Media Production Editor and National/World Editor
Sofia Rossi: We can just jump right in if you’re comfortable with that, yeah?
Nika Sabouri: Yeah.
SR: How do you feel the protest went yesterday? Was it what you expected?
NS: Truly, it’s not at all what I expected. Casey and I, we were preparing for 300 people. I was still a little apprehensive even telling people 400 people when they were asking, contacting me. The fact that it went so well and people were so perceptive and ready to listen just says a lot about our community. And it has restored a lot of my faith and affirmed a lot of things that I already kind of believed, but the community as a whole – the people of color who do live in Los Gatos – they didn’t really get an outlet to see any of that support [before the protest]. Especially in this town the majority don’t hold those kinds of beliefs in some way, or they’re not as willing to come and speak out about it if that makes sense.
This has all been a really [educational] process for me. It just frustrates me so much when people like to say that “So much has changed, things aren’t what they used to be,” because everything is just an echo of what it used to be. It’s different, but it’s not reform, it’s not evolved, it’s just a different version of the same kind of behavior.
Sophie Sullivan: At its core, what really inspired you to organize this protest?
NS: I’ve always tried to be an advocate for people of color and the voices of black people in this town, but what are you gonna do when there’s nobody here to educate? How am I gonna learn about the black experience when there’s no black people in this town? And just time and time again we see these things on the news of innocent black men and women being violently murdered or mistreated by police and the systems that are meant to protect them. You know Ahmaud Arbery. There was a protest that people could have easily participated in about a month, month and a half ago where you just ran. You ran for an allotted amount of time in honor of his memory, wearing the white t-shirt he was wearing when his shot. And I participated in that, and I tried to bring awareness of it in my PE class where we were going to be running anyways and you could just participate in this protest additionally. And nobody did it, nobody reached out to me saying that they did it, nobody put it on their social media; nobody did it.
So I’ve always cared about these issues, but I’ve been doing the bare minimum. That should be the bare minimum – that you stand up for people when you see them being mistreated, or you try to call attention to the racist issues that are happening in this country.
SR: What did you hope to accomplish through protesting? And how did having that many people protesting impact that goal as well? Do you feel you achieved it?
NS: Nothing at this point has really been achieved or set in stone, and I think that’s what people need to remember because there’s the factor of – if we’d had a police officer marching with us then people would have thought to themselves, “Oh, you know, that’s it. We’ve done something.” But that’s nothing – that’s nothing to the communities that are truly being oppressed in this town. If the system still allows us to hire officers like Officer Silvia and have incidents – I don’t know if you guys have heard about this, Casey can explain the situation with him. But no matter how many cops march with us, no matter how many cops shake our hands, if the system is still the system, then nothing has been done. And so my biggest fear was that people would come out, they’d do a little bit of performative activism, and then they’d go home and say things like “these thugs, these thugs” – saying all these things that just so clearly have connotations. As far as what I hoped to accomplish – obviously the factor of showing awareness, having awareness, spreading awareness, but then there’s also trying to motivate people to do what they can. We’re obviously a very wealthy town – there are ways that we can contribute to the BLM movement.
We can donate, we can march in the streets, we can advocate for people of color, we can give them a platform. But truly, it depends on the community to dedicate themselves to this because it’s so beyond easy for white people or people who don’t experience racism on a daily basis to just forget that it exists. And we shouldn’t. It should be [natural] for us to care about these things.
Somebody yesterday said – I believe it was Pilar Crawford who spoke about her kids’ experiences with racism at LGHS – “Just smile.” That’s what she said. “Just smile, just wave at the people of color in their town. You don’t have to go up to them and say, I understand your experience. But you know, there’s so many times where I would walk into a store I walk into a restaurant in downtown Los Gatos and I get a reaction, and I just think to myself, what does that accomplish? What have you achieved by that?” And now, in a way, we have sort of addressed those situations, as what they are, which is big. [These] kinds of reactions are a big deal. You should not feel comfortable [enough] to glare or disapprove of, or shoot a dirty look at someone just because of the color of their skin. That’s a big deal that affects our self-esteem. It’s literally pushing people out of Los Gatos, which is the most disgusting thing that we learned yesterday, that so many people who leave this town never look back. And then there’s such a strong community here that sees us as the “pinnacle of the Bay Area,” like we’re such a glowing gem of safety and all these things, but it’s just because it comes at the price of making these communities feel so unsafe.
