This essay was written as a submission to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Racial Justice Essay Contest, facilitated by the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition. Students were asked to respond to the following prompt:
“A myth of Black inferiority and white supremacy was developed to justify slavery in the United States. Even though we ended chattel slavery, we did not end the myth of racial difference. EJI believes we need a new era of truth and justice that starts with confronting our history of racial injustice. Based on the theme or topic and historical event you selected, how does the history of racial injustice help to explain present-day injustice in our society? How can this history be overcome in order to change the challenges our nation is facing today?”
Contest winners were recognized in August. The Lawrence Times is publishing entries that some of the student writers chose to submit to us. This essay is by January Jackson, then a freshman at Lawrence High School, who won fifth place in the contest. See links to other entries at the bottom of this page.
Police brutality against people of color predates America’s own independence, yet to this day still poses a major problem for the American people. Too many were killed at the hands of police in 2020 alone, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. However, it cannot be forgotten that thousands of lives were threatened and even taken in the long years prior.
In order to move forward as a nation, one must first look back on the past cases of police brutality, then compare it to the present, and finally reflect on how to overcome what the U.S. is currently facing. Although the path to solving this centuries-old problem is long, there is a way the people can move forward, but everyone must be on the same page in order to do so.
First, one must look back on a case similar to the many unjust instances of 2020: the beating of Rodney King. On March 3, 1991, Rodney King and his friends were pursued by a mix of Highway Patrol and LAPD officers for speeding on a freeway in Los Angeles, California. He attempted to outrun the police, but was eventually cornered. While being ordered by policemen, King’s friends were assaulted. King, the last to exit the vehicle, was severely beaten for reportedly “resisting arrest,” although evidence would later prove him to be unarmed and witnesses testified that he did not appear to resist shortly before the beating.
The entirety of this inhumane act was caught on camera by George Holliday and sent to a local news station. The footage sparked outrage across the nation and the event is marked as “one of the most widely watched and discussed incidents of its kind.” By analyzing the information given to the public, it is clear that the myth of racial difference is involved in how King was treated, as he was handled in a manner that a white person in the same circumstance would most likely not have been handled in. However, this is not where this treatment of people of color ends in the U.S.
Next, one must compare how this case relates to recent cases, such as the beating of Christopher Bailey. On May 4, 2021, Bailey was allegedly stopped and dragged out of his car in Inglewood, California by two deputies, who then proceeded to beat him alongside four other deputies without warning. Bailey was left with injuries so severe he “required multiple surgeries to repair fractures to his face, including his eye sockets and nose.” According to the Los Angeles Times, someone can be heard on a video recording saying “he doesn’t even look human.”
There are many similarities between this case and Rodney King’s. Both were severely beaten by authorities, both assaults were reportedly unwarranted, both accounts took place in California, and both seemed to be fueled by the myth of Black inferiority in some way. With these traits in mind, it must be noted that although King’s case was approximately 30 years ago, instances like his still occur to this day, meaning the problem has not been solved. Everyone must cooperate with one another to solve this problem.
After these reflections, comparisons, and conclusions, one question remains: “How can this problem be solved?” The answer, unfortunately, is incredibly complicated. But, there are ways to progress toward a better future, even if the process is slow and will encounter many obstacles along the way.
One example of a way we can move forward includes dropping outdated ways of thinking and profiling in terms of policing entirely. Stereotypes deeply rooted in racism have heavily influenced and created problems within the justice system, such as the act of racial profiling. A good amount of police brutality cases against people of color are influenced by said stereotypes. To eliminate this issue, or at least heavily diminish how many instances of this problem occur every year, officers should be educated on how to set these stereotypes aside. They should be made aware of past cases influenced by this problem, such as Rodney King’s and Christopher Bailey’s, and should be educated on how to handle similar circumstances with these cases in mind.
To add to this, not only should police be educated on the topic, but students should be as well. From my experiences in history class, many of these stories have not been talked about because of how recent they are, but they should. This type of reform is crucial to the progression of the United States, as education is the repellant of ignorance and therefore hate, and it can be used to better this society in more ways than one.
In my own personal experiences, I have witnessed instances of people influenced by the myth of racial difference. Under posts of people I follow on social media having to do with their opinions on police brutality during the protests of 2020, I remember reading the comments and finding some people claiming that the victims “deserved it” or “refused to comply,” although that was not the case. The words of those anonymous accounts have stuck with me since then, as it forced me to realize that this uneducated mindset is instilled within the people around me as well as in the entirety of our society, and through that experience I concluded that there must be some sort of reform.
In conclusion, misinformation and racial profiling is the main ingredient for police brutality in America, and it must be eradicated. Throughout history, we have seen it take place, and time and time again it happens in this present day and age. Each case seems to be similar in at least a few aspects, and it will get worse if we do not act now. We cannot let history keep repeating itself, so we must educate ourselves on the topic and enforce ways to stop it.