The Language of the Unheard

Posted: June 3, 2020

Youth ALIVE! Supports Protests –

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Youth ALIVE! wholeheartedly supports the protests and the demands for justice and police accountability. An unacceptable status quo, where over a thousand Americans — and thousands more worldwide — are killed by police every year, has made these protests necessary. Youth ALIVE!’s vision of communities free from violence is incompatible with a justice system that allows police to kill unarmed people of color without being held accountable.

George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville had their lives senselessly taken by state violence, joining Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, Derrick Jones, and far too many other people of color to name. Their names remind us that we have to be painfully honest about our collective failure to value Black lives. Every single one of their deaths was avoidable. Despite decades of video evidence proving that, there has been no meaningful change to address excessive force and police brutality. The killing continues at taxpayer expense, and our communities are tired of the grief, anger, sadness, and helplessness we feel with every loss.

While we never condone or encourage violence, we must also be clear that any instances of vandalism, looting, or violence occurring during these protests cannot possibly disqualify or invalidate what these protests represent. To be more outraged about the destruction of property than about the systematic killing of Black people would only confirm how deeply we fail to value Black lives. If society was able to condemn the police killings of unarmed Black people as quickly as they condemned the destruction of property, we would not have to release this statement. Property is replaceable, human life is not.

The need to declare “Black lives matter” reflects the unfortunate reality that law enforcement, elected officials, and fellow citizens consistently behave as if Black lives do not matter. We see this every time police officers are acquitted for killing an unarmed Black person. We see this in the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black communities. We see this in the patchwork of laws that made the killers of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin believe they could commit murder without consequence.

Youth ALIVE! is Oakland’s anchor organization for violence prevention, intervention, and healing. In a time of especially visible violence nationally and locally, we are compelled to lift up the voices – especially the Black and brown voices – of our community in our analysis and our response. What we are experiencing as a nation is a failure to break the cycle of violence. To prevent violence demands that those in power and those who gave them power finally address its root causes: racism, poverty, the historical traumas of slavery and genocide. When our government does not respond appropriately to intervene with justice after Black people are killed by white police officers and vigilantes, then the cycle of violence can only be expected to continue. Violence causes trauma. Without healing, trauma leads to more violence. Hurt people hurt people. Until our nation heals the deep wounds of our historical trauma, violence will spread like that other virus we are facing. 

These tragedies will not stop until we acknowledge that they were caused by systemic racism. From the case of Dred Scott to the Tulsa Race Massacre, American history has always shown that the justice system is not designed for the protection or the rights of Black people. Even the history of police, starting with slave patrols in the South and evolving to mass incarceration, has always been tied to upholding white supremacy and suppressing Black freedom. Instead of atoning for the pain these structures have caused communities of color, the continued celebration of confederate flags, statues, and monuments, signal that our country wears the stain of the most painful chapters of our racist history proudly. We must reverse this perversion of justice and truth. Now.

What you can do: Listen. Donate. Advocate. 

First we need to listen: To every mother of Black children wondering how young is too young to explain to her child that the police will treat them differently. To every young Black man who feels unsafe in his neighborhood, and less safe in the presence of police. To elders who have spent a lifetime seeing their people mistreated because of the color of their skin. To the stories that prove no level of education or income, can ever take away the threat of fitting a profile. Denying the experiences of Black, brown, and indigenous communities has proven ever more deadly with every name we add to the list of police victims. 

Second we need to donate (if you can): During these protests, people are being arrested, and many will be detained until they can pay bail. Donating to bail funds, both locally and nationally, is a key way to support the marginalized who have put their bodies and lives at risk in the name of justice. Additionally, donating to organizations focused on uplifting Black communities and demanding police accountability helps ensure that the fight is sustained long after these protests end: Anti Police-Terror Project, Black Lives Matter, and Black Organizing Project are three such Oakland-based sister organizations that we are proud to support

Lastly, we need to advocate: Change will not come without people demanding action to hold police accountable. Writing letters, making calls, and even tweeting state policy makers is critical for ensuring they have a plan to use their authority to confront police brutality and racism. Campaign Zero also has a comprehensive list of policy solutions, some of which Youth ALIVE! has actively been pushing for in California. We supported AB 392, which gave California the strictest standards for police use of deadly force in the country. We have brought the mothers of homicide victims directly to Oakland Police Department leadership to demand trauma-informed policies and practices. We have shown up to the Oakland Police Commission (which you can join) to demand the demilitarization of the police force. If you are interested in being a part of our advocacy efforts in the future, please sign up here.

Right now, our policy priority is supporting violence prevention through the California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grant program, which allows for community-based approaches to violence prevention that do not require contact with law enforcement. This means less community violence, less incarceration, and cost savings for taxpayers.

A final note:

In addition to the pandemic of racism, we are also still deep into COVID-19. In these times, please take care of yourself and be mindful of your mental, emotional, & physical wellness, whether that means monitoring your feeds to stay updated or detaching yourself from social media completely. The movement needs you to be healthy and show up in the ways that you can, the ways that make sense for you, and the ways that will keep you whole. Our community will need so much healing once the smoke clears. As individuals and an organization dedicated to peace, we will be prepared to heal and to help people heal. 


Please see the links below for additional resources:


Protesting Safely:


Taking Care of Yourself:


Talking to young people about racism and police brutality: