From the fighting in Detroit to the Baltimore riots, to the Charleston shooting, race related violence is sweeping across the nation. Those are just the highly publicized events, and does not include racism occurring on college campuses, in high schools, or even in middle schools. Incidents are happening around the nation that have Americans on the edge of their seats.
“Those situations that were race related really break my heart,” says concerned UT Tyler student Brittany King. This is a rising concern throughout the college campuses of Texas. The UT Austin students share their worries with the president of the college after having vandalized a Jefferson Davis statue. “Given Jefferson Davis’ vehement support for the institution of slavery and white supremacy, we believe this statue is not in line with the university’s core values—learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility,” according a letter written by the student of the UT Austin campus.
Life in a College Town
Despite the fact that most Americans are aware of the growing negative race-relations but they never think it will happen so close to them. Tyler law enforcement has to take into extra consideration the problems that arise, seeing that this is a college town – home to three colleges: University of Texas at Tyler, Texas College, and Tyler Junior College. Tyler has a population of about 200,000 people, 50 percent of that being Caucasian. The other 50 percent is split between minorities. That being said, Tyler has a pretty diverse population and even though the Caucasians are the majority, it’s not by much. However, living in a multicultural city does not necessarily guarantee peaceful relations.
Tyler, TX is split between the white side of town to the south, and the black side of town to the north. Since the university is toward the south, as well as the mall and restaurants, it makes that side of town more popular. “From what I have noticed the Longview/Tyler area does not have any above average racial issues,” says Mike Johnson, a Longview police officer. As far as positive or negative relationships between minority and majority populations, Tyler does not have any more violence-related racism problems than any other average city.
When searching for a place to live, you need to consider what will be the safest state/city. As a student looking to leave home to go to college you must also take dangerous locations into consideration. “Every time I tell people I go to school in Tyler they say, ‘Tyler is a racist city,’” says Khadijah Evans, Speech Communication major, UT Tyler. Racism is a vicious cycle that leads to violence and hate crimes.
Problems with Authority
The problems that arise when referring to minorities and authority are a touchy subject. It is a situation where people prefer to take sides. It is hard to be objective when talking about how minorities have distrust toward law enforcement. “As the holders of ultimate power, the police are responsible for easing tensions and improving community relations,” says Kevin Cokley, a UT Austin professor of educational psychology and African diaspora studies.
Johnson explains, “the situation will get better over time.” He goes more in depth saying, “It’s going to require trust from the overall community that police officers are here to help and to protect the public.” This corresponds with what Professor Cokley refers to about community relations and trust. “Relations between the police and communities of color will always be a litmus test of race relations. As long as racial minorities fear and mistrust law enforcement, democracy has failed to live up to its ideals,” says Cokley.
This applies to the nation as well as each individual community. Texas has had their own share of race-related problems these past few years with the McKinney police officer who assaulted the young African-American girl, as well as the Larry Jackson case, from 2013 where an unarmed African-American man was gunned down. This shows just how close to home these events can occur.
The Community’s Reaction
When members of the East Texas community were asked their opinions on racial relations in the area and across the nation, their responses were somewhat similar.
“If we all come together. If the people of each city gather peacefully, and really learn about each other. If we all see we really have the same goal, which is love. Regardless of race, religion, gender, etc. we all long for love. It’s human nature. So if we can get everyone to see that we aren’t so different after all, hopefully the hatred will end,” says Evans. Education is one solution to removing the stigma of this issue and improving relations.
Another student agrees that different is not bad, we just need to learn more about each other to better understand one another. “Nothing will improve unless everyone can get along regardless of race, religion, or anything else that makes someone different from someone else,” says UT Tyler student Brandon Barrett.
Even members of Law Enforcement agree that actions need to be taken in order for a change to be instituted. “Racial tensions between the Law Enforcement community and the general population are at an all-time low. I believe it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Right now we have officers that are being punished for doing their jobs not because they’re racist, but because they choose to wear a uniform that requires compliance and carries authority,” says Johnson. Americans need to be more aware of the reasons why we have the justice system and it’s purpose to protect us.
“For race relations to improve, more white Americans need to have the moral courage to acknowledge systemic racism, speak truth to power and most importantly take action and fight racial injustice. African Americans and other people of color should not automatically assume that the actions of police and white Americans are always motivated by racism,” says Cokley.
“I believe racial harmony can improve anywhere and everywhere! We should never cease in growing as an academic society and a welcoming city for many others to seek out the opportunities this nation can offer,” says Ruben Espiricueta, a UT Tyler junior, Mass Communication major. Being positive is one way to help end racism for good. As long as we have members of the community who believe that we can make our city a better place then we have a chance.