The views expressed here are the writer’s and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia.

By Stephanie Younger, a Black student activist and advocate for STEM diversity, Black youth empowerment, womanism, youth prison abolition, and community nonviolence

Virginia, we have a problem. We need to come to terms with our state’s history of the marginalization of the black community.

Virginia is where the first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia. We live in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. A racist act of terrorism occurred last year in Charlottesville. Virginia pushes black youth out of schools and incarcerates them at alarming rates. Most recently, the people whose job it is to serve and protect our communities exploited and abused black people. 

A black male VCU graduate and high school biology teacher who was loved among his students was shot to death by a police officer in Richmond, Virginia. He was known to be “one the most caring and selfless people you’d ever meet.” Marcus David Peters was unarmed, clearly in distress, and needed help, not death. People attempted to justify his killing by saying he was a threat because he allegedly charged at the officer who killed him. 

Victim blaming is deeply ingrained in anti-black racism. Some people attempt to justify our inhumanity by saying “they didn’t comply” and downplaying the violence and racism black people experience every day to a figment of our imagination. Instead of holding the police accountable for abusing black people, we’re often held accountable for acknowledging the presence of racism. 

Ever since black people were kidnapped, enslaved and brought to America, Black people have been branded as “ungracious,” “lazy,” “angry,” “confrontational” “disrespectful”, “uncivil” and “intimidating.” Not only are black people viewed this way when we address racial injustice, but we’re often criminalized for exercising our First Amendment right, unlike our white counterparts. A good example of the criminalization of civil rights activism is when Black Lives Matter leader Walter “Hawk” Newsome held a sign that read “Blue Klux Klan” during a protest against the killing of Stephon Clark. According to The Root, he was violently beaten, and arrested by five officers and wrongfully detained for 22 hours by the NYPD. 

But what are the steps to ending racial profiling and police brutality? Law enforcement first must come to terms with America’s racist history of state-sanctioned violence against the black community. The next steps are to better train law enforcement in de-escalation and conflict resolution. People often choose not to acknowledge an issue that is so apparent. It is our responsibility as Virginians to direct attention to and put anti-black racism through police violence to an end.