May 25th, 2020 was anything but a typical Memorial Day in America. While most Americans enjoyed limited freedoms from COVID-19 restrictions, spending time outside with friends and family, and honoring the men and women who have given their lives for the freedoms we experience in America, a Black man named George Floyd was carelessly murdered when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The officer’s actions ended Floyd’s life, and with video documenting the incursion posted to social media, a visceral reaction of outrage and demands for justice ran through the country, spurring passionate protests across all fifty states. George Floyd’s death serves to further highlight the issues concerning police brutality in the U.S., especially when considering Black Americans. Other tragedies such as Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice serve as just more examples of the inequities Black Americans face when their lives are ended through police violence and/or the justice system fails to find fault with those who ended these individuals lives. Thousands of Black Americans are disproportionately affected by police violence, illustrated by centuries of systemic racism in the United States. After George Floyd’s death calls to action flooded social media platforms, condemning racism under the Black Lives Matter movement.
UNC Charlotte was not excluded in the national outrage, and as a campus, UNC Charlotte orchestrated a Black Lives Matter march on Saturday, June 6th, 2020. This student-led protest was extremely well organized and entirely peaceful, radiating positivity for our future. A sense of community emerged from mutual fury over the state of our democracy, with student activists encouraging positive change and justice for the deceased. My first human rights protest was something I will remember and carry with me forever. I vividly remember looking around me, soaking in the hundreds of students marching together, and suddenly becoming overwhelmed with emotion. Participating in the Black Lives Matter movement feels bigger than myself, and it simply feels right. Peaceful protesting is a unique experience that drives real change and packs a large punch on a national scale.
Prior to the protest, I felt nervous to attend for multiple reasons. Horrifying videos of police using tear gas and pepper bombs on protestors frightened me. While I knew the odds were low of any violence incurring, I couldn’t shake a feeling of nervousness. That’s when it hit me: If I feel nervous attending a peaceful protest on my college campus, how do Black Americans feel about the unprovoked harassment and/or threat of physical harm when participating in everyday activities? I’ve always attempted to recognize my privilege as a white woman, but this realization hit me differently. My glimmer of anxiety on one Saturday is no match for the fear that countless Black Americans feel with every police encounter. This massive gap in privilege spans all aspects of life, however. White Americans are unmistakably favored in economic mobility, healthcare, food access, affordable housing, and more. Racism is a disease deeply embedded in our society, and George Floyd’s death is the catalyst in a much larger fight for equal rights and opportunity.
UNC Charlotte’s peaceful demonstration on June 6th was a beautiful show of diversity, activism, and a craving for change. As the months creep closer to November, we cannot allow the heat of summer and social justice to fade. Genuine, optimistic individuals from wildly different backgrounds gathered together in the name of reforming corrupted bureaucratic systems and ancient injustices, and we must carry our voices to the voting booth for our actions to have a true impact.