The Civil Rights Movement of 2020

Posted by

Adam Koplik, Staff Writer

Quinn Ratynski, Featured Photo

Note: Some protestors faces have been blurred to protect their identities

As I write this, I’m sitting at home, watching TV, seeing fires burn throughout the nation. Yet, in my backyard, it’s nothing but blue skies and green grass. If I want to, I could shut off the television, close Twitter, and ignore everything in the country. I have that ability. I have that privilege. I’m a white male in New Paltz, New York. Sure, protests are going on, but I know I don’t have to worry about them affecting me personally. I know that my life will be practically unchanged by the turmoil. If I want to, I can screen myself from the rest of the world’s issues, and focus on getting my homework done. But this is not the time for shielding. This is not the time for being neutral on issues. This is a time to make your voice heard, and that’s what I’m doing. Even though it’s through a school newspaper, that’s what I’m doing.

George Floyd was murdered. That’s not an opinion or a political statement. George Floyd was killed by a policeman, while three other officers, who took the oath to serve and protect Floyd, watched it happen. Watching the video of Floyd’s death brought tears to my eyes. I saw a man die. The murder of a man over a suspected forged $20 bill. Is that the price of a life? As the officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck, the analogy was too accurate.

Our country has some great qualities. But it is riddled with problems, and these issues have been ingrained into our systems. Racism in this nation has never gone away; it’s just been made less obvious. Sure, slavery and Jim Crow laws are gone, but that doesn’t mean that we are equal.

According to the 2018 US Census Data, the American poverty rate is 11.8%. However, the poverty rate among African-Americans people shoots up to 20.8%, with it lowering to 10.1% for whites. According to a 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, the average wealth of white people is $900.6K. That number plummets to $139.9K for black people. The same survey showed that the top 10 percent of Americans own over 77% of the nation’s wealth, yet 88.5% of them are white. Just 2.2% are black, despite black people making up 13% of the population. In a truly equal society, the percent of a population made up by each race would be equivalent to their appearance in each percentile. A lot of this inequality has to do with years of redlining from banks that made it harder for families in predominantly black districts to get loans. But it doesn’t stop there.

Hundreds march through Poughkeepsie during a Black Lives Matter protest – Photo via Zofia Trzewik-Quinn

A 2001 estimate from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 1 in 3 black men in America are likely to be imprisoned at some point in their life, compared to 1 in 17 white men and 1 in 9 of all men. For women, it’s more of the same. Despite 1 in 56 women likely to be imprisoned, that number ends up at 1 in 18 when talking about black women, and down to 1 in 117 for white women.

Systemic racism is apparent in our education system as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduation rate for white people in the US is 89%, 4% higher than the national average. For African-Americans, the rate goes down to 79%. These systems fall into policing too, which has catalyzed the protests. In 2015, according to, 36% of unarmed people killed by police were black. Almost 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, and out of the 104 unarmed deaths, only 13 officers were charged with a crime (details on all 104 killings can be found here Our systems allow for this cycle of racism to keep black people down and keep white people on the tip of the racial hierarchy. 

Now that brings us to what is going on around our nation today. While the protests are for George Floyd, they are more-so a product of years of oppression. Years of unequal treatment from the police. Years of innocent black men being killed without justice. African-Americans in this nation are fed up. Protests are intended to cause discomfort. They’ve tried peaceful protest – which, it should be noted, a vast majority of them have been – and were ignored. Colin Kaepernick tried kneeling during the National Anthem for this reason. He wasn’t trying to disrespect veterans. He was trying to bring light to police brutality. Not only were his pleas disregarded, but he lost his job for it. Yet now those who opposed him want to call for nothing but peaceful protests? Those who told LeBron James to, “shut up and dribble.” Those who told celebrities who make political speeches during the Oscars or Grammys that it’s not the time? This is what happens.

New Paltz High School history teacher gives a passionate speech during a protest in Kingston – Photo via Oliver ten Broeke

The leader of the free world is making statements through Twitter where he looks to do nothing but further divide the nation. Videos are circulating of police officers instigating violence in some areas, breaking up peaceful protests, leading to predictably violent responses. Press have been arrested for doing their job. Yet, Donald Trump is hiding behind a screen and making things worse, only showing his face when he decides it’s time to violate the first amendment rights of peaceful protesters so he can have his little photo-op. The President of the United States directed police to gas a completely non-violent protest, as he gave a speech saying he’ll be sending the United States military into Washington, DC. 

As Martin Luther King Jr put it, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The places with little to no violence, are not the places where riot patrol pulls up with shields, guns, and batons. They’re places like Flint, Michigan, where the Chief of Police set down his weapons and asked the protesters, “how can we help you?”. The places where there is communication and compassion between cops and protesters. I know nowhere near all police are bad people, but it’s a lot more than a few “bad apples.” When every experience you have with a cop, you’re treated like a threat just because of your skin color, like so many black men and women in this nation are, you’re going to start to think there are no good cops. The system is broken. Until good cops speak out against bad cops, and not just when there’s a video, but when they witness injustice themselves, there can’t be equality in our nation. The police are supposed to protect the people in their community. No one should be scared of a police officer.

Equality should not only be possible in utopian sci-fi novels. Racism is ingrained in American history, and it’s time we stop acting as if it has gone away. With protests going on not just in all 50 states, but throughout the world, the Black Lives Matter movement is not going away anytime soon, and it shouldn’t. And responding to pleas of Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter” is pure ignorance. No one in the BLM movement is saying all lives don’t matter. They’re saying that all lives can’t matter, until black lives matter. When a house is on fire, you don’t put water on houses a block away because all houses matter, you put out the fire.  Black men and women have been ignored in this nation for decades. It’s time to listen.