CK: Yeah, and just to add on that real quick, I think a big part of it for us was like, everyone talks about Los Gatos being the bubble.
You can’t ignore it if we bring it to your front door. You know, if we bring this right here, you can’t ignore that and keep saying, “Well it doesn’t happen here, not in my backyard. That doesn’t affect me. That’s not in my area, in my town.” And I think just bringing it here, a big part was just, you have to pay attention. You can’t look away on these kinds of things, and that’s so often what people do because it’s the easiest thing to do. If it doesn’t affect you, it’s so easy to just be like, I’m gonna pretend that it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t affect me. And that’s just not an approach that can be tolerated at all.
And a big thing yesterday that made me so happy was my mom reading back to me Facebook posts that she was seeing from a lot of the white moms in Los Gatos who were like, “I had no idea that this was happening in the schools. I had no idea that people were experiencing this in this town. That makes it so real for me. Hearing their stories was so upsetting for me and moving, and I feel that connection now that I have been exposed to it now.” So now you can’t you can’t ignore it because you know it’s real.
You’ve heard someone tell you: these are my experiences, this is real. And the biggest thing now is, how do we take that momentum and keep it going?
We’re both trying to figure out what we can establish going forward to keep that moving because especially here we know that we have the resources to make a significant impact.
That first step in the main part of this was motivating people to recognize that change needs to be made. That’s when they are motivated to use those resources. We never wanted this to be about us and about us organizing it and it sucks that we know that the police only worked with us because of who we are. We know that had this been black-organized, had this been different, had it not been in this town, that things would have been very different and that we are privileged enough that the police were willing to even communicate with us at all, and much less provide an escort. And so, we found the compromises that we had to make to get this happen in our town to be very frustrating, but at the same time we just had to keep reminding ourselves of, what is the greater cause here? What’s going to do the most good or the most harm for the cause itself? And even if it’s not ideal – and obviously we would have wanted it to be more black-organized too, but in this town that’s just not a reality. And so, it’s our job. It’s not the job of black people or people of color to educate the rest of us.
It’s our job to educate ourselves and I feel like – and Nika’s experiences a little bit different than mine – but at least for me, I’m like, “White people, listen up! It’s our job to take this burden on, not theirs.” That was something that we very much recognized, and we’re very much struggling to reconcile, but I think at the end, it was about the greater cause.
SS: On that topic, with regards to either those who have helped you organize the protest, or those who have just shown their support, how would you describe the help you received from other students or members of the community?
I think the most impressive and inspiring thing to see was the support of the Interfaith Clergy, and if it was not for Kareem [Syed, youth director at the West Valley Muslim Association], who stood by me the entire time that we were marching reminding me when bystanders would yell things at the crowd to just keep my eyes up, looking straight forward. He would just keep saying, “They can’t touch you, they can’t affect you, they can’t do anything. And it was just so profoundly what this is all about.
It’s really sad to see that systems like the police department and the high school, the schools and the institutions that are supposed to be keeping us safe and educating us were much more apprehensive and critical of what we were trying to achieve. But I wasn’t the one who reached out to the Interfaith Clergy, they were the ones who reached out to me. They said that no matter if things go wrong, if people got hurt, if violence ensued, they were willing to take the responsibility because they wanted this to go right. And Black Lives Matter, as an organization, I don’t think it has any religious connections or anything like that, and members of their own community [Interfaith Clergy] might have even been critical that they were associated. And there’s some concerns to be had there, but none of that was expressed to me, none of that concern was put on me to deal with. Instead, it was just, “You have the full faith, the full support of the clergy and we will do anything we can,” and they did. We couldn’t have done it without them, and it was really, really great to see.
SR: What obstacles did you face in trying to organize this? Obviously the Interfaith Clergy were very supportive, but Casey kind of touched on the fact that some people were not very supportive of it. Can you speak more to that?
NS: There were concerns of looting, there were concerns of violence. I can tell you Monday night, because of that [a tweet with concerns about looting], I was almost ready to shut this down, but then Casey and I did a little bit more looking into it, and we realized that all of the people who were reaching out and saying, “You’re putting our city in danger; there have been threats,” it was all leading back to this one tweet that was for June 1, not June 3, when our protest was planned for. That was a completely empty threat.
And that was also a response to the racism that was coming out of Los Gatos. It would have been a consequence for the town silence on these issues.
