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On April 17th, 2021, YDSA Northeastern marched with the Freedom Fighters Coalition and thousands of Bostonians to protest police brutality and the murder of Daunte Wright. Wright, an avid basketball player and loving father, was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on April 11th, 2021. Elana Lane, a member of YDSA Northeastern and an editor for Burning Rose, spoke at the protest. Their speech is as follows:

Hi y’all, my name is Elana and I’m with the YDSA at Northeastern University.

I’m a freshman at Northeastern. I turned 19 just last month. Even so, as this country has not shied away from showing us, there is no age requirement to experiencing racism. I remember sitting on the corner of my bed at 12 years old, grieving the death of a boy I’d never even met. I read headlines about Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police, and was completely paralyzed. I sat there, shaking and crying in my mother’s arms, and asked her, “why do they keep killing us?” Tamir was my age when the cops murdered him. Daunte was a year older than me when the cops murdered him. Adam was just 13 when the cops murdered him.

As a movement, we’ve moved past raising awareness. We’ve moved past the “radical” declaration that Black Lives Matter. As a Black woman, I know my life matters. I know the lives of my Black friends and family members matter. My Black siblings, not related by blood, but through our shared experience of living under a system that constantly shows that it hates us—I know their lives matter. I know we know Daunte Wright’s life mattered. I know we know Adam Toledo’s life mattered. I know we know Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. I know we know Ahmaud Arbery’s life mattered. I know we know the lives of George Floyd—and the countless others whose names keep getting added to this ever-growing list—I know we know that their lives mattered. 

You know how I know we know? Because we’re still out here. And we’re gonna keep showing up until WE say it’s over. Not when they say it’s over. Not when the killer cops say it’s over, but when our community members aren’t being murdered at the hands of those who are supposed to “protect and serve” us.

As a movement, we need to start acknowledging the injustices that are ingrained into our country’s very framework. We need to shift our momentum from asking for small concessions, calling for reform, and BEGGING them to kill LESS Black people. They shouldn’t be killing ANY Black people! 

It’s time we organize in favor of moving towards the ultimate goal of abolition. Too often, we talk about “police reform” as if that’s the ideal—as if policing is something that can be tweaked to work in our favor. As if a 400+ year old system that was designed for the purpose of catching enslaved Black people can ever prevent the murder of yet another person by the hands of the police. 

In those 400+ years, we’ve seen a few “bugs” in this machine’s software. In 1865, one version of slavery ended with the 13th Amendment, but then continued through a clause that legalized its perpetuation in our prison system. And so, the machine continued to function. We asked for equality under the law, and they gave us Jim Crow and Redlining. The machine continued to function. In the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s we asked again, and they imprisoned and killed our leaders. The machine continued to function. After segregation legally ended in 1964—only 56 years ago—redlining and gentrification continued to negatively affect communities of color. It prevented us from buying homes in certain neighborhoods and deepened the racial and socioeconomic divide present in our country. The machine continued to function. The software of the well-oiled machine of systemic racism has had countless updates through the centuries that it’s been in place. 

Now, we need to push for an end to this system—the prison-industrial complex—which allows police brutality to continue and thrive. Now, I’m questioning why we keep asking for updates to this well-oiled machine of systemic racism. Why not scrap it, and look for a system rooted in equitable systems for our communities? 

I know “abolition” can sound scary, but it’s necessary. We need to recognize that modern policing will never rightfully serve us. We’ve already asked for police reform. It didn’t work. A system that allows a police force to knowingly employ a child molester, sweep the allegations under the rug, and then elect him as the president of their police union—I’m looking at the Boston PD on this one—cannot be allowed to continue. Just last week in New York City, months after the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act was signed into law, we saw an NYPD officer with his knee on yet another Black man’s neck. On Monday in Minneapolis, just 15 minutes after banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors, its police did just that to those who protested against the murder of Daunte Wright. This country’s police departments have shown us time and time again that we can put all the rules we want in place regarding what police can and can’t do: they will still continue to break those rules because they know they have the power to do so. 

What would a world without police look like? That’s for us to decide, but the road to abolition starts with the realization that modern policing does very little to prevent crime. We’ll be on the road to abolition once we start dismantling our current system through actions like ending private prisons. Actions like decriminalizing drug use, so people with drug use disorders can seek restorative help rather than fear facing punitive measures that will only perpetuate their drug use in the future. Actions like massively defunding the police—and I’m talking MASSIVE divestments of police funding; unlike the Minneapolis Police Department, who took “defund the police” to mean “divest less than 4.5% from the $179-million police budget and hope no one notices.” Defunding the police and then divesting that money into the community will pay for things like affordable housing, quality resources for education, physical and mental health care, and so much more. These measures, in turn, will reduce our need for the police at all.

Prisons—which send people who commit crimes to a place designed to psychologically and physically punish them to separate them from their community—are so normalized that it can be hard for us to imagine a world without them. But, to loosely quote poet Joseph Capehart, “if we don’t clearly and boldly name our end goal, there’s absolutely no way we can get there.”