“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
These are trying times today in America. We are going through a global pandemic, the poor are still poor, the rich are getting richer and sadly, racism is still alive and well. It’s never actually gone anywhere. It’s just been more covert. You see, for years I've walked a fine line between caring about myself and caring about social issues. I felt empathy but never really thought that there was much I could do. I used to think that what some of these people were going through didn't affect me.
Growing up Black makes you kind of numb to certain things. You grow up experiencing injustices first hand. So much so, that it almost feels like it’s a normal part of your day. I've had police run in my pockets and harass me for just walking down the damn street! I’ve worked hard, bought expensive cars only to be treated like I stole them. I was pulled over 17 times in one month. Not for speeding, not for driving like an ass. It was just for being Black and driving a certain kind of car. I had a cop ask me how much dope I sold to afford the car I had. Needless to say, these experiences have shaped my mindset. There’s a lot of hurt in the Black community, and what you’re seeing out here is a reflection of that. The pain, the anger. We carry that with us every single day of our lives. Consciously and subconsciously it manifests itself in other parts of our lives and we don’t even realize it. Sometimes I feel like it’s embedded into our DNA.
As I've grown older and become more socially aware of what’s going on around me, I realized that this is not normal. Every time I saw or heard about something bad happening to a person of color, I would get these intense feelings that would eat me up inside. In 2010, when I heard the news of 7 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Police raided her home, fired a shot that struck her in the head, killing her. I asked myself how the police officer who did this has not been held responsible for her death? This little girl’s death was totally preventable. Police officers are a part of the biggest gang in America. They are supposed to protect and serve, but the only people being protected in these cases are them! As of today, her killer walks free. We are a society that constantly passes the buck when it comes to the systemic issues that Black people face! Where does that buck stop?
10 years have passed since Aiyana was murdered by police. Yet nothing’s changed. Breonna Taylor was killed by police in a similar fashion. They kicked the door in, did not announce themselves as police officers and allegedly were fired upon first by Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend. He was protecting his home like anyone would in that situation. He thought they were intruders. Police fired back and struck his girlfriend Breonna 8 times. She died from her wounds. It’s been 6 months since her killing and the only consequence that’s come from it is that one of the 3 officers involved were fired. That’s not enough!
As of July 29th, 2020, 558 civilians have been shot by police in this country this year. 111 of those victims have been Black. The majority of police-involved shootings happen to white people. On the surface that doesn’t seem like it’s a lot of Black people being affected. However the numbers grow disproportionately when you realize Black people have been 28% of those killed by police in 2020 despite being only 13% of the population. Since 2015, fatal shootings by police account for 31 per million for Black Americans and only 13 per million for White Americans. That is a big gap! It’s also covered by the media in vastly different ways. When a white person is killed by police or goes on some sort of rampage, they are often discussed in a positive, or at least neutral manner. When a black person is killed by police, the victim is often painted in a hugely negative light if not outright blamed for their own death.
Take the case of George Floyd. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George’s neck for over 8 minutes. As a result of this, George Floyd died. The first thing that was brought up by the media was his past. He had a criminal record, and the Minneapolis Police Union president Bob Kroll stated that George Floyd had a "violent criminal history" and used that as justification for the reasoning behind his murder. There was no admonishment of the officers actions on scene. He only cared that they were terminated for their role and he felt unjustly so.
Now take the case of 75 year old Martin Gugino. He was pushed down by police officers in Buffalo, NY. He suffered a fractured skull and was left bleeding from his ears for minutes on the ground. While there were questions about his past and some attempts to paint him as a violent person or Antifa leader, there were far more positive stories published about him and people rushing to his defense. He was not a “thug who got what was coming to him,” but just a White American who was assaulted by a police officer. This is often the case when things like this happen.
Black people have always in some shape or form been treated as second class citizens throughout this country's history. Our ancestors were brought here on boats and in chains and sold to the highest bidder. We weren't allowed to eat at the same tables, we couldn't drink from the same fountains, we couldn't go to the same schools, we couldn't get the same wages, we couldn't use the same bathrooms. We just weren't thought of as equals by most white people in this country. We have had enough! We are sick and tired of being sick and tired! The killing of George Floyd sparked a revolution all around the world. From New Zealand to Philadelphia, people have been out in the streets shouting his name and the names of countless others who died unjustly at the hands of police! People have been calling and pushing for real change!
This time around, things feel different. I used to ask myself does protesting really work? Does getting out in the streets and screaming a bunch of things accomplish anything? The answer is overwhelmingly yes! Since George Floyd’s murder, several things have changed. 62 of America’s 100 largest cities have enacted policies restricting the use of chokeholds. 67 cities now require fellow officers to intervene when another officer uses excessive force. Countless other reforms and bills have been brought up. There have been changes to workplace cultures, removal of confederate monuments, corporations have pledged millions to combat the effects of systemic racism. There’s more to be done but we are heading the right way.
It took people like the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Charles Steele, The Little Rock Nine, The Freedom Riders, Emmett Till, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, President Lyndon Johnson, Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael, JFK, RFK and countless other people and events to shape our very existence up to this point. There is still more work to be done. We have come a long way but clearly not long enough! We can’t stop pushing forward. We can’t accept the current state of this country.
The energy of these protests all around the world are fueled by a burning desire to get out and be heard and have real change happen! What really struck me was seeing how people of all ages and races have come together as one. It’s taught me what the true meaning of “United We Stand, Together We Fall”is all about. Obviously, it goes without saying that all lives do matter. But we need to shout loudly and proudlyl that BLACK LIVES MATTER because this country has never seemingly acknowledged it. So if we don’t, who will?
Bruce Loatman is a 37 year old father of two, born and raised in West Philadelphia. The experience of growing up black in a first class city and navigating the pitfalls of it have shaped his mind and his approach to everyday life. He’s been a commercial photographer for the past 7 years, shooting for a wealth of brands, big and small.
Just a few words to live by:
“Leave your world better than you found it”
The following photos were taken by Bruce Loatman during the first protest march in Philadelphia following George Floyd's murder.