If you come together and you show that you support the Black Lives Matter movement, there should be no reason that people want to punish you for your silence and for your behavior. And I’ll keep saying this because that’s a small group of emails I was receiving that were criticizing this, were like, “How dare you bring this into our community?” – it’s because you’ve been pushing it out. Any sort of awareness that could have come to fruition, any sort of change that could have happened, you have been doing everything in your power – whether you’re weren’t aware of it or not – to make sure that things like this don’t happen.
And so it was really funny to see people taking this tweet and then adding on to it as if it’s a template for a fictional story or something. Or they’d be like, “There’s this person from San Jose, and this person from Santa Clara, and there’s five high school students,” and it’s just like, “Okay, so what’s your source?” And it would all come back to this one tweet. It would just be like, “Okay, so you’re trying to scare us, and you have no proof of any of this.” So that was a big obstacle. It was mainly Casey in that aspect of really trying to take apart these threats and figure out whether or not we should take them seriously. And at the end of the day, they were completely empty and nothing happened.
SS: I know some people weren’t able to attend the protest for a variety of reasons, and some chose not to. What are some things that you would say to those people who weren’t involved in a protest?
NS: There’s a lot of different reasons, and a lot of the people that couldn’t attend reached out to me and showed their support in other ways. I understand that there’s the safety aspect of, “We’re still trying to follow social distancing,” and I completely respect anybody who wants to follow that. But the funniest thing is there were members of our high school, people that I know who like to associate themselves with All Lives Matter, and will presently, actively oppose Black Lives Matter. They’d put things on their social media, and then I’d respond to them and we’d have a conversation.
There was one instance where I explained to this person what experiences of racism I had seen or I had experienced in Los Gatos, and they had the response of, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that was happening,” and they had a little bit of what I could even call character development, because they’re like “Good to know, that’s so interesting,” or “I didn’t think about that.” And a few days later I reached out to them and said, “Would you help me spread awareness about this peaceful protest since you have addressed the fact that this is an issue in this town, and that you would support changing it?” And their response was no. Their response was, “You’re gonna bring looting into this town, you’re gonna do all these terrible things.” And it’s just so funny because it’s like, you admit it exists, and you won’t do anything to stop it, or even help other people assemble to stop it in any way possible. They almost pride themselves.
I even had people reaching out afterwards, saying “Thank you so much for planning this!” when initially they had said, “I’m not going to endorse this in any way.” I got emails from people who said, “We want to keep thug-like behavior outside of Los Gatos,” and parents of people that you definitely know. It was so gross, but it was also really educational on my end, even though I already was aware of a lot of these problems. I didn’t think that they were just so blind to it.
CK: I just want to add two things really quickly. One is off of what Nika said – there’s a lot of people who wanted to be there but couldn’t because either their parents wouldn’t let them or social distancing and whatnot. But the people who chose not to go were a lot of the people who I’ve observed and I’ve interacted with who are the ones saying, “I get it, I get the cause, but you’re detracting from the cause with violence. The Black Lives Matter movement is harming itself more when these thugs are using violence and rioting and burning.”
My response has always been, “Well, first of all, that’s absolutely ridiculous, but then come out to this protest and demonstrate that you are with the cause when it’s in a peaceful manner. If that really, truly is the reason that it’s stopping you, then come out and support it.” And they didn’t come out. I think it just goes to show that that’s an excuse. That’s a nice way to be able to say, “No, I don’t support it because I don’t support violence,” and I think, “Okay, this was peaceful, this was the plan, and you still didn’t come out.” So it’s not really that you support the cause; don’t act like that’s what you’re really about.
In terms of obstacles there was a lot of back and forth with the high school and the police and just overall. And then rumors that it was being cancelled, which we don’t know who spread them – we have some suspicions – but just a lot of people posting on NextDoor, posting on Facebook, saying that, “Nika doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s bringing looters to our town.” And I just want to point out that Nika, a freshman girl, was willing to put her neck out on the line to put this together, knowing that her name’s on it and that the responsibility is gonna fall on her if something were to happen. She was so passionate about the cause and willing to put that out there that she stuck her neck out there, a single person, a freshman, and the institutions weren’t. The school wasn’t, the big dogs who have way more power, way more influence. And Nika is demonstrating way more strength and willingness to fight for the cause and stick her neck out than any of them were. And I think that just says a lot.
