This past week, the most basic American ideals -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- were stolen from George Floyd. Too often, our criminal justice system unfairly targets the very people it was created to protect. How can we champion the American dream if we fail to correct a system ridden with flaws that costs Americans their lives? I want justice for George Floyd.
My grandparents traveled from Mexico to the United States to seek a better life for themselves and for their children, and I have been blessed to have such a loving family that has given me the privilege to pursue my biggest dreams. Growing up they did not fail to prepare me for real life. Although America is a beautiful country that has provided for their opportunity to prosperity, there are still the few that may try to bring you down.
I did not understand what my parents meant at first. “Be respectful, don’t argue, and always listen to what the police officer says,” is what my mother told me. I always thought, “Well that shouldn’t be too hard. I’m not going to be breaking any laws anyway, so they’re not even going to pull me over.” I had no reason to fear police officers because I had never been wronged by them. Those that cried wolf at the unfairness of police brutality “should have just done what the cop said.” This was my response when I was younger and naïve. Because I did not see it or experience it, it did not exist for me. I was wrong.
I would always brush off racial profiling by police officers as, “You don’t know what was going through the cop’s head...they smelled drugs...he ran away...there was reasonable suspicion.” One night I was driving to get some Whataburger with my friends. We stopped at a red light in the turning lane. A police car stopped across from us at the light. We turned to go, and the police officer followed and pulled us over. I was not worried, but my friends were scared even though we had not done anything wrong. The officer walked up to the car and told us that our tail light was out. He asked for my license and registration and for the licenses of my friends as well. After a long wait of him checking our information in his car, we were relieved to hear him say that we were free to go. We made it to Whataburger, and I got out to check my tail lights. To my surprise, both were on and fully working. So why was I pulled over? My friends said, “It’s because we’re black, and you’re Mexican. They’re racist.”
While my small experience with racial profiling was nothing compared to what has happened to other Americans, I learned a few key things that day - (1) you can be an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, but still be treated differently by the color of your skin, and (2) there are children that grow up fearing the people that are supposed to be working to protect them. It is incredibly important to learn from those around you, especially your friends that have experienced prejudice and discrimination based on the color of their skin.
An event of the magnitude which took place in Minneapolis can only occur as a result of repeated systemic failure. That failure was in the inaction of several law enforcement officials to identify the problematic behavior of Derek Chauvin. Though he has now been charged with the third-degree murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, he had 18 previous official complaints filed against him within the Minneapolis Police Department. How many officials could have intervened to prevent Chauvin from being there on top of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020? And even on that day itself, how could the other police officers on the scene not step in to save Floyd’s life? I want to be clear that there are many police officers and other law enforcement officials that are working hard to do good in their community. But we must also make sure that the system created to protect all Americans identifies and punishes those unjust officers that perpetuate inequality in the system.
I am not going to pretend that my words alone will change anything, but I would still urge my friends to not be quiet, so that lawmakers can hear the many voices demanding change. Republicans must stand together to support criminal justice reform because that is what is right. There is no simple solution to stop all the injustices in our system, but that does not mean we should stand idly by while we watch Americans die. I’m a Republican, and I denounce police brutality. That is not hard to say, but unfortunately, I do not hear it enough. I have even fallen guilty of being quiet myself. But one can fully support the good work that police officers do in protecting their communities while also urgently demanding that we eradicate racism and inequality where it exists in that system. The two are not mutually exclusive.
The story of George Floyd is not unique. For him and many Americans, there have been unbelievable failures at all levels of the system. George Floyd’s story is the story of many others that have been treated unjustly by law enforcement. Republicans must raise the voices of those crying out for help. All of us must be warriors fighting for equal protection under the law.