Op-Ed: America is a dystopia

Sunday, June 14, 2020 - 3:11pm

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The killing of George Floyd has sparked protests throughout the United States. For those of us who are not Black, it is easy to perceive Floyd’s death as an anomaly. I’ve heard the sentiment “just a few bad apples” used to describe police officers. Is that what we are supposed to accept? That a portion of our government employees, who are responsible for law enforcement, sometimes kill members of a certain minority population? How is it that the richest country in the world allows incompetence and racism to thrive in its police forces?

According to the National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, we should disregard this failure because not all cops are bad. It’s easy to be indifferent about this when your life isn’t the one in danger. From 2013 to 2018, the seventh-highest cause of death for Black men 25-29 years old and boys was police use of force. Black Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans. Based on these statistics, it seems like we are living in a dystopian world. But the truth is America has always been a dystopia.

The Puritan idea of the “city on a hill” that has been baked into America’s superiority complex has always been a myth for those who weren’t in the right groups. Slavery was abolished in 1865. White women didn’t gain suffrage until 1920. Segregation in schools was outlawed in 1954, though still not regularly enforced. Black men and women didn’t have voting rights protected until the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Immigration quotas didn’t end until the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, a law that allowed my mom and her family to come here in the 1970s from India. State bans on gay marriage were struck down in 2015. 

Some white Americans seem to think President Donald Trump is the root of all issues in the United States. Did racism not exist in America under President Barack Obama when Eric Garner was killed by a white police officer in 2014? Did you forget that slavery was one of the first institutions of this country? Trump and his inept administration have exacerbated problems — however, it’s important to remember these problems existed before Trump was elected and will persist after he leaves office unless we enact bold change. Broad, meaningless and inaccurate phrases like “things are better today than in the past” cover up the inequities that currently exist and allow the moderate to sleep comfortably at night.

We should be investing in our communities with housing programs, job training and education. In Ann Arbor, the police department spent over $28 million in 2019. Community development was given just over $4.5 million. In nearby Ypsilanti, a police officer was recently caught on camera punching a Black woman in the head several times. There should be a national database of decertified police officers so individuals with racist and/or violent incidents in their past can no longer continue to be cops. We must reevaluate our priorities as a nation — police departments are battling protesters with armored vehicles originally meant for war. For every video of police interacting positively with their community, there is a video of unprovoked violence by law enforcement. What kind of message does that send to the citizens the police are supposed to be serving?

Meaningful change isn’t going to come just from voting Trump out of office. It requires a national reckoning from those in positions of power and privilege. Listen to the people who are protesting. America is on a path to nowhere, leaving behind the most vulnerable populations and subsidizing oppressors in our system. This should be a wake-up call to our leadership: If we don’t drastically change our priorities, America will never stop burning. 

Avi Rajendra-Nicolucci is a junior in the College of Engineering and can be reached at avirn@umich.edu.