The eight bullets fired into the back of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin on Sunday, August 23, was tragic but it was not surprising. With the growing list of Black Americans who have been killed or wounded by acts of police violence, there is a danger that we are becoming desensitized to it. I refuse to give in to the fatalistic view that such violence is inevitable, and I call upon you to do the same.  

One may wonder why an act of police violence in the midwest demands the attention of the staff and members of the ACLU of North Carolina. Let me be clear: what happened in Wisconsin is not an isolated event. Systemic racism is deep-seated, and what happened in Kenosha could just as easily happen in Kernersville. 

Far too often, we are asked to set aside the question of why Black men and boys are more likely to be killed or shot by police and instead are asked to contemplate why someone was where they were. We are asked to consider why someone ran from the police. We are asked to continually justify why Black and Brown community members have the right to exist in our society without being subjected to police violence. 

We must refuse those demands that disconnect us from the fundamental premise that we all inherently possess the right to live freely.

Every single shot in Jacob Blake’s back sent a message to Black Americans. It’s a message that has been reinforced through generations that carries a weight that white Americans will never fully be able to understand - Black people are not free and our lives are less valued.

I have hope, though. The participation of Americans from all walks of life in the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates that it is possible for white Americans to believe the lived experiences of people of color even though they are unable to ever fully understand the toll that pervasive racism takes on our lives and minds. We are beginning to trust each other and recognize that the stories of violence and oppression are firmly rooted in reality.

Undoubtedly, we will see more accounts of Black Americans subjected to acts of police violence. That we cannot control. What we can control is how we react when it happens. 

That’s why we cannot let an act of violence in Wisconsin go unnoticed here. We must respond. We must call for accountability. We must call for divesting from systems that continually harm and kill our Black citizens and urge our elected officials to invest in programs that will eliminate social and economic disparities within communities of color. Whether it’s through acts of protest, changing the hearts and minds of our family and neighbors, or any other avenue that helps pursue justice, we must act. 

We must resist every message sent by a system that tries to tell us that Black lives do not matter. We must resist the urge to view acts of police violence as someone else’s problem in another place. 

This is our problem. We own it. And it’s our obligation to demand justice.