By Carljoe Javier

In my teens and twenties I lived in a socially and economically diverse neighborhood. I stayed out walking the streets until the break of dawn. I drank, smoked, used an amount of recreational drugs as can be expected from a wannabe musician/literati. I spent a lot of time with artsy people who went to galleries and smoked up. But before that, I spent a lot of time with poor mechanics, drivers, and construction workers who would buy cheap gin and even cheaper drugs, and we would sit around with a crappy radio or an acoustic guitar and sing songs and find a way to be happy, despite our material circumstances and the seeming hopelessness of it all. It does not escape me that I was privileged enough to go to university, to have opportunities that those friends did not have, and when I visited the old hood they were still working the same jobs, doing the same things.

Some of my friends and I, we are better off. But here’s the thing. We didn’t have to worry about getting killed for doing stupid stuff. There were many times when family members accused me of being a drug addict, of being on hard stuff, and of being a threat. I was none of those things. I got to live a little more, figure things out. I got to make mistakes as a kid. I made a lot of