“Never again.” Never again will one group of people inflict mass death on another. Never again will we sink so low. The Holocaust was 75 years ago, and have we lived up to our promise? Have we learned from our collective mistakes?
The Holocaust was not an isolated event in human history. Genocide is a blemish on our legacy that has tarnished nearly every corner of the world. Not only has genocide happened since the Holocaust, it's happening right now. Right here in the United States.
The United Nations defines genocide as, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” With this definition in mind, I invite you all to think about the experience of being a person of color in the United States of America.
Is genocide too strong of a term? Am I overstating to make a point? In 2019 alone, police officers killed 1,099 people. 24% of those deaths were Black people, despite making up only 13% of the population. Compared to white people, Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police, and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. To top it all off, there is no accountability for these killings. 99% of all killings by police have not resulted in the officer being charged with a crime. If this does not qualify as serious bodily and mental harm, I don’t know what does— and it is being perpetrated by the state itself.
Police killings are particularly terrifying because they are, for the most part, considered legal. The police are authorized to use force when they deem necessary, and they use that force discriminately against people of color. This directly violates our constitutional guarantee to, “equal protection under the law to all.” The police are the ultimate manifestation of a state’s power over its people. The power to govern and control. The power to administer justice—or injustice. Black people live in fear of the police, of the state, because for Black people, being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean death.
Take Breonna Taylor, for example. Taylor was shot in the middle of the night by a police squad that entered the wrong home. She was killed with eight rounds of ammunition while sleeping in her bed. And who was arrested? Not the police officers. Taylor’s boyfriend had pulled out his licensed firearm to defend against the intruders in their home, and was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder of a police officer. While his girlfriend lay dead at their hands.
And it's not just the police. Our country’s support of the suppression of people of color through its own law enforcement has created an environment that allows white supremacists to thrive. If the name Ahmaud Arbery means nothing to you, then you must have been living under a rock for the last several weeks. Arbery was killed while out for a jog in broad daylight by two white men who felt authorized, by their rights under Georgia law, to slaughter him.
And they were right. They were right that their state would back them, implicitly, by doing nothing.
One glimmer of hope in this dark reality is the power of unified individuals to demand change. In cases like that of Admaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the power of civil society is impossible to ignore. Arbery was murdered on February 23rd. Taylor was murdered on March 13th. It took two months, but when word finally got out to the nation that their killers still walked free, the public outcry came from all corners. Arbery’s killers were finally arrested, though true justice remains to be served in both cases.
Police bias against people of color is not new, but the COVID-19 shutdown is. While people are being urged to stay home and minimize contact with others, enforcement of these policies is falling disproportionately on communities of color.
In New York City, police officers arrested 125 people in cases related to COVID-19 between March 16th and May 10th. Of those arrests, 116 were people of color. That is 93%. Moreover, 374 summonses were issued, “for allegations likely to spread disease and to violate emergency measures.” Of those who received the summonses, 193 were Black Americans. These arrests and summonses are in stark contrast to the experiences of white people in NYC, who have been photographed sunbathing in large numbers close together in the parks without any police intervention.
People of color in the United States of America are living under conditions of genocide. They are disproportionately targeted and killed by law enforcement and white supremacists alike, and their killers walk free under the law. They are incarcerated for petty crimes, used essentially as props to feed for-profit prisons, and their communities are torn apart by these losses. Children growing up in these communities do not have equal access to education, not to mention security and well-being. This is a deliberate, calculated plan of oppression designed to maintain a rigid racial hierarchy in which those in power stay powerful at the expense of others.
Atrocities like these take place under our very noses, and our complacency allows it to continue. We must all speak out against the flagrant inequality plaguing this country, especially the white people who benefit from it. The only hope for tearing down this hierarchy is to recognize the problem for what it is: genocide. We must call it by its name, and come together as a unified civil society to demand justice.