Be Radical — But Not Hateful


Emily Han

Protesters in Los Altos march on June 5 to show support for the intensifying demand to end systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. June 5 would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, an innocent black woman shot and killed by police in her home. Staff photo: Emily Han.

Emily Han, Online Editor

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Say their names, and say the names of the untold other black victims of police violence.

Remember them for their lives and for their humanity as much as you remember them for their deaths, for the injustices their fates have exposed.

In recent weeks, our country has transformed into an inferno, where empathy and rage fuse, where emotions like wild fury seem to become inseparable from poignant introspection. Protesters’ proclamations of “Justice for George,” “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace” have echoed throughout the news, on social media and in our society’s collective consciousness.

The cries across our nation, and now the globe, condemning police brutality are well-founded and vital. Enforcing more humane law enforcement practices is immensely necessary. Even during the recent protests aimed toward reducing police violence, many law enforcement officers still end up using forceful and illegal methods to quell demonstrators.

Despite this nationwide distress surrounding police misconduct, however, I am yet more disturbed by the reality that our targeted cries against police brutality are simply a manifestation of a much greater sense of hurt — the hurt that results from every microaggression, from every display of ignorance, from every destructive instance of white privilege, from every subconscious bias we each harbor and from every racially prejudiced American institution.

Terminating police brutality, while crucial, is only a small fraction of the many corrections that our society urgently needs. In my view, the countless tragic deaths of black Americans at the hands of white police officers have acted as a catalyst for the inevitable conflict toward which our nation has always been moving — a conflict that was birthed centuries ago and one that has exploded many times throughout our history. Yet, hopefully the present moment will be the last time that such explosions are necessary.

I must acknowledge now that I cannot (and will not) expound on how much racial equality means to me and how much it should mean to others. I am incapable of grasping the enormity of the struggles that black Americans face each day, and consequently, I am in no place to claim that I have a perfectly developed solution to the racial issues that afflict our country and our world.

Instead, I humbly offer a personal perspective on the violent storm of bitterness we witness now. I have spent hours debating with family, refining my views, reading and free-writing, yet I recognize that there is no way I can expect anybody to agree with my privileged viewpoint because I will never experience firsthand the hurt that this piece concerns. There is no way I can speak for anyone but myself.

Still, I am uncomfortable with the notion of always silently nodding my head because I genuinely believe that untangling ourselves from this monumental distress will take much more effort than only rectifying police brutality. Thus, while I have absolutely no intention of detracting in any way from the movement against police violence, I hope this slightly broader angle may offer a small fragment of insight for what we might expect in the long term, or simply a modified outlook: the root of our troubles is not police brutality, but the systemic perpetuation of hatefulness in American society.

The police are — understandably — a convenient scapegoat for Americans’ frustration with racial injustices. (I use the term “scapegoat” not to suggest that the police are innocent but because I believe they bear the blame for many societal flaws that they do not directly generate.) Police violence is one of the most visible and enraging forms of discrimination, and its association with the government provides one powerful and unified group to denounce. I do not, at all, condone racism among members of the police; merciless and unethical police behavior must end. At the same time, however, stances like that of the acronym “ACAB” (“All Cops Are B*****ds”) will not be beneficial to the objective of eliminating racial inequality. To perceive the phrase’s implication — what it so boldly and defiantly encapsulates — is far more necessary than honoring its belligerent nature. Despite ACAB’s harsh and generalizing accusation of the entire police force, there is an utmost need for a fundamental restructuring of the cultural complicity that permeates law enforcement agencies.

Nonetheless, “radical” need not entail “antagonistic.” We must remove America’s institutionalized racism and its ever-widening polarization, which both have enkindled the devastating anger so conspicuous today.