SR: You talked briefly about some racism that you have witnessed and experienced in the Los Gatos community. If you feel comfortable, would you mind speaking a little bit on the racism you’ve seen specifically at LGHS?
NS: For sure. In the information sheet that was released to everybody who wanted to participate, there was a portion where I just wanted to remind people what we’ve already experienced in terms of racism and that we don’t have to wait to see.
There’s always the situation when you’re sitting in your classroom and the teacher starts saying something, and they start diverging into their own opinions, and then you realize that these opinions are going to promote certain behavior. And diverting the blame of some of these problems onto the people who are on the receiving end of oppression and racism. It’s really difficult to just sit there because it’s almost like it’s not education. You can’t teach people your own opinions.
And the aspect that it’s coming from a teacher gives it much more influence. It’s really scary to just have to sit there and watch only one side of an opinion be taught by somebody who could never truly understand these things.
And there’s the prevalent use of slurs, which people love to say, “It isn’t that damaging. Words can’t hurt you.” But they can hurt your self esteem. They can hurt your confidence. They can hurt you in the long run when you have to make decisions to protect yourself, because that is, in itself, an act of violence. You’re asserting yourself as a racist in an environment that enables and allows that behavior. And the people who are being affected by it know that there’s nothing they can do to stop you.
LGHS can implement as many educational programs as they want, but [it won’t stop] until we make steps to make black people and people of color feel more comfortable living in this town. I don’t think programs that have clearly failed in the past work. We need consequences, we need punishments, we need something so that people feel a responsibility not to depict that kind of behavior. And some people are gonna say that that’s too aggressive and that’s too much, but it’s the bare minimum. It is literally the least you can do as a member of society.
I’m not a person who is in the spotlight very often; I don’t have a lot of opportunities to be exposed to that kind of behavior just because in my life so far, and in front of my peers, I’ve asserted myself as somebody who will not tolerate that kind of behavior anywhere around me. It isn’t a direct solution, but it also plays into my own privilege as a non-black person of color as opposed to an African American person in this town. I can tell you about the experiences I’ve had driving around with my dad, who has darker skin than me, and the interactions we’ve had with police officers who just refuse to acknowledge his existence. Whether it be when he waves at them, when he smiles at them – there’s that whole aspect of minorities having to be extra happy all the time, extra friendly all the time so that people don’t see them as a threat. For the most part, I can say that I’ve been really lucky. I haven’t experienced as much as I could, but I know that my sister who attended LGHS – Casey knows her, Nita – for four years had so many terrible experiences that were racially motivated.
CK: I was just going through my old photos because I know that I used to take all these screenshots of when people would do stuff because, again, when you’re in school, it’s hard to document things.
I feel like that’s such a big issue; when POC and the few black students that we have speak up or talk about something that they’re experiencing, people are so quick to discredit it or just invalidate it in some way. That was something I felt was nice about social media, because you could have the receipts. How much can you really deny it when you have [written evidence]? So I was always screenshotting stuff.
I can’t find a lot of stuff right now, but second accounts [on Instagram] were really where I would see the worst stuff, because people knew don’t publicly put it on social media in that way, but as soon as you put it on your second account, it’s fine, which I think just shows that they know it’s wrong,
CK: They know it’s wrong, but they still choose to do it just when they know that they’re not going to face repercussions. So, just a random [post] that I found, it’s a screenshot that says the “Holla cost,” [spelled] “h,” “o,” “l,” “l,” “a.” And then it says, “Yo, big day for my man [referencing Adolf Hitler] turning 69. He really contributed to our world in so many ways. I love you bud, keep influencing little kids to kill. #killtheinnocent.” And this was 2016, so this is me as a sophomore or whatever – freshman. I just wrote, “Not even funny in any way. Don’t know why you would post this.” And [this was a typical] example.
I’m sure that I could go on [Instagram] right now and look on people’s second accounts and find plenty of instances of things. [There’s] people who would always post about Blue Lives Matter and things like that, where it’s not explicitly racist, but being a student of color, being a black student and reading that, I can’t imagine what that would feel like – just so much frustration. I feel like – Nika, I’m sure that this has happened to you too, and I know that Nita [Nika’s sister] and I would talk about this sometimes – we’re very outspoken against these kinds of things and it almost makes us a target in a way. I’m lucky enough that, even when I’m a target, it’s not even [about] me, it’s like about someone else, if that makes sense.
