By Samuel Licón Kligman
As a child, I was always fascinated by my father’s stories about his upbringing in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s. The stories that always grabbed my attention were the ones in which my father would recount seeing stores, water fountains, and restaurants with signs that read “Whites Only.”
This blatant racism always astounded me for it just seemed so immoral and plainly wrong. But, like millions of American youth across this country, I was fed the Kool-Aid and believed that racism in the United States ended with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I was wrong, and that is why I decided to protest.
As a member of the Latino community in a city that is over 80% Latino, I have never had to deal with discrimination on the basis of race in my life. Plainly, I believed that racism was a thing of the past because I never experienced it. But as I grew older, I began to see things differently and I realized that I was privileged because I never had to worry about being rejected from a job, labeled as an “affirmative action kid,” or murdered by a police officer just because of the color of my skin.
However, I struggled to find my voice in the Black Lives Matter movement until I saw the murder, and the reactions to such murder, of George Floyd.
When I watched the video of George Floyd’s asphyxiation, I felt like a little child again because it was so blatantly evil what Officer Derek Chauvin did. But what made me even more enraged was the fact that three officers cowardly watched Floyd slowly die without doing anything. While the violence itself is a disgrace to the human condition, the indifference these officers exhibited was far worse for it allowed the hate crime to occur.
However, this indifference toward the matter of race is not just exhibited by those officers but is found all too often among the youth of this nation who mistakenly think racism is cured.
One of my best friends messaged me the night the protests started and asked, “Isn’t it horrible how these people are attacking the police?”. When I read this, I was infuriated. I was infuriated because a person who had never experienced racism in their life was criticizing people who are systematically oppressed for attacking their oppressors.
While I do not support violence, I cannot understand, nor do I pretend to understand, the daily subjugation Blacks in this country feel. And when another friend I was conversing with refused to say that Black lives matter, I knew I had to do something. That’s when I decided to organize the El Paso March for Criminal Justice Reform on June 12.
When organizing the rally, I intentionally made the platform behind the rally broad because as a person of privilege it is not my place to say what exact reforms are needed for the Black community.
The purpose of my rally was to engage the youth of El Paso in the fight to end police brutality and end racial subjugation. Furthermore, I wanted to use the platform of the rally to enact concrete change. Thus, I had a voter registration booth at the rally. I firmly believe that this change is achieved when concerned citizens, especially youth who feel disenfranchised by a system they see as broken, vote for candidates that will fight for progress, and in this case, progress towards ending racial subjugation in the United States.
That is why I also had elected officials and political candidates come to my rally so that not only could they use that platform to encourage people to continue in this fight to end police brutality, but also so that these disenfranchised youth could ask these officials what they have done to fix a broken system.
During the rally, when I marched with approximately 70 fellow El Pasoans to the El Paso police headquarters, I was encouraged by the young passionate faces yearning for universal equality. And while that may have encouraged me, what hurt me the most was the dehumanization I saw on the stern faces and unmoved bodies of the police officers protecting the headquarters when we invited them to take a knee with us in honor of the victims of police brutality.
This is not a game. There are no sidelines. In this country, we are not seeing the reappearance of systemic racism, we are seeing it being amplified. Thus, if you truly believe in morality and in Dr. King’s dream, then you must do everything you can to fight for what is right.
Fight because Black Lives Matter. Period.
Samuel Licón Kligman is a junior at Coronado High School.
Cover photo: About 70 people participated in a student-led protest June 12 in support of Black Lives Matter that marched from Memorial Park to El Paso police headquarters. (Photo by Mark Lambie)