It is inherently counterintuitive that many civilians react defensively every time they spot a police car — the vehicle of an establishment meant to preserve our civil liberties — on the road; we presume that law enforcement’s goal is to punish us for some tiny, unwitting violation of the rules. For black Americans, this fear is critically amplified. I cannot dispute these reactions, which are a direct and reasonable product of police misconduct, but they raise a pressing question. Why must there be so vast a schism between the people and those who are supposed to protect them? The answer certainly lies within the discriminatory nature and practices of law enforcement agencies. At the same time, I believe that it also lies within society’s failure to embrace others: the police too often view citizens as their opponents, and as a result, citizens regard the police in a likewise manner.

The exact fault for our societal antagonism may lie anywhere along the gradient between these two conflicting sides (undoubtedly closer, as evidenced by recent events, to the police’s end), but I anticipate that attempts to pinpoint precisely where the blame should stand will only further divide our country and augment our problems. Americans, I have discovered, are destructively prone to possessing an “us versus them” mentality. There must always be an explicit subject to blame for our woes.

For example, the impoverished usually regard the wealthy as snobbish, avaricious and responsible for America’s formidable wealth gap. Correspondingly, the wealthy generally consider the impoverished to be shiftless and burdensome to an otherwise hard-working society. Moreover, women sometimes view men as selfish and unfairly advantaged, and men often complain that the demands of feminism are an unproductive overreaction to the lack of gender equality in America.

Likewise, Democrats have been vehemently objecting to every executive action since Republican Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, criticizing Trump and the Republicans as the source of all our nation’s shortcomings. When Barack Obama was the president, Republicans reacted similarly. Historically, each party has routinely refused to work with the other to constructively improve matters in our country, preferring to force their own agendas as far as they possibly can until the other party successfully hampers their efforts.

And although political partisanship and racism are vastly unequal in their gravity and consequences, they share this dissonant characteristic. Many white people instinctively associate the words “African American man” with “threatening” and “dangerous,” possessing a reflexive and wrongful sense of fear based on only skin color. (See this video of the upsetting encounter between Amy Cooper, a white woman, and Christian Cooper, a black man unrelated to her.) Meanwhile, black people might see white people as privileged, ignorant and hostile, and many aspects of this description are certainly accurate. But someday, I hope, America will arrive at a position in which these divisive labels and contentious attitudes no longer persist.

We must recognize that our compounded institutions, not any specific group of people, are the most unfair of all the forces that influence our society. It’s the ingrained prejudices — the systemic and cultural resentment toward anyone unlike ourselves — that we must ultimately tackle.

Recent police brutality has made more blatant the deep-rooted challenges we face as a nation, but fixing it alone is not sufficient to resolve these challenges. In addition to implementing more accountable policing conduct, we must also establish more equal educational opportunities for black children. We must repair our broken criminal justice system, which disproportionately incarcerates African American people. We must reduce the wealth divide, which also perpetuates systemic racial inequality. We must address every American institution that disadvantages and disempowers black people, but we must approach reform with a unified stance by heeding and reconciling each distinct voice that partakes in the movement toward justice.

We must protest in ways that will earn respect and earnestness for our causes. I will not challenge any channel through which black Americans wish to express their long-existing frustration and powerlessness, including rioting. Yet, I hesitate to support violent protests — not because I think that they are an overreaction or that they are unreasonable (I don’t), but because I think they promote hostility. I cannot help but notice that violence — regardless of who started it or what their intentions were — only sustains the cycle of antagonism. It signals to political leaders, to police officers and to the rest of society that our movement is one against them, rather than one willing to pursue a truly sustainable solution, a solution not just in law… but in culture.

We must generate awareness of each person’s internalized biases — a result of our country’s unjust institutions — and we must clarify our own distorted perceptions of the diverse world around us. We must commit to solidarity and togetherness throughout this national and global journey toward righteousness, a journey that will be demanding and probably contentious beyond anticipation. It heartens me now to see so many Americans — black and white and of every other race and, in many cases, both protesters and police — uniting to seek and achieve racial justice. Only together will we be able to transcend America’s profoundly troubled circumstances, and only together will we build a society in sincere harmony.