Raequan Johnson is upset. And so are most of his young friends, he says.
The death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis is the most recent reminder Johnson says of the change needed in the United States.
Floyd was held to the ground with a policeman’s knee on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“I’m disappointed at how long it’s taking us to abolish racial profiling and discrimination,” the 19-year old says. “Racial profiling needs to stop.”
Racial profiling occurs when a police or other law enforcement officer assumes or suspects something about a person because of their race or ethnicity. Statistics vary by jurisdiction, but some show that people of color are arrested from three to 10 times the rate of white Americans in various U.S. cities.
“This has been going on for generations, and we are tired of it. How many more lives have to be taken due to this?” Johnson asks.
After the video of Floyd’s street arrest circulated, millions of people — first, mostly people of color, then joined by whites and other ethnicities — turned out in street protests around the world against racism and the use of excessive force by police and law enforcement.
Young Americans have been front and center on those lines.
“The best way for us to go about all of this is to stand together in a way that helps the movement overall,” says D’Andre Leid, 18, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in suburban Washington.
Social media was a flurry of young activists like 21-year-old Aliya Cruise, who is posting ways to raise awareness about police brutality and discrimination in the U.S.
“I am avid on social media. … I sign petitions, as well as donate to causes whenever I can,” says Cruise in an email. “I do the homework, too, and try to stay informed on as many topics as possible.”
“Now that I am of age, I try to vote for officials I see as best for the job and will see the bigger picture, including #BLM,” referencing the anti-racism movement, Black Lives Matter.
As a child, Cruise says, her family discussed race, ethnicity and identity regularly. Her mother is Afro-Latina racially and Puerto Rican ethnically. Her father is black and Irish.
“I was raised in an environment that did not hate ... I learned about racism, sexism and homophobia, and the implications from a very young age. I didn't like these concepts at all,” Cruise notes. “I know what it's like to be judged, simply based on outward appearances and nothing about my intellect or what's in my heart.”
In addition to mobilizing other young people on social media, Cruise is active in Stetson University’s Black Student Association and has served on the university’s Multicultural Student Council, the Caribbean Student Association, and the Woke Independent Student Empowerment program, among others.
“We will still experience these problems if nothing changes. That's why the conversation and the fight must continue, and everyone is responsible to engage in that conversation …,” she says. “Why shouldn't I do my part?”
In-depth statistics that detail deaths in police custody are difficult to obtain. A black man in the U.S. has an estimated 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police during his lifetime, according to a paper published in August 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s 2.5 times higher than what a non-Hispanic white man experiences, the authors states.
Black women, the paper stated, are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police. Men overall are 20 times more likely than women to be killed by police.
“Across the nation, law enforcement and the communities they serve continue to come together in mutual respect,” the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington posted on its Facebook page.
“Personally, I feel like it takes every person doing their part,” says Leid. “So, targeting your skills or your focus towards change whatever way that may be is how you do it.”
As for Cruise, her message to her peers is clear.
“I hope our youth realizes that this is not a trend,” Cruise says. “This is a lifelong struggle people have to deal with, and this is not the beginning, nor is it the end of that struggle.”