Credit: Diego Rivera | Mustang News

Reverend Stephen Vines is the Founder and President of the NAACP San Luis Obispo County Branch. Olivia Peluso is an English senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News. 

What does it take to grasp the capacity of trauma and despair the Black community suffers here in America? Look around. The protests, rallies and cries of citizens are indicative of a people who have no other outlet to channel the pain they feel and the discrimination they face daily.  

Violence only begets violence. This mantra is emblematic of the civil rights struggle that occurred over fifty years ago and persists today. The wrongful and tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were born from violence, a deep-seated and seemingly normalized system of oppression that will prevail so long as we allow it. The protests are the manifestation of a pain that has been silenced for generations. They are the voice against a parasitic nation. 

We as citizens give ourselves to industries, individuals and institutions that benefit from proximity. They will take, exploit and loot Black culture but remain mute when another Black citizen dies at the hands of their own nation. The issue has always been present – now it’s hyper-visible. Now we’re forced to look it in the eyes. 

All over social media and in conversation, we say, “I cannot believe this is happening today.” Yet, the truth is oppression has never left. Sometimes it acts with abstruse viciousness. Sometimes it is blatant. Sometimes it is caught on video. Racism and discrimination saturate the very institutions that claim to keep people safe. This is a spectrum of violence that spans profiling to murder. Violence is tricky that way. We often perceive it as immediate, explosive acts, but the sad truth is violence is oblique and pressing. It is present and pervasive. 

Destruction is not a city street made impassable by sign-wielding protestors. Destruction is years of state-sanctioned discrimination, profiling, murder and oppression of Black bodies. There are blatant, loud moments of destruction when an unarmed man is murdered beneath the knee of law enforcement. There are also quieter, slower patterns of destruction that take the shape of unequal housing, healthcare and employment practices. Destruction is failure to recognize the violence that occurs and the pain it perpetuates. Destruction is the condemnation of those who suffer and the silencing of their cries with rubber bullets, tear gas and indifference. 

“We’re living in an oppressive society,” San Luis Obispo NAACP Founder and President Stephen Vines said. “We think violence is going to keep us safe. We think that if you dominate somebody, it’s going to keep us safe. That’s absurd! They’re just going to get mad and retaliate.”

George Floyd is the face of the movement, but certainly not the source. It took videos of his tragic death for America to “wake up” the same way we did after the tragic (and filmed) deaths of Ahmaud Aurbery and Eric Garner. These scenes are not isolated incidents, but repetitive patterns of degradation and dehumanization. Pain is exhausting, and it is often a fact of life for Black America. The long list of innocent lives lost at the hands of our federal, state and local institutions are one way to quantify pain. Otherwise, it is abstracted and internalized with vicious persistence. A filmed murder on a bustling city street is another life lost to the cacophony of structural oppression in this country. Heartache has become a fact of life for those who demand justice from a system that picks and chooses who is worthy of humanity. 

“Violence only begets violence,” Vines said. “That’s the oppressor’s number one tool, because then they can keep you scared. Fear becomes a motivating factor to make bad decisions.”

We cannot fail to acknowledge these vicious patterns. They who view acts of protest as more egregious than acts of generational and widespread murder must open their eyes. How long are Black citizens supposed to take perpetual violence against themselves, their families, their communities with acquiescent silence? Listen. Listen to the voices of people gone unheard and unrepresented for generations. Listen to the ambient noise of slow violence, a nefarious stream of oppression that condemns people to a life of pain solely for the color of their skin. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are the tip of the iceberg of a people forced totally underwater. 

What we are seeing on streets throughout the nation are not immediate emotions, but the uncorking of a deeply disturbed and deeply hurt community. How many lives need to be lost, how many murders need to be caught on film, how many cries need to be heard before change occurs? Reform is overtly crucial. The firing of a few officers is no worthy atonement for the consistent, persistent and violent subjugation of citizens. Something more needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. Now is not the time to be complacent. Be compassionate. Be present.  

“We can spend money to save the world or we can spend money to destroy it,” Vines said.

The San Luis Obispo NAACP, R.A.C.E. Matters and Cal Poly Black faculty and staff members will be hosting a nonviolent action rally Thursday, June 4 at 5:00 p.m. outside the San Luis Obispo Courthouse. Social distancing and masks are required. For more information, call 805-619-5354.

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