If you’re black in America, you don’t have to think long and hard about how many times you’ve felt this: fear, anger, sorrow and hopelessness all rolled up in one. My grandmother felt this way when two white men murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till. At 15, my grandmother knew what happened to Emmett could happen to her and her three little brothers. Sixty-five years have passed since Emmett was lynched and yet black people are still being killed. I can’t help but think about Trayvon Martin. When I was 18, I saw myself in 17-year-old Trayvon. I knew what happened to him could happen to me. I’m 26 now, and yet again, I see a beautiful black soul taken before his time. Ahmaud Arbery of the Brunswick, Ga. area, was 25 when two white men, a father and son, reportedly took his life, believing he was a threat.
I started running this year to challenge myself. I’m always mindful to keep my ID with me and I don’t wear a hoodie. On the day I found out about Ahmaud, I chose not to run. As a black man in America, just like Ahmaud, I can be gunned down simply because I’m black — simply because someone could perceive me to be a threat. In Georgia, murder charges against the father and son were filed Friday. We should be asking many questions: Why did it take 74 days and three different prosecutors for charges to be filed? Why weren’t the alleged killers arrested on the spot? Why did the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have to get involved before charges were filed? Why did it take a national outcry on social media for this to happen? Ahmaud’s story is not unique. Sadly, this happens all too often in our country.
Racism is our country’s original sin. All of us, no matter our skin color, have a responsibility to fight against racism in all its forms. It is a disease that permeates our education, economic and criminal justice systems. It’s a disease that has led to second-class citizenship for people who aren’t white. Too often, we give thoughts and prayers in the wake of tragedy. But thoughts and prayers won’t combat racism. Only rigorous action can do that. It must not just be action from people of color, but also white people.
Our white sisters and brothers should be especially enraged that our country still treats people who are not white as lesser. What can we do? We can vote June 9 and Nov. 3. We can cast ballots for candidates with policies and practices that address the roots of racism. We can also invest our time and money by joining organizations that work to eradicate racism
Charleston doesn’t lack opportunities to get involved: The NAACP and the Charleston Area Justice Ministry are two that come to mind. On a national level: Black Futures Lab, Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice.
Civil rights leader Ella Baker’s words from 1964 are as prescient now as then:
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”
For far too long, laws, policies and practices have taken freedom and equality from people of color. Through our collective action, we can make our country live up to the ideals of liberty and justice for all. We cannot rest until America becomes a place where men like Ahmaud are free to live up to their full potential.
Brandon Chapman is a native Charlestonian, College of Charleston graduate and former organizer for the Charleston Area Justice Ministry.