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SAJU: People must be willing to discuss racial issues in U.S.

Opinions Column: Pride, Not Prejudice

On the evening of Sept. 6, Botham Shem Jean was killed in his own apartment for doing nothing more than existing. The person who killed him, Dallas police Officer Amber Renee Guyger, was charged with manslaughter and released on bond, instead of the more serious charge of murder.  

We cannot simply forget the life of Jean, who at the time of his death was only 26 years-old, and had his whole life ahead of him. This incident is evidence of how racial profiling has managed to seep so far into the crevices of our nation that its stain can be found in our homes. Instead of addressing the racism, bigotry and hatred that underlies these tragic events, we choose to incriminate the victim. The police search warrant on Jean’s apartment found approximately 10 grams marijuana, but we have yet to find justice for Jean.  

What happens when we are not safe at home? When monsters cannot be avoided by hiding under the sheets? 

As we try to move forward in a politically and socially divisive time in our nation, we are blocked by an unlikely obstacle: silence. A recent poll (utilized by the Washington Post) shows that people across America believe that racial tension is worsening, but they do not speak with their family and friends about the topic. This is unacceptable. We have to talk about it. Unless we actually address the issues that divide us, we will not be able to comprehend the experience of another. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a diverse nation that values the individual, regardless of race, color, class, gender, sexuality, etc. We are not a nation that that holds torches and screams 'You will not replace us!' while marching down the streets of Charlottesville. We cannot be.  

Some people view the killing of Jean as, according to Guyger’s co-worker, a bad accident, but this event that stole a lively hardworking young man from the world is so much more than an accident. There are numerous details regarding the killing, but why Guyger — currently on paid administrative leave — acted the way she did is vital. Her immediate reaction was to pull out her gun and fire twice. During that moment, the thought that she was in the wrong place did not occur to her. She claims a long shift at work was the reason behind her actions, but having a long day is not justification to rob someone else of all of their days. 

Furthermore, there is something inherently wrong with the fact that Guyger was not arrested on the site of the crime. Instead, she was allowed to walk free until she was officially charged — three days after the killing. Also, while the police searched Jean’s apartment, it is unknown whether they have searched Guyger’s apartment. It is no secret that those of color must deal with racism, but it is surprising how many people do not notice the racial undertones that color our nation. 

Fixing racism is seen as nearly impossible. How do we even begin to address an issue that is older than the country itself? It is understandable that the people are tired. They want to tune out the sound of protest and counter protest — and simply focus on their own lives. But fatigue is not an excuse to wait for someone else to fix the problem. Racism should not be treated as the hot issue of the moment. It should be taken seriously as the slow burning catalyst that is a very real threat to our melting pot. People want change, but we cannot wait for change when people’s lives are in danger. Botham Shem Jean did not expect to die in his own apartment, three weeks before his 27th birthday. How many more people will have to lose their lives before we actually start to talk about the problem? 

We do not need a one-dimensional solution to this problem. We need to address and be willing to discuss the fundamental and systemic implications of racism and prejudice. We need to honor and cherish the memory of Jean, as well as take efforts to make sure nothing like this happens to anyone else. We need to stop being afraid of each other. We need to care. 

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science or history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.


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