When will black deaths end?

Can only black deaths combat America's denial that it's a structurally racist country?


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Michelle Mbekeani

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently George Floyd, have sparked conversations about the racial violence experienced by Black communities.

While this is common knowledge among Black communities and advocacy communities, we are seeing the media cover it more extensively, reaching populations that may not have had the opportunity to be exposed to the inequities experienced by marginalized populations.

While some may deem this occurrence as an opportunity for much-needed reform within various systems in our country, I can't help but think at what cost. Did it take the alarming deaths of these individuals to spark such a conversation? How many Black bodies must be laid in coffins for us as a nation to honestly acknowledge and address the racial violence that Black people have been screaming about from the rooftops of disinvested and segregated communities?

But this narrative of Black deaths being a necessary precursor to reform is far from new for this country. Black people have long had their bodies laid on the altar of American society to be sacrificed prior to reforming the many unjust systems that were compiled to create the foundation of this nation. It takes the visual sight of our blood for this country to be pushed to the point of incrementally chipping away at the racist barriers that wall off Black people from the America that was reserved for White people.

It took the open casket of a teenage boy, Emmet Till, who was so brutally beaten and murdered beyond recognition for the nation to be shaken and forced to confront the racial violence experienced by Black people. It sparked an upsurge of activism and resistance that became known as the Civil Rights movement.

It took the graphic visual of seeing 16 shots unloaded into the small frame of a teenage boy, Laquan McDonald, for the City of Chicago to confront the need to aggressively reform their police department and again forced the nation to confront the racial violence experienced by Black people, sparking another upsurge of activism and resistance.

Now it is taking the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, for all Americans to re-evaluate our criminal justice system and again confront the racial violence experienced by Black people.

While I applaud our leaders and the media for putting the racial violence experienced by Black people at the forefront, how many Black people have to die for our nation to acknowledge how racism is still sophisticatedly woven into the fabric of our society, stitched into our systems, its thread stained with the blood of so many Black people we have lost throughout this nation's history? Black communities can no longer be the designated casualties of creating a nation that provides freedom and justice for all. Death can no longer be Black people's prerequisite for Dignity.

Michelle Mbekeani is an attorney and policy adviser with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. She lives in Oak Park.

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