We still aren’t free

Kakra Boye-Doe, M4, Class of 2022

To this day, the promises of Juneteenth have yet to be actualize. In 2021, over 150 years after the Emancipation proclamation and two years after, when all salves heard of their “freedom”, we still are not free.

Earlier this week, President Biden signed into law a bill that recognized Juneteenth as a National holiday. Juneteenth is the commeration of the day when federal troops took control of the state of Texas to ensure the freedom of slaves, June 19th, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation, itself, was a performative gesture. It only freed slaves under Confederate control.

It is precisely these kind of performative gestures that America has chosen, over real substantive change; change that involves legislation and committing to the principles so eloquently stated in the founding articles. It begs the question — were Black people ever supposed to be afforded these “alienable rights? Reading through American history — the answer is, unequivocally, no.

While signing this bill, commemorating Black liberation, looks good on face value — we must look at the context surrounding this momentous decision.

Congress has been attempting to pass legislation that would lead to meaningful change; this bill was aptly named the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. George Floyd, as most of us familiar with, was yet another unarmed Black person who was grotesquely and purposely killed by police officer, Derek Chauvin.

The purpose of the bill, found on Congress’s website, is as follows,

This bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements.

The bill enhances existing enforcement mechanisms to remedy violations by law enforcement. Among other things, it does the following:

lowers the criminal intent standard — from willful to knowing or reckless — to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,

limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and

grants administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.

It establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds. The bill creates a national registry — the National Police Misconduct Registry — to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct, and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches). Finally, it directs DOJ to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and requires law enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.

As you can see, this bill doesn’t just acknowledge what happened to Floyd as an isolated event but as a systemic problem — one that requires changes at the structural level to address such grotesque acts. The deadline for this bill to pass was four weeks ago, on the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

In the meanwhile, we have states that are restricting the teaching of Critical Race Theory — the notion that race is a social construct, not a result of isolated and individual bias or prejudice, but a force that is perpetuated through structures, institutions and laws. Racism, is this lens, is a manifestation of structural and systematic racism. This theory defiantly rejects the notion of “colorblindness”; rather, that we see in color. As such is the case, undoing the evils of such a practice, racism that is, requires real systematic change. It requires teaching about the thing that many are attempting to block — Critical Race Theory.

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The objection to Critical Race Theory is precisely why it out to be taught.

Critical Race Theory speaks for itself — it is merely an objective look at our country’s history.

This is precisely why Black people were denied basic rights until the Civil Rights Act of 1965; why the crime bill of 1994 did exactly what it was intended to do — mass incarceration of Black people. It is why an unarmed Black person can die because they “posed a threat”. It is why states, as we speak, are furthering voting restriction as a direct result of an increase in Black voting in the most recent election. It is why I am writing this damn blog post — because I, and my people, are not free.

I don’t want a holiday — I, we, want meaningful change.

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