Alton Sterling was shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by a police officer while being pinned to the ground by another officer. While all of this is true, that’s not what really killed Mr. Alton Sterling. This isn’t just a matter of over-the-top police brutality or the overuse of firearms in our country (though both are serious problems). What killed him was the racism that has been plaguing our nation for centuries—blatant racism. And there’s no more time to beat around the bush; we can’t pretend like this is an unaddressable issue.
Institutional racism is a pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. In the case of Alton Sterling, it’s the social institution of law enforcement giving negative treatment to the black community. But this isn’t the only form in the US. Institutional racism fills nearly every crevice of the daily American life. Many are too naive to see it at every street corner, so they deny it still exists in our nation.
But I witness it every day. When I walk down the hallways of my predominantly white school and hear my friends use the n word, I witness it. When someone automatically labels a black man walking on the sidewalk a “thug”, I witness it. When qualified black men and women are denied jobs for no explainable reasons, I witness it. When innocent civilians like Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and Alton Sterling are slain, we all witness it.
If you watched the horrific video of Alton Sterling being shot to death, you know that the officer unholstering his gun and pulling the trigger was an extremely unnecessary decision. Alton was already pinned to the ground by the other officer and was seemingly unable to get up. The only thing the other officer needed to do was take out his handcuffs and place them on Alton’s wrists. But no — instead, the officer proceeded to take extreme measures all because of his internalized racism. Because he thinks, deep down, that Alton Sterling is lesser than he is.
Black lives have been lost; families have been torn apart; mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters have been murdered; all because white people such as myself are too proud to acknowledge that we are racist. We are racist.
Racism is killing our American brothers and sisters, and until more and more people of power and privilege recognize that this is the issue, we’re not going to make any progress.