by Jasmine Todd

These past few weeks have shown two sides to America. 

All the states have come together to protest injustice, which is truly a thing of beauty. But let’s not forget why it happened, the ugly things that have been done to black people across this country and to those protesting against it.

The examples of police brutality are disgusting.

I don’t care to tread lightly about this topic. The overall system in the United States was created to keep black people as slaves. It was not created to make us equal.

The way our laws are set up, things are manoeuvred to keep black people and people of colour down on the ranking system, not allowing them to succeed with the same resources a white person has. What we’re seeing now is the whole nation finally waking up to that injustice.

When I watch the videos of what happened to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery or read about what happened to Breonna Taylor, I cry.

I’m a black woman in America. I have a black brother, a black Dad, a black Mom. My kids will be black. I see these stories and think: This could happen to me, to my family, to my friends.

I’m not the only black person who’s crying. We all are. The reason is because we’re hurting.

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Every time we see one of these stories, we lose a little more faith in police.

I’ll give you an example. My cousin was injured in a hit-and-run and he wouldn’t call the police after it. His reason? “What are they going to do? They’ll probably arrest me. I’ll probably get in trouble for doing nothing.”

It’s hard to understand if you haven’t experienced what he has, but most black people have a story, times when we felt as if we’d done something wrong simply because of our race.

I don’t see why, if a police officer pulls up behind me, I should get nervous, but that’s what happens.

Am I going to get arrested? Calm down. Don’t act suspicious.

I’ve been pulled over three times in my life and I felt on edge every time. Once, I was driving home late at night when a police car started following me, driving right up behind my bumper. I sped up a little to try make some space and as soon as I did that, I got pulled over.

I told the officer straight away: “I need to get somewhere where there are people because I’ve seen too many black lives taken by police.”

He agreed to follow me to a local gas station and as I showed him my papers, I was shaking the whole time, feeling like I’d done something wrong.

In 2018, I was involved in bad car accident which caused an anxiety attack. When the cops arrived, they thought I was on drugs.

Would they have thought the same if I was white?

I grew up in San Diego, California in a mostly black and Hispanic area. At the age of 10, my family moved to Chandler, Arizona and I remember telling my parents I didn’t want to go to an all-white school. But I settled in well, made lots of friends.

One day, when I was 12, I went to the local CVS store to buy some fake nails. The whole time, I could feel I was being shadowed.  

At one point I put my wallet into my purse and when I got to the checkout, the first thing they said was: “We saw you stealing, we saw you put something in your purse.” I flipped over my purse and my red Hello Kitty wallet fell out. “Is this what you’re talking about?”

That was an eye-opener – dang, people really follow black people in a store when they’re not doing anything – but the same thing still happens today.

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One time I walked into a Gucci store with a group of professional athletes and we were followed around as if we were going to steal. The majority of the people I was with could buy anything in that store so we confronted the security: “I don’t know why you guys are following us.” We ended up leaving quickly because they made us feel so uncomfortable.

The injustice in America carries over into sports.

Being a black professional sportsperson, you can feel like an animal in a zoo – just there for entertainment. When we speak up, we’re sometimes told to get back in line.

Just look at Colin Kaepernick. In 2016 he started protesting police brutality in a peaceful manner before NFL games. The first time he did it, he sat for the national anthem. That brought huge criticism so he spoke to a couple of military veterans about how to protest respectfully and they were the ones who told him to take a knee.

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But instead of taking the time to learn about his protest, so many just saw it as a black person disrespecting the flag, the anthem, the country.

Kaepernick had enough respect for veterans to do what they wanted, yet all these non-military people put so much blame on his shoulders.

The same thing has happened in track and field, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith being shunned after their Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics to the trouble Gwen Berry got in for her protest at last year’s Pan American Games.

It's not right. 

The excuse they make to stop these protests is that it takes away from other people’s shine on the podium, but I don’t see how raising your fist or taking a knee does that. You’re not pushing someone off the podium, you’re not waving a different flag; it’s something simple, peaceful, respectful.

When we speak out, we’re told we’re just athletes, that we shouldn’t have a view on politics. But we can only be athletes for so long. We’re human beings and we have the right to express those feelings.

Why not express them on our biggest platform?

For every athlete, representing your country should be the pinnacle. I made the World Championship teams in 2015 and 2019 and both of those were so special, but they also created a conflict. I get so excited to represent Team USA but then afterwards, I come back to a country where I have to ask: Am I going to lose a black friend today?

It’s why I’ve been joining the protests over the past few weeks. I went to one in La Mesa, California and it was eye-opening to see how the police behaved. They didn’t even take the time to talk to the community and it resulted in them spraying gas into the crowd and shooting rubber bullets without warning.

Last weekend I went to a more peaceful one: a walk around the streets and then standing and listening to some speeches. Like many others, I’m trying to learn how to make a real difference.

In America, the biggest thing any of us can do is vote, to elect people who see us all as equal.

But we should also take the time to learn the history of the black community. A lack of awareness is a reason many don’t understand: we’re taught about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. but beyond that, there’s very little education about black history.

For me, watching documentaries that address racial injustice like LA 92 or 13th has been eye-opening; movies like Get on the Bus or When They See Us; TV shows like Freedom Riders or Time: The Kalief Browder Story.

But the biggest thing any of us can do is to learn how to love, to treat people how you want to be treated, regardless of skin colour.

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As bad as the last few weeks have been, I truly believe something great will come out of this.

I’ve talked to multiple black people and we’ve all had that feeling that this seems very different, that when all 50 states can stage a protest for something on the same day, it’s truly opening people’s eyes.

Change is coming, but we can’t become content.

If justice is achieved for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, I hope we don’t back down.

We have to keep fighting, we have to keep moving. This will be a long process so we need to buckle ourselves in for the ride, and see this race through to its end.