February 2019

Being Terrified Makes Us Unified

It is sad that it took such a tragedy to get our community to realize that our city has such a problem with racism—a problem our community has struggled with for generations. Fortunately, the solution is blossoming before our eyes.

by Anayah Porter

Baton Rouge has a racism problem. Unfortunate and unjust events, especially the killing of Alton Sterling, remind us just how much this problem harms the African American community, causing many to go out and fight for the justice that they deserved. The injustices faced by African Americans in Baton Rouge hardly ever affect the white people living in the city and its suburbs. Since these injustices mostly harm African Americans, they have to go out and protest because it is affecting their community. These protests have made a lot of people put their differences aside and to come together to fight for justice. The protests occurring in Baton Rouge create a sense of unity within the African American community because people ignore past conflict and animosity between one another in order to work together for change.

The protests that occurred after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling showed how well the citizens of Baton Rouge can work together as a community once they start actually acting as a community. There were several Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests after police killed Sterling. The citizens of Baton Rouge put aside all of their differences and ignored any aversions that they previously may have had in the past just to fight for justice for an innocent man that fell victim to police brutality. The African American community here has many divisions and problems of its own, often the product of chronic poverty, as shown by its high murder rate. Seeing the people of Baton Rouge come together and act as a strong community took many by surprise. Even though a lot of the people that showed up to protest probably would never be able to get along in any other setting, they decided to put their differences aside to demand justice.

Sterling protest
Protesters unite in Baton Rouge for a march on the state capitol on July 10, 2016, just five days after police shot and killed Alton Sterling. Photo via Nola.com.

These protests that have been occurring can lead to big, history-altering changes. In 1960, African American students that attended Southern University had a sit in to oppose segregation, and that sit in ended up being the beginning of something much greater. This protest was influenced by a similar protest that had happened in Greensboro, North Carolina not too long before and ended up inspiring several other large protests against segregation. This protest was another example of unity. Those sixteen students came together in an effort to oppose segregation and make a difference. Their courage inspired others and eventually helped overturn Jim Crow.

Southern protest 2
Student activists protest poor funding at Southern University in Baton Rouge on November 16, 1972. The protest ended when Louisiana State Police shot and killed two unarmed activists. Photo via The Advocate. For more on the 1972 protest, see Thomas Aiello’s “Taking a Stand.”

Protests that occurred here influenced other protests in other places. For example, during the time that the protests in Baton Rouge for Alton Sterling were happening, there were other protests happening in Dallas, Texas. I remember being in Dallas during the summer of 2016 when I first heard about the shooting of Sterling and upheaval in Baton Rouge. Soon after I got wind of those events, I began seeing protests on the news in Dallas for other events that were happening in Dallas. I knew that they weren’t for the same reason, but I did know that the protest in Baton Rouge had somehow influenced the citizens of Dallas to leave their homes and hold a protest to get justice. African Americans across the U.S. understood the relationship between protest and change, and inspired BLM protests in other cities and state across the country.

Here in Louisiana, the African American community is often targeted by law enforcement. We seek the justice that we so righteously deserve through protests. Instead of giving us justice and addressing the issues that we are protesting, Louisiana officials criminalize our protests instead. They claim that our protests are large acts of lawless disobedience just to avoid negotiation and confrontation. It is pretty pitiful and a huge sign that our officials here in Louisiana understand our struggle and hear us speaking out about the injustices but refuse to address them because of their failure to respond. Instead, they in effect say “your voice doesn’t matter.”

In the final analysis, the protests in Baton Rouge have brought the community together and made it much stronger. Citizens have worked together as one collective unit to fight for justice, thus creating a sense of unity right here in my hometown. Since African American communities are the ones that are being affected the most, their community, with support from other communities, took enormous risks to get their voices heard. They stood for justice. It is sad that it took such a tragedy to get our community to realize that our city has such a problem with racism—a problem our community has struggled with for generations. Fortunately, the solution is blossoming before our eyes.

Anayah imageAnayah Porter is a high school student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She makes a constant appearance on the honor roll list and is recognized for her hard work in the classroom. She likes to spend her time exploring conspiracy theories.

Further Reading

Rishi Iyengar, “Everyone Is Talking About This Photo From the Protests in Baton Rouge,” Time Magazine, July 11, 2016, http://time.com/4400563/baton-rouge-protests-alton-sterling-woman-arrest-photo-iconic-reuters-jonathan-bachman/.

Brandi B. Harris, “SU student protests in 1960 led to big change in Baton Rouge,” WBRZ, February 11, 2018, http://www.wbrz.com/news/su-student-protests-in-1960-led-to-big-change-in-baton-rouge/.

Steph Solis, “Protests break out after Baton Rouge police fatally shoot man,” USA Today, July 6, 2016, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/05/baton-rouge-alton-sterling-police-shooting/86738368/.

Jarvis DeBerry, “Louisiana would rather criminalize protest than offend Big Oil,” NOLA.com, April 21, 2018, https://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2018/04/bayou_bridge_pipeline_1.html.

Grace Toohey, Lea Skene, Katie Gagliano, “Despite dip in 2018, Baton Rouge’s murder rate still high; How do officials plan to address issue?” The Advocate, January 5, 2019, https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_e14db61a-0fb5-11e9-a7fb-fb14efc3f471.html.

“Timeline: Events Related to Alton Sterling’s Death,” AP, May 2, 2017, https://www.apnews.com/7965d38da2dc40de9b454870e3e51c7c.

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