If Black Lives Really Matter, the Justice System Must Change

Major police reform is necessary in ending police brutality and racism aimed at Black people


Kayla Reyes

A poster with names of Black people killed by the police and a Black power fist, captioned “say their names.” Signs such as this have been used at protests to express dissatisfaction with police brutality and systemic racism in the justice system.

In the middle of the night on March 13, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, lay in her bed. As she slept, three plainclothes police officers carried out a no-knock search warrant, barging into Taylor’s home as part of a drug investigation. Believing the officers were intruders, Taylor’s boyfriend fired shots at the men. The officers then released over 20 rounds, hitting Taylor eight times and killing her on impact. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend were connected to the suspected drug dealer involved in the investigation. 

Breonna Taylor was not a criminal, she was an innocent woman who was murdered in her home simply for existing.

People of color have long been disproportionately affected by drug raids and other run-ins with law enforcement, in part due to over-policing of primarily Black neighborhoods and plain and simple racial profiling. Black people are also disproportionately affected by police brutality and make up more than their fair share of deaths at the hands of police.

In the year 2020, how is such obvious and blatant racism (from law enforcement officials, no less) still so widely accepted? In a country supposedly built on the freedom and equality of all of its people, how has the justice system failed our Black citizens so many times without repercussions?

Perhaps because, until recently, this country has done nothing to discipline its racist, power-hungry, trigger-happy cops. Racism is so deeply and systemically ingrained into the justice system that it has become commonplace, so many Americans have accepted it without question, without a second thought.

But now, that is going to change. For many, George Floyd’s death exposed the corrupt and blatantly racist nature of the justice system. His death set in motion a second Civil Rights Movement, a movement unlike any seen in recent years. Yet these protests have exposed even more senseless violence by police. By firing rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds of completely peaceful protesters, police officers have shown that even if they are not racist, even if they are disgusted at the acts of violence their fellow officers commit, they are complacent with the state of the justice system. Though they may have become officers to protect people, they have turned into cowards — cowards who take orders without questioning whether they are right or wrong. They protect not the innocent citizens of this country, but the corrupt and bastardized system they serve. They turn a blind eye to the actions of their racist brethren, and allow a justice system rooted in systemic racism to continue marginalizing and targeting Black people.

I am fearful of law enforcement, the people who vowed to protect and serve the citizens of this country. However I am fearful not for myself, but for the Black people in my life. I have three Black cousins— each are sweet, loving girls, and I’m scared of the way they may be treated by the justice system, I’m scared of the way their father may be treated by the justice system. I am scared that these girls may find themselves in a dangerous situation but will have to question whether or not to call the police, whether or not the police would make the situation worse. I’m scared that they, like many Black Americans, will experience racism and harassment from law enforcement officials.

And I am disgusted. I am disgusted by the fact that I live in a country that claims all people are equal, yet relies on a law enforcement system that is a threat to people of color. I am disgusted that people claim to love and support everyone in this country, yet say “all lives matter” to discredit and silence Black people. I am disgusted that people care more about “blue lives” than Black lives when blue lives genuinely do not exist. While a cop can go home at the end of the day and take their uniform off, a Black person must face the racism that comes with their skin color from the day they are born to the day they die.

I am deeply disappointed in the state of this country — disappointed that police officers harass and attack peaceful protesters for exercising their constitutional right— no, their constitutional duty — to call out a government that threatens the safety of its people without cause. The murders of black people by police have often been without cause, yet protesters who exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and peaceful demonstrations are met with even more violence.

Though changing the justice system into one that serves and protects all people equally may seem impossible, it is quite doable with enough persistence. The simple reallocation of funds from police budgets (budgets that may be too big anyway) into other programs can have a major impact on the efficiency of law enforcement and can provide more versatile programs for those in need of help that police officers simply cannot provide.

For example, police officers aren’t always equipped to deal with people experiencing mental health issues, so police funds could be reallocated into creating groups of specialists trained to de escalate situations involving individuals with mental health issues and experienced with individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others due to their mental state. Many officers may not be trained to deal with suicidal individuals, and some have even stopped responding to calls dealing with suicidal individuals altogether. So instead of dealing with the danger and uncertainty of a police officer responding to people experiencing suicidal thoughts, sending trained experts to address the situation may be more effective.

Many officers lack expertise in domestic abuse and sexual assault as well, with a study showing that almost a quarter of victims who called the police in regards to an incident would not do so again. So instead of leaving victims with the choice of calling the police, who may make the situation more dangerous, or doing nothing, police funds could be reallocated into programs that will help victims safely resolve situations and find resources to remove themselves from unsafe circumstances.

Every name signed to a petition, every cent donated to organizations, every call and email to representatives, every single person at a protest has an incredible impact. Because it shows strength, it shows that these opinions are not few and far between, it shows that these ideas are not suggestions— they are demands.”

Additionally, more time and money should be spent on training officers to de escalate situations rather than resorting to force. While much of police training focuses on physical fitness, police officers must also be mentally fit in order to best protect people. Far too many officers act on instinct without thinking the situation through— and when an armed person lacks critical thinking and de-escalation skills, the results can be and have been deadly. Violence should never be an officer’s first choice, unless lives are truly in danger. Training officers to communicate with people and understand the reason they were called, teaching them to ask questions first and shoot later, will save lives— innocent lives. If officers use force only as a last resort, the justice system will be greatly improved.

Harsher penalties for officers who abuse their power or use excessive force should be in place, too. Police officers will continue to think their violence is okay if they are not punished. And if a punishment, a suspension perhaps, is it enough to keep an officer from abusing their power, they have no place in a profession meant to protect others.

These changes may seem major, perhaps too progressive to happen in a country that still has many outwardly racist and bigoted residents. But with enough dedication, enough passion, enough unity, change like this is possible. Any small action helps, even if it seems too minuscule to make a difference. Every name signed to a petition, every cent donated to organizations, every call and email to representatives, every single person at a protest has an incredible impact. Because it shows strength, it shows that these opinions are not few and far between, it shows that these ideas are not suggestions— they are demands. If we stand together and demand change, if we continue to donate and protest and make our voices heard, we cannot be silenced, we cannot be ignored.

There has seldom ever been major change without revolutionary methods, and this generation has shown they know how to lead one hell of a revolution.

Because of petitions  and protests, because people have demanded change, it has already begun. George Floyd’s murderer was charged, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to cut the NYPD budget by 20 percent, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced $100-150 million would be directed from the LAPD budget into other programs. 

Because people are speaking out on the injustices Black people face at the hands of law enforcement, this country is changing. And it will continue to do so. People will continue to fight until no person of color is wrongly killed by the justice department ever again. People will continue to fight until the murderers of black people face consequences for the heinous acts of hatred they committed. People will continue to fight until the police system is rebuilt into one that serves all of its citizens equally, and murders none. People will continue to fight until each and every person in this country is truly equal, until this country starts protecting its citizens of color instead of killing them.

So keep protesting, keep donating, keep signing petitions, keep calling representatives, keep speaking out until the killing of an unarmed black man or woman is not so commonplace. Keep fighting with every iota of outrage, grief and love in your heart until we are all safe, until we are all equal, until we are all free.

To sign petitions, click here or here.

To find organizations to donate to, click here.

To find tips on protesting safely, click here.

For information on contacting your representatives, click here