Youth speak: the fear factor

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Last week, a group of young people held a press conference to express their frustrations with the present conditions in Minneapolis and the fact that their voices were not heard. The MSR, in an effort to support our youth, has reprinted an essay below.

My name is Umeran Hailu and I am 17 years old. I have lived in South Minneapolis for all of my life. As a child, I was always provided with the luxury of being and feeling safe. Even though South Minneapolis wasn’t considered the most utopian place, I felt comfortable knowing that my community was united. In the past year, I can genuinely say that I have had that luxury taken away from me.

On May 25th, 2020, my world was turned upside down, along with many others across the nation. The death of George Floyd wasn’t only unbelievably tragic, but also eye-opening to see where our community, city, state, and the country were at in terms of undoing institutionalized racism.

Our world broke out into protests and riots, as a response in hopes to make people in positions of power understand the depths of our flawed systems. The efforts of these acts seemed to be working. The officers involved got arrested, charged, and later put on trial (well at least one of them). People were hopeful that the system might be changing, for the better.

At least until April 11, 2021, when Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer. It felt as though we took one step forward and five steps back. I thought to myself, why are we not learning from our past? Why do we keep making the same “mistakes”? And that’s when I realized, fear. Fear is the reason for this cycle of police brutality. Fear is the thing controlling or jaded systems. When I look at a police officer all I can see is the gun they carry on their side, not the human being underneath their uniform. Just the GUN! I know this might sound crazy, but through history, we’ve been taught and shown how our simple movements turn fatal in a matter of moments:

  • Going to get some candy from the gas station turned fatal for Trayvon Martin.
  • Playing in his local park turned fatal for Tamir Rice.
  • Standing in his grandmother’s backyard turned fatal for Stephon Clark.
  • Even just being asleep at home turned fatal for Breonna Taylor.

Now, how could I stand in front of someone who could easily take my life, simply because of the color of my skin without being afraid? Afraid that I’ll be the next name everyone will be chanting. It’s the cycle. We are afraid of being the next victim, and they’re afraid of the power our skin holds. That’s why we propose these demands to try and heal our:

We demand that patrol officers shouldn’t be able to carry guns when on duty in the melanated communities of the Twin Cities.

We demand the establishment of a better and healthier relationship between officers and citizens, especially with people of color.

We demand police officers to serve in the community they live in to gain a better understanding and clearer perspective of the people they are serving.

We shouldn’t be stuck living in fear anymore. A change needs to happen, and I believe that change starts with us.