Marchers in a youth-led Juneteenth rally marking the end of slavery in the United States make their way down Congress Street in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

What do I, a Sudanese immigrant, make of senseless state sanctioned killing of Black people in this country?

I am concerned, worried and uncertain about progress made towards racial relations in this country. The images in my newspaper and on my television screen scream for justice. It, however, reveals something that a lot of people know in this country: Americans of European origin have for a long time insulated themselves from the realities of social, economical and legal injustices facing ethnic minorities in their own communities. The young people from all races are outraged and demanding change, but is that enough?

When I declare that “Black lives matter,” I am not trying to deny any person their humanity or devalue any lives, but rather demand that Black lives are equal and valued. I am making a statement that, as a Black person, I have not been afforded equal treatment under the law and afforded the benefit of doubt when encountering law enforcement. I am asking society to see me as a human being who is not a threat but trying to live. I am saying stop killing innocent people because you can.

When a caucasian person responds to “Black lives matter” with a statement that “all lives matter,” it triggers a question: Who has ever devalued a caucasian life anywhere, let alone in this country? On the surface, responding “all lives matter” sounds noble, but deep down what the person is saying is “I decide which life matters.” It deepens the pain of a person who feels deprived of his humanity on a daily basis.

It is a convenient response, but it is unfortunate that sometimes this response has come from people in positions of power who display an ignorance for comprehending the history of how government policies have been designed to disadvantage many people who are not caucasians. Restructured racism occurs when public policies are designed without regard to pre-existing social inequality, which exacerbate conditions for racial minorities because of the belief that equality has been achieved.

As the argument goes, by considering race, you are favoring one group over others. In reality by not considering race you are maintaining the status quo. We are where we are because of the status quo. We cannot eliminate prejudice and stereotypes just through public policy instruments but we are exacerbating it by sticking to the same playbook that has created the disparities. The pipeline to economic hardship starts when children are racialized.

For example, Portland High School’s student body is 24 percent Black, but Black students account for 60 percent in-school suspension and 48 percent out-of-school suspensions. At Casco Bay High School, Black students account for 24 percent of the student body, but account for 57 percent of in-school school suspensions. At Deering High School, 27 percent of out-of-school suspensions are Black students and 22 percent of in-school suspensions are Black students, while they make up 28 percent of the student body.

Our current outrage is focused on police but it goes much deeper. The actions of the police have exposed disparities that Americans are living with in all aspects of their lives, beginning in childhood. Examining our individual roles and responsibilities within our own ecosystem and the larger power structure is the only way to eliminate complacency and begin to change unjust systems and communities.

Lado Lodoka of Portland is a community activist.