By: Keyonna Murray 


It’s one year.


One year since the murder of a man from Minneapolis, Minnesota changed the course of America forever. 


At the beginning of 2020, the sudden arrival of COVID-19 forced millions of Americans into isolation. This brought a collective sense of grief, caused by the rapidly rising hospitalizations and death count, separation from loved ones, the ensuing economic crisis, and the general disruption of normalcy. The pandemic has left a global mark that will never be erased.


The lockdown also paused the fast-paced productiveness that defines American culture. People were given months to reflect on themselves, their life trajectories, and their place within the world. Many turned to social media and the news to pass the time; however, instead of being a carefree outlet for an overwhelmed population, it ended up becoming a marketplace of ideas, acting as a makeshift political hub in the absence of a space for true public discourse.


The months following May 25th, 2020 have been exhausting, but instrumental in reinjecting hope into the narrative of America. As this heartbreaking anniversary and significant milestone is reached, it is important that every person takes the time to reflect on what the future must bring. 


To better understand next steps, it is necessary to identify the historical patterns that cannot be repeated. America has a long history with racism that starts with the horrific Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The systematic dehumanization of a group of people for the purpose of justifying mass abuse ended up creating a chasm between white and black Americans that is still being healed. Since then, the Jim Crow Laws were instituted; a particularly disgusting aspect of this was that such laws were presented under the guise of being separate but equal. However, the treatment of black Americans, the quality of their facilities, and the violent altercations that often took place when the status quo was challenged served as proof that such a practice was not simply misguided, but malicious.


Now, unwarranted violence against African-Americans have and continues to be dismissed by many in the justice system and society at large. Police reform is the modern barrier that stands between the status quo and progress.


That being said, there is a fight underway. Countless activists have tirelessly fought to advance the cause.


It is important to make sure that the justifiable rage these senseless murders and attacks have provoked can be channeled into pushing for better policies related to law enforcement. Fortunately, the federal government as well as the State of New Jersey have already begun making lasting changes that will hopefully help mitigate police brutality.


Governor Murphy has already implemented policies that aim to facilitate safe policing in the Garden State. One example is the usage of Crisis Intervention Teams, which were established in 2007 with the purpose of uniting both law enforcement workers and mental health professionals in order to better care for patients in a psychiatric crisis.


Another significant policy is the Use of Force policy, which attempts to prevent the use of force in policing unless it is the only way to protect an officer or civilian from imminent bodily harm.


A third program is the Use of Force portal, which will help keep a detailed record of usage of force in the State of New Jersey. Such information can be an effective way to both hold law enforcement accountable as well as have a resource that can be utilized to guide future police reform.


Criminal justice reform bills that were recently signed by Governor Murphy include Earn Your Way Out, a rehabilitative effort meant to structure the reintroduction of former inmates, and The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, which will allow adults over the age of 21 years old to legally purchase and consume marijuana for recreational purposes. Both policies will likely play a pivotal role in helping disadvantaged communities build more collaborative relationships with law enforcement, as well as rewrite the narrative regarding the role police are supposed to adopt within the municipalities they serve and protect.


Black Americans have fought for centuries to be treated as equal. The barrier between oppression and freedom lies not in a simple set of laws or regulations. The tragic incidents of recent police brutality have brought the core issue into the light: America does not value all lives the same. Institutional change should not be something that is forced; rather, it should be the reflection of the prevailing attitudes of the people. 


In other words, the Black Lives Matter protests should not have been the catalyst for a mass shift in thinking. Black people do and always should have had a place in the country that was built on the backs of slaves. They are invaluable, they matter, and change is overdue. 


Recently, the Derek Chauvin trial closed with a final verdict: he was found to be guilty of the murder of George Floyd. The blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into this conviction will pave the way for more accountability in the institutions that claim to uphold society. Now that signs of real, lasting change are finally starting to show, it is the job of each and every professed advocate to continue championing for a more anti-racist world, both in the context of political discourse or daily interactions.


This year, it is important to ensure that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were not in vain. These tragic losses did not have to happen. Daunte Wright’s death could have been prevented. Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown…we must keep the names of them and so many others at the forefront of this effort. They deserved to live. My community deserves to live. And if the efforts of politicians, advocates, and citizens are continuous and active rather than situational, we will one day be able to live without fear. That is the true meaning of freedom.


About The Author: Keyonna Murray is a PR and Social Media Intern at the Lesniak Institute, and a sophomore at Rider University majoring in Public Relations. She is passionate about diversity, learning, and using her knowledge to empower the various communities she’s a part of.