It was like people would intentionally amp things up around us to aggravate us and to solicit or elicit a response from us. It was like, ‘I’m going to intentionally say the N-word around them, I’m going to intentionally [make] super vile comments because I know it’ll rile them up and get a reaction.’ For me to have to be in that state all the time was exhausting and incredibly frustrating, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like for someone whose reality is [like that], and [for someone] who it directly impacts.
It’s just hard because even when you do speak up, or you are the person who advocates, it almost feels like it brings it out more. I would struggle with that a lot where I was like, ‘Do I start saying [something?]’ – I remember one time, specifically, where someone said the N-word around me, and I was like, “Don’t say that. That’s not cool.” I’m the person that – people know that I’m going to say something, and I’ve lost friends because of that, and I’m completely fine with that; I have no problem with that. But I say something and I’ll make people uncomfortable – because I don’t really [care] if you’re uncomfortable – I’ll say something about it. I had someone – I said don’t, absolutely do not, say that word, and they just said, “N [referring to the N-word], N, N, N, N, N, N.” They just repeated it, loudly, to just push buttons. So I had a moment in that where I [thought], “Is me saying something promoting it in a way? Am I making it worse?”
I feel like it’s just this constant battle; I never felt like I had the confidence in [the Los Gatos High School] administration or anyone to back me up or to help support me when I would have those issues and when I would want those students to face punishment or some kind of repercussions. I never felt like they were willing to hear that out or take that seriously. And that was coming from me as a white student, who wasn’t personally victimized by that. So coming from a student of color or a black student who is genuinely experiencing that, I’m sure they took it with even less credibility.
It’s just so frustrating; it’s just this whole loop.
NS: [Casey] talking about that has reminded me of like four or five incidents that I can now talk about.
In elementary school, in fifth grade, a group of boys put their shirts over their heads and they put their arms out like this [making finger guns], like they were holding guns, and they’d pretend to shoot each other while yelling, “Allahu Akbar.” We were what like 9, 10 years old, and I had to go to the substitute teacher, tell her that this was happening, and have her speak to them and then believe them when they said, “Oh, we just thought it would be funny to put our shirts over our heads just to make us look weird, we don’t even know what “Allahu Akbar” is. We were just saying random things; we were just making noises with our mouths or whatever.”
So, you know, I had to see that. I mean, I’m not a Muslim person, but I will always defend Muslim people because people automatically assume that I am Muslim because I am Iranian.
When you see people are being oppressed, [you] don’t say, “I’m not Muslim,” so that people go turn around and then continue to oppress Muslims. People think I’m Indian, people think I’m Arabic, Pakistani, Afghani, all these different things, so you just have to unite inside of your community and defend other people when you see them being oppressed, because if this community doesn’t have respect for Arabs, why would they have respect for Persians if they see us as the same as the same group, the same entity?
In Los Gatos, I had to listen to a student tell me that, because I am a person of color, I will have an easier time getting into college, which is, it’s a load of, it’s a load of [crap]. I’m sorry, but that’s completely wrong; the statistics don’t support that, the facts don’t support that. The reality is, truthfully, the entire opposite of that. If I do get into a college, it’s because I have worked hard, and partially – there’s always the aspect of the model minority, where my parents were lucky enough to come to this country because they had a higher education. But that is nothing in comparison to the superiority and the privilege of white people in America.
SS: I can’t even begin to understand the experiences you’ve had. I’m sorry that you had to grow up with that. But I guess the next question is, moving forward, what are your plans – if you have any – to continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to advocate for people of color and black people in America. And – more protest based – do you have any plans to organize more in the near or distant future?
CK: Nika and I have been talking about sitting down and having a full discussion, and [Elizabeth Madison, a student at LGHS] too, all of us just having a full discussion on what the approach we want to take from here is. Some ideas that we floated are like a student action committee at the high school that’s composed of students of color and black students and students who are truly there to advocate for the cause, who can actually – who the administration will actually take seriously. Those students can come up with not only policies and programs that the school can implement, but also those students should be the ones playing a significant role in deciding the punishment for students who do demonstrate active racism and those kinds of actions. I think if it’s a student-led panel saying, “We’re not going to tolerate this,” I think that that says something. I think that the students deserve a voice there, I think that’s a really big thing.
