Why Black Lives Matter to Me

All Photos by Kenny Lo

By Kenny Lo
Student Life Editor

I recently participated in two local Black Lives Matter protests, in Bergenfield and Dumont, and here’s what I learned: June is Pride month. With Pride Parades across the nation canceled due to COVID-19, the LGBTQ+ community may have found a way to march the streets, but this time they’re returning the favor by kick-starting the Bergenfield BLM protest. 

Bergenfield’s LGBTQ+ community shows support.

There wouldn’t be a Pride month if not for the Black and Latinx gay community heavily present during the Stonewall Riots in June 1969. And Dumont, while a town that is 60% white, still managed to showcase how much it supports BLM by having a tremendous turnout and a musical interlude that features classic and gospel music.

Bergenfield marches in full support.

Both protests offered a variety of demographics while supporting the movement in a more peaceful manner, compared to more violent riots last week that involved looting in cities such as Minneapolis and Rochester, N.Y. We were pretty loud and vocal enough to get our message across the municipalities, yet we remained organized. But why do Black lives matter to me?

A protestor urges “white” Dumont to speak up.

The first time I heard of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in the hands of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., back in February 2012, I was not sure what to think of it. It was just another piece of news for me that day. But as the case got some more traction and momentum built nationwide, I started to follow it little by little with no preconceived notions on what to make of it.

On July 13, 2013, the jury rendered a “not guilty” verdict on all counts for the shooter, Zimmerman. All of a sudden, there was a little anger in me, it was not racially charged, but it was the whole concept of how an armed man could kill an unarmed teenager and get away with it without any repercussions.

Dumont stands in solidarity for Black Lives Matter.

On that very faithful day, the #BlackLivesMatter movement started. At first, I had no opinion of the movement. I even sided with #AllLivesMatter at some point, but that was mainly for lack of understanding of the struggle and the fear that black people, especially African-American people, had to endure on a daily basis. Nor was I able to comprehend three years later, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started sitting down and then progressively began kneeling in every national anthem ceremony of the preseason games. 

I’d often wondered, “Why does this during the national anthem? Why target the American flag that men and women have died for in your silent protest?”

Protestors let Dumont police know what matters.

Then it dawned on me: Changes had to be made in policing and the use of force. Things had to get better.

But things never got better. Just the following year after the movement started, and two years after Trayvon’s death, we had two more deaths within the same community by the same hands of law enforcement — hands that are meant to serve and protect. 

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was heard saying, “I can’t breathe!” while being placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo during an arrest in Staten Island, N.Y. resulting in Garner’s death. This was the beginning of the “I Can’t Breathe!” refrain. And on Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Unrest followed Brown’s fatal shooting, with both violent and peaceful protests lasting over a week throughout Ferguson. This is where the slogan, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” started.

Bergen County police assess peaceful protest.

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi are the creators of the hashtag that spurred the social media movement, a national network of over 40 local chapters between 2014 and 2016. Despite having a global significance, the Black Lives Matter movement remains a decentralized network.

Even though I am a person of color, I still find it difficult to compare or even put myself in the shoes of a black person, to really feel and further understand the systemic racism directed toward them. Some type of racism may have occurred in my past, but it will never come close to the constant struggle the black community endures.

The Garden State Choral Chapter praises George Floyd during a musical interlude at the Calvary United Methodist Church in Dumont.

Recently, I finally came face to face with my heritage being racially profiled and avoided. It wasn’t so much about what was said but more about the behavior displayed. 

I am talking about being of Asian-descent in this pandemic, or in this novel coronavirus world. I have seen videos and heard of stories from family and friends of the things and awkward situations that happened to them. It is during this time that made me feel the cold and disgusting face of racism. Calling it the ‘Chinese-virus’ certainly does not help with the current climate. But these were just little things, little brushes of racism here and there as I go on with my normal life at the supermarket. Even so, these little brushes hurt. Can you imagine the amount of pain and hurt black people endure their entire life?

When March rolled along this year, we slowly found ourselves quarantined in our homes to avoid spreading the disease and help flatten the curve. But even during a global pandemic we still find a way to publicize police brutality. 

That same month, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed inside her apartment. Let us not forget that Black women and girls are also targets of police brutality. Women like Sandra Bland (2015), Deborah Danner (2016), and Atatiana Jefferson (2019), to name a few, have all ignited the “Say Her Name” slogan. This allowed the Black Lives Matter movement to resurface, full of ammunition.

Friends will not be silenced.

And after watching the George Floyd video when officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, eventually killing him, I thought to myself, “This has got to stop. Enough is enough!” I figured if I do not stand up and protest, or at least bring some kind of awareness to the matter, I am part of the problem.

An 8-minutes and 46-seconds time of silence observed.

So I protested. And protested. Both times I was surrounded by all types of people, all types of lives. People who mattered, and lives that mattered. Despite all of the lives that mattered around me, we still agreed and shouted in one voice that in order for all lives to matter, black lives need to matter first. For there will never be peace without justice.