From 15th May 2020 till 15th June 2020, EMPOWER Malaysia organised an essay competition for aspiring writers aged 13 to 23 with the theme “The Freedom to Express Myself without Fear”. This is one of the top entries, an eloquent essay from Venus Chan Chia Yuin, aged 14, talking about how important it is to be brave and speak out against injustice.

In the modern world, freedom of expression refers to a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community in terms of articulating opinions and seeking, receiving or imparting information or ideas with no fear for retaliation, censorship or any legal sanctions. In addition to that, the freedom of expression also serves as a foundation on which many other rights are based, besides giving a platform to other human rights. Sadly, not every country has been living up to this standard of expression, with very noticeable effects.

The right to freedom of expression is listed under Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights. For instance, Malaysia, being a part of the United Nations, should conform to this article, yet there still are wide swathes of discrimination and racial enmity in my country. Even in this day and age, many people belonging to racial minorities are subject to acts of police brutality, most often done in prison cells and hidden away from the eyes of the public.

Let me tell you a story of an unassuming man who had an average life, but wielded unprecedented power in his death.

On May 25, 2020, a 46 year old African American man by the name of George Perry Floyd Jr. lost his life to the hands of policemen. His death has incited many peaceful protests aiming to shed light on the twisted racial hierarchy, systemic racism and police brutality. Before him, there also have been a great many cases or police brutality, and with it, the shooting and killing of unarmed men. How has his death truly challenged and reshaped American social ideals?

It all started when a 17-year-old girl named Darnella Frazier recorded the entire ordeal and posted the video to social media. This immediately garnered the attention of the general public, which had long been kept in the dark about such cases. The police even changed the final autopsy to read as cardiac arrest being the cause of death. This was proved as false, as a second autopsy, privately ordered by Floyd’s family, stated the real cause of death as asphyxiation.

Now, as I have already mentioned earlier, this hasn’t been the first case in which the police have taken innocent lives. But, this particular life made a great impact on society, and it had been incited with the courage of Darnella Frazier with her action of posting the shocking video on social media. This courageous act alerted the community of its presence, giving rise to the protests. She received heavy criticism for the video and admitted to being harassed online, but had she not stood up for this injustice, all four policemen involved with the case could still be at large on the streets, hurting others. What would’ve happened if she couldn’t handle the criticism and deleted the video from her social media?

I am not of African American descent, but I can feel their anguish, even with miles between us. Even days after his death and a multitude of protests later, this still shocks me, coming from a country that emphasizes free will and advocates democracy. Who would’ve guessed this would happen, really?

“Silence is violence”, say one of the protest slogans seen in the Black Lives Matter movement. This hits particularly close to home. If nobody had the courage to speak out against such despicable acts of brutality, the public would have turned a blind eye or be kept in the dark about such things. Or worse, the public could be slowly forced into a tyrannical, oppressive ruling regime, had not some brave souls voiced their suffering. We need those voices to tell the world what they have seen. If the voices of the people are blanked out and muted, nobody would know about what they are going through. If the people are afraid to stand up for themselves, we would just be kept in the dark, because we have not went through this.

Although many have spoken that these protests are useless, their effects have been seen. In Minneapolis, the use of choke holds when apprehending suspects were banned, with charges pressed against Derek Chauvin and his gang of crooks. Dallas authorities adopted a rule that required other officers of the law to stop their colleagues who engage in inappropriate use of force. The Los Angeles City Council is planning to reduce the LAPD’s whopping 1.8 billion dollar budget. A study of camera footage led to the suspension and firing of officers in a few cities. The protests have even managed to reach to other countries, with reports of protests in Germany, the Netherlands and Athens.

Memorials have been built in the honor of George Floyd, too. Mexicans left portraits of Floyd with roses, candles and signs outside the US embassy. The Polish left candles and flowers with pictures of George Floyd outside the US consulate. A pair of Syrian artists painted a mural of him on a war- ravaged wall.

What do these symbolize?

The freedom of self-expression without fear is very important. Many unspeakable acts of evil have been committed under the public eye, with bystanders fearing to voice out issues lest they be persecuted. This, however, should be changed. All these issues cannot be swept under the rug and hidden away; we must fight for the change in our communities.

And all of this change? It starts with the bravery of the public in putting away their fear and expressing what they have gone through.

Do the right thing.

The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EMPOWER Malaysia.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

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