By Hope Jensen, WSB-TV
ATLANTA – Atlanta educators are speaking out about the recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that are creating outrage across the country.
Alton Sterling, 37, and Philando Castile, 32, were shot and killed by police earlier this week. Both shootings are now under federal investigation.
Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop on Wednesday, was an employee of Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. The school district released a statement Thursday saying Castile graduated from the school system and had worked there since he was 19 years old. One co-worker said, “Kids loved him. He was smart, over-qualified. He was quiet, respectful, and kind. I knew him as warm and funny; he called me his ‘wing man.’”
Ron Clark, the co-founder of Ron Clark Academy, and Matt Westmoreland, an APS school board member and former teacher, posted powerful statements on social media in response to the shootings. Both educators said they feel it is part of their duty to speak out in situations such as these.
My heart breaks when I think how the beautiful and strong students I work with are basically one bullet away from becoming a #hashtag.
I see racism through a different view; I’m a white man who watches my students as they are treated with caution, disdain and misunderstanding. Views of who they are formed instantly by their appearance, and brilliant young children are often frowned upon as being thugs. I tell my students to say “yes sir” and to smile when dealing with the police and that everything will be okay, but I am losing faith in my own advice.
I can tell you all, white privilege is real because I experience it both in noticing how I am treated and how those who don’t look like me are mistreated. When only white people are in the room some people feel comfortable to make horrible and stupid comments, and the biggest problem is that they aren’t even aware of their ignorance. We, as white people, have to be leaders in this movement to end the racism and misunderstandings. If only African-Americans speak, I promise you, people only hear the “angry black people who are being ridiculous.” It takes white people to have the courage to speak up when you hear racism and let others know it’s not acceptable. The cops out there who are racist have had their thoughts fed into them by family members and friends who were also raised to have those thoughts. People aren’t born racist; their community makes them racist.
We, as part of the community, have a duty to stand up and speak out. We all must stand against ignorance and let our voices and options be heard before those we love become #hashtags as well.
Posts like this by African-Americans are seen in the eyes of many as angry rants. Posts like this from white people will be looked at differently. It is our obligation to stand up.
Where are the white people at?
Don’t be silent.
I keep thinking about Aiden. And how I have to do more.
I met Aiden earlier this summer. His boisterous personality is one that may occasionally exhaust his mother and frustrate his teachers, but it immediately endeared him to me.
I keep thinking about Aiden this week. He is six, so he doesn’t know about the horrific shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights.
But Aiden is six. And one day he will be 12 like Tamir Rice. Then 17 like Trayvon Martin. Then 18 like Michael Brown. Then 25 like Freddie Gray. Then 32 like Philando Castile. Then 33 like Walter Scott. Then 37 like Alton Sterling. Then 43 like Eric Garner.
I keep thinking about Aiden. And Lamarcus. And Deuce. And those young men I taught at Carver who became like younger brothers– Dreundre. Antavious. James. Jaqavious. Antone. Marquavius. Dorian.
I think about the world they live in. It’s a world that affords me immense privilege because of my race, class and gender. I think it’s important to recognize that– and to say it out loud. Because it’s voices like mine, and folks who like me, that need to say more and do more.
Today we rightfully grieve the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But we also need to talk about an education system where quality varies by zip code, a justice system where punishments vary based on the color of your skin, an income gap that grows wider each year. It’s all of those things, collectively, that rip apart families, devastate communities, and silence voices
Two years ago, after the shooting of Michael Brown and as I struggled with the world my Carver kids and their peers were growing up in, I turned to a quote from Mike Johnston about “truth and hope.” Seems we’ve had a far heavier dose of the former recently.
This morning, I came across new words from Mike after the shootings this week:
“Somewhere we have internalized the corrosive lesson that different types of Americans deserve different degrees of life, liberty and happiness. That is not the country we promised to build. If we are to change the America our kids grow up in, we must unlearn that lesson, and we must unlearn it now. And those who benefit most from that current belief must be the ones to lead the unlearning. And that means us.”
I keep thinking about Aiden. And how we have to do more.