa Musa, described as the wealthiest individual of the Middle Ages. This is a part of history that no one teaches. All we hear is praises about the “white saviors” who colonized lands and apparently made improvements, but in reality made countless parties turn against each other. We know more about the influential whites in our history than the influential Blacks and other minorities.There is so much information and history to be taught that our education system completely disregards. Once again, if we cannot rely on our education system to educate our children properly and fully, how can we expect them to be ready for tomorrow?

 As a society, if we do not acknowledge the problems that are right in front of us, we cannot find the solutions to them, and we will not be able to thrive. We must be aware of the repercussions that come from these issues and the effects they have on the unity of society. Our society needs law enforcement to run efficiently, but if we cannot trust police officers to protect and serve our communities, how can we prosper? We rely on the law to keep people safe and provide justice for all; however, our justice system is flawed in so many ways that it ends up hurting society more than it is helping it. 

This cannot go on. Change must come, and this change can come through education. If we are able to educate and inform humankind about our history — the good and the bad — then we will be able to stop hurting our society even more than we already have. 

However, we must face the problem and acknowledge its existence before any improvements can occur. James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”

Works Cited

Ingraham, Christopher. “Black Men Sentenced to More Time for Committing the Exact Same Crime as a White Person, Study Finds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Nov. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/16/Black-men-sentenced-to-more-time-for-committing-the-exact-same-crime-as-a-white-person-study-finds/.

 Norton, Gary. “‘Protect And Serve’ Now Means ‘Protect’ Officers And ‘Serve’ The Force.” Daily Kos, 13 Oct. 2014, www.dailykos.com/stories/2014/10/13/1336309/–Protect-And-Serve-Now-Means-Protect-Officers-And-Serve-The-Force#:~:text=%22Protect%20and%20Serve%22%20are%20the,and%20%22serve%22%20the%20public.&text=Too%20often%20they%20appear%20to,and%20serve%20the%20police%20force.%22.

Tompkins, Lucy. “Here’s What You Need to Know About Elijah McClain’s Death.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/who-was-elijah-mcclain.html.

  1. Why Violent Cops Are Rarely Punished, 15 Aug. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M4saoWj-LM.

 

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