Right now is not a good time to be in the U.S.

We are watching how agents of the state kill unarmed African American men and get away with it time and again. It is too easy to argue that this is about “racist” individual white police officers and “thuggish” individual black men. However, this is a much larger, structural issue. The ways our entire criminal justice system across this country is structured denies blacks their natural-born right to life. There is no justice when this happens time and again. As a result, it should not surprise us that there is no domestic tranquility.

Some people are upset by the riots that have happened as a result of the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many others by police officers. “What is the point of it?” many ask. Many asked similar questions during the Civil Rights Movement. For example, right before he died, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not as revered as he is now in death. He and the many who organized for civil rights did not wait for some unspecified future when blacks would be treated better through natural events. He upset many people by arguing that blacks should be treated with dignity as human beings TODAY. We like to quote his “I Have a Dream Speech” and ignore how he was derided for linking the causes of African Americans with those of workers’ rights. As many people have pointed out, his peaceful protests in a suit did not protect him from being shot and killed. His case shows how doing “everything right” is no guarantee of justice or safety.

We also like to selectively forget the movements of the 60s and 70s. We often paint those engaged in collective action in those days as crazy radicals, perhaps wearing all black and carried guns unnecessarily. Yet, we face the same issues they did today in which agents of the State, who are supposed to PROTECT Americans are the very ones harming and killing Americans. This was also the reason behind riots in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Camden, where I work. Yet now, many decades later, we are witnessing the very same issue coming to the forefront of America’s consciousness.

The race riots of the late sixties sparked public policy to address injustice in the U.S. As just one example, affirmative action policies, from which our own President benefitted, helped forge a larger black middle class. Many of the achievements of African Americans have been eroded by growing income inequality for everybody, the unraveling policies addressing racial inequality since the Reagan era, and increasing rates of incarceration (despite decreasing crime rates. While Americans across color have experienced decreased opportunities, it has been even more so for ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, who have been disproportionately affected.

Unfortunately, many of us will be on the wrong side of history. Just look back in time, when everyday, normal white homeowners, protested blacks moving into their neighborhoods. While today we might paint them as racist, most of them did not see themselves that way, just trying to protect their own economic interests. Today, we have similar people, who do not see themselves as racist, yet engage in differential behavior according to race aka racial discrimination. Those types of people will always exist.

Instead of focusing on them, we should focus on those who are on the right side of history. While we should continue to act cautiously towards “the haters”, we cannot let them take our eyes off of the real prize: justice for everyone in our nation. If any good can come out of the deaths of these young men and the riots and protests that are occurring, they will not have died in complete vain. Many of us are engaged in collective action to fight for the equal rights promised all Americans from birth. Others are supporting organizations and our fellow Americans who are engaged in collective action. So, take heart! Be courageous!

Right now is the perfect time to be in the U.S.