Also, looking at how we can…changes we can make in our own community and our own. I don’t want to say lobbying, but looking at different legislative actions we can take in terms of the town council and policies that they might be able to help implement, looking at the funding for the police department, and what we can do there, and mandates that we could potentially push for the police department in terms of active body cams and being able to have access to that body cam footage. I know that the Los Gatos police [do] have active body cams, but I don’t think it’s very easy to get that footage. And again, it’s kind of that internal thing where they have motivation to keep that to themselves. I think if there are any incidents that need review, that it should not be an internal review; that pushing them to hire an outside agency to do reviews [is important].
Just coming up with this list of demands or list of action points of things that we want to see done because I think, again, that we have the most power within this community and the direct changes that we can make. I think it’s just going to be about figuring out the action items that would best serve the people of this community and protect our black students and our students of color and community members, and what would be the most effective there. We’re just kind of floating things right now and still figuring out what the best approach would be but we’re definitely not planning on stopping here, and we don’t think anyone else should be either.
NS: In terms of who we want to achieve those things, not only has the community obviously shown their support by coming out yesterday [Jun. 3], but the Interfaith Clergy – I just want to say again – right after all this [the protest] happened, I’d only gotten home for like an hour, hour and a half, they were reaching out [saying], “We’re so ready to lead the conversations, help you lead the conversations, and give you a platform to speak with the police department and to speak with the school.”
When you have communities like churches and religious groups [behind you], [people] can’t omit any respect in those situations. When it comes to a 15 year old kid, you can push them around, you can force an agenda, you can twist their words; when I was in contact with the police department, they had almost dismantled and discouraged this whole thing, subtly, within the course of like an hour, and I was almost ready to back down.
But there’s just so much strength in communities like theirs – Interfaith Clergy. I mean, it’s an Interfaith Clergy. They’ve already dedicated themselves to diversity and community unity.
When I’m speaking with the police department, I am a little worried to let them know any of the plans that we have for the future because, from what I’ve heard from them, what they’re willing to do now is community efforts. But that’s not reform. You know what I mean?
That’s not changing the system, that’s just, again, performative activism, which is the thing that we’ve been trying so hard not to enable throughout this protest. So I just – there’s a lot of fear; I’m pretty freaking scared to approach them as an institution and criticize them, because these are the people that are supposed to be protecting us. No institution in this country is safe from criticism and we should constantly be wanting to change.
But unfortunately, in terms of evolving, the police system in this country has just kind of slowed to a stop. They’re happy with their treatment of people and there’s not a lot that they want to do to change. I can’t speak for the [Los Gatos Police Department], but it’s I mean it’s a universal reality for America.
SR: If there’s one thing you could say to police right now, in our community or across the nation, what would you say?
NS: Like I said, nobody is free from criticism. Nobody is protected from change; if you’re going to fight it, and if you’re going to do everything you can to stifle it, it’s gonna come around and it’s gonna bite you in the – I mean, I should probably change that a little bit – it’s going to turn around and get you.
You can’t just show unity with the community; you have to show [opposition] to what oppresses them. I talked about this yesterday [June 3] when I gave that speech. Oppression is a force that we all should be dedicated to fighting, but if you’re not actively doing what you can to fight it, you’re enabling it and that’s just – I’m surprised that at this point that’s not common knowledge.
For institutions like police departments, they should be as dedicated to not having innocent people die and suffer in those ways as we are. Obviously, I can never truly understand how difficult it is to be a police officer and the stress that [they] are under, but it is a choice. It is a decision that you make, and you are putting yourself out there, and you are preparing yourself for the dangers that could arise.
People of color, we don’t have a choice. We don’t have military grade weapons; we don’t have defense training to protect ourselves. All we have is our communities and all we have is our basic rights that have been supplied to us by the Constitution. We don’t have the entire force of the government telling us that we can do whatever we want to do in the name of freedom.
It’s just not the case. And so, there’s so many compromises that have to be made. I just can’t understand the response – why there’s so many people pushing against police reform, when there’s no justification for what’s going on. There’s no way that you can say that George Floyd’s death was of his own affliction.
That’s one situation, and the fact that that one situation was able to happen, says a lot about our country as a whole; the fact that we say liberty and justice for all, and we preach to all of these values, but we do nothing to promote them and to maintain them. We’re a nation of hypocrites, in some way.
CK: You might not think that you’re a bad cop, but you’re part of a system that enables bad cops and the institution that you’re a part of, if you’re not actively fighting that and fighting for reform within your own institution, you’re a bad cop. I feel like people have a hard time separating the person from the institution, and then that’s where people get really offended and [say things like], “Not all cops are bad” and “Not all this and that.” But guess what? They’re part of an institution and a system that is bad, that is inherently flawed and like Nika said, looking at even just the origins of it and the way that it treats people in the country, you can’t be a part of an institution like that and not be contributing to the problem.
SS: If you could say one thing to the Los Gatos High School administration about anything regarding racism or this movement, what would it be?
CK: Do better.
You’re not doing enough. You can release statements, you [send] emails, you can tell yourselves and the people around you that what you’re doing is enough, but as a person of color – you know, who you should be listening to, as well as the black students in our school – we are telling you directly, we are screaming. We had [some] 2000 people screaming at you to change, booing you, because we all agree that you’re not doing enough. The community, obviously, doesn’t want to be against you, but we’re out there trying to do better, and [you’re] not. [From] a standpoint of education, the truth is the only thing that you should be focused on and, at this point, you’re not spreading it and you’re not maintaining it at all.
SR: If you could say one thing to the students at Los Gatos High School about the Black Lives Matter movement, what would it be?
Don’t be so scared of it. Don’t be so scared to show your unity and to speak out. I have been getting a lot of really kind messages from people in my grade, and alumni. But to the white students at LGHS, have you experienced racially motivated police brutality or racially motivated violence?
If the answer to that is no, then you have no right to say – in a context like that, in a situation like that where we are out there fighting for Black Lives – you do not have the right to put people’s lives in danger by threatening the institutions that would not stop in a heartbeat to take out their anger.
It’s so difficult because you have to compromise so many of your beliefs to get people to listen, to make people comfortable.
Me and Casey have been talking about this this entire time. There are a lot of things that we wish we [could’ve done] yesterday that we were not able to do, and we don’t know if it still would have succeeded if we had done those things; we’ll never know. That’s the truth. We’ll never know.
But if you’re not actively fighting against racism, if you’re not listening to black voices, listening to people of colors’ voices, you can’t really make educated assumptions and assertions about what this movement means, especially in terms of violence. Like I said before, it’s a response to pain and suffering, and if you do not recognize that pain and suffering, you cannot make comments on the violence.
I can actually say that I’ve heard stories from a black friend that her cousin or one of her relatives had had a party, and two people had been shot and killed by the police when they came to intervene and shut them down. No, they were not breaking any laws, they were just doing what Los Gatos students do every weekend, just having a party where there’s drugs and alcohol. How many people in this town have died in this context as a result of police brutality?
CK: Or even been arrested, or apprehended in any way?
SS: That’s all the questions that we had pre-planned, if you have final statements or comments that you want to give.
NS: I mean, I might have to protect myself a little bit here and say like, “I love my community, I love Los Gatos. I love living here. I’m so privileged to be here.”
But at the same time, you don’t get to do this; you don’t get to sit in your gated community, shut off from the rest of the world and actively exercise your privilege in a way that is harmful to people of color. You can divert your hatred and you can divert any anger that you have towards me, but it doesn’t change the fact that this country is being flipped on its head because of what America is. The people of this country – a small minority – are finally speaking out, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop them unless you agree that we don’t have freedom of speech in this country, that we don’t have all these constitutional rights that we’ve been preaching. If you have the ability to silence and stifle a movement of this kind that is based in equal rights, if you’re actively fighting against Black Lives Matter, then you are arguing with the sentiment black lives matter.
I don’t understand why people think that All Lives Matter suddenly and completely breaks this apart.
If you are so scared to say that Black Lives Matter, then you don’t believe that black lives matter. no matter how much you say that you believe that all lives matter, because those two things, one cannot exist without the other. Unless you’re fighting for one, you cannot have the other.
CK: Like what Nika said, kind of to protect ourselves in that way.
I love my community and that’s why I’m working so hard to change it and make it better. It’s like when people say that you’re unpatriotic for fighting for this kind of stuff. No, actually, it’s the epitome of patriotism. That’s what patriotism is; it’s fighting for change to make it better. And protest is patriotic. That’s what this country is supposedly founded on and we supposedly value so much but yet, we don’t. It’s hypocritical.
SS: I just want to say, thank you so much. This has been one of the most informative conversations I’ve had, so thank you for giving us this opportunity. Thank you so much.
NS: Thank you so much, guys.
Photo credit Alaina Fox