The power of the petition

By Qur’an Hansford

A name I did not know became a name I will never forget. Breonna Taylor, 26, was a young medical worker in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March during a botched raid on her apartment, which led to wide-scale demonstrations in the summer as the case drew more attention. After six months of rallying behind her name and calling for the arrest of her killers, the officer who allegedly shot Taylor, Brett Hankison, was recently charged with the class D felony wanton endangerment, punishable with fines of up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison. The officer was not chargerd with the murder of Taylor, but rather with the shots he missed that hit the neighbors’ apartment. The devastation, the neglect and fury that I felt was unexplainable, I asked myself: Why even try to fight?

As protests were underway, people were also taking initiatives to social media to help raise money for protestors in police custody or for families affected by police brutality. Another way social media has helped the public get involved, besides monetary aid or even risking their health by going out and protesting during a pandemic, was petitions. There have been petitions for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery etc, all demanding justice for the victims of police brutality. Taylor’s petition has now reached over 10 million signatures.

The grand jury’s decision made me think to myself, were all those petitions I signed worth it? Did signing all these petitions and obtaining all these signatures really matter if no real change is plausible?

I believe maybe the role of petitions is to raise awareness more so than to bring about tangible change. Ten million signatures clearly was not enough to bring forth justice for Taylor, but that is 10 million more people that know her story, that will remember her name and hopefully continue to demand justice for her and police brutality victims.

“Learning about an issue through an online petition or other digital campaign can lead folks to do further research and reading online, which can lead to higher levels of involvement and commitment,” said Rosemary Clark-Parsons, the associate director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center on Digital Culture and Society.

Signing petitions is indeed a social act and gives non-profit organizations your name and contact information (but you may remain anonymous if you so choose) and when you sign a petition organizations can send you other initiatives and petitions for you to get involved in.

So while it may just begin with the click of a button, piling your signature on a list of others calling for change means you are publicly stating your support for an issue. “That is very likely to influence where you spend your money in the future, how you vote, how you influence your friends,” said Paynter, the founder and CEO of Care2, a site that hosts petitions, to CNN. Paynter believes those who add their sign a petition are more likely to get involved in the issues those campaigns target and become inclined to donate to nonprofits working around those issues.

“We’ve recruited over a hundred million individuals over the last 20 years to support several thousand nonprofit organizations,” he said. “Through those individuals, organizations have raised over a billion dollars.”

There has been conversation that petitions put forth little to no effort in actual change. My opinion is back and forth on the topic. Petitions were all I had when I could not financially donate any more or whenI could not make it to in-person demonstrations. In the height of the protests during the summer, I made sure to sign every petition I saw on social media. It took under a minute to sign five petitions, and given the amount of regrettable time I spend on social media, spending less than 10 minutes of my time toward something productive would not kill me.

To answer the question why even try, I try because if I do not, all the names that I did not know but now will not forget will die in vain. I try because Taylor, Floyd, Arbery and so many other names were once beings walking among us, regular people living regular lives. I feel obligated to reinforce that victims of police brutality are not martyrs, they are not hashtags or pop culture figures to be plastered on magazines and memes but people taken by force and violence. Although 10 million names were not enough for justice, it is more than enough names to remember hers. Say her name. Breonna Taylor.

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