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Perpetual Wounds

This is excerpted from Alex M. Johnson's piece originally published at

I was nine when I was first called a n____ while walking to my mom’s car after school.

Ten when I watched the savage beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department on television. Eleven when I saw the flames and ashes of a city burning after four police officers were found not guilty.

At twenty-one, an officer from the Atlanta Police Department raced up the street to stop me in my car as I was driving back to my dorm. By the time I was let go, three more patrol cars were on the scene because I was “verbally aggressive.”

In my thirties Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott.

And in 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

It has been grace, and grace alone, that has spared me from the violent deaths perpetrated against my brothers and sisters. But like Black people across this nation, I continue to ask the question, “Am I next?"

In a land where “freedom” and “liberty” are excuses for exclusion, the aesthetic of justice that allows the assault on Black lives to continue unabated and that is protected by White supremacy must be dismantled and rebuilt. Justice is a false pretense if the Constitution fails to be consistently, fairly, and justly applied to Black people.

We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper and each of us has a role in this fight for Black lives. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to join the fight:

  • Demilitarize the police. Decrease law enforcement budgets and reinvest those resources to fund schools, libraries, quality health care, parks, childcare, jobs, interventionists, and a youth development system. Community safety does not come from cops – strong institutions ensure communities can thrive.
  • Support organizations led by, serving, and in service to Black people. Support those who organize, agitate, resist, disrupt, demonstrate, and advocate to ensure that Black lives are not expendable. The people have the power, fund organized action.
  • Interrogate what being an ally truly means. Use your voice. Be bold and take a stand, equivocation fuels inequity. If you have privilege, use it, leverage it. There is nothing revolutionary about recognizing your power and doing nothing with it to advance social change and end systemic racism.
  • You are either for Black lives or you are not. Systemic racism permeates every system – law enforcement, education, health, transportation, housing, the economy, the environment and even philanthropy, the system in which I work. Are you hiring Black people? Are they tokenized or in leadership positions? It’s not complicated. Oppression is operational. Disassemble it and undo the status quo.
  • Stop tiptoeing around race, slavery, racial injustice, racial bias, systemic racism, White supremacy, nationalism, anti-Blackness, or racial equity. It’s real. We’ve studied and debated it long enough. Act. End of discussion.
  • Vote for an agenda at the local, state, and federal levels that prioritizes Black lives and demolishes the insidious pillars of White supremacy in every form. For those whose electoral existence is predicated upon the domination of Black lives, we must dominate the ballot box. If you are registered to vote and someone you know is not, help them register. Vote. Vote. Vote.  

It is indeed our duty to fight.

Alex Johnson

Alex M. Johnson is a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, where he manages a grantmaking portfolio focused on community environments, violence prevention and healing justice, and youth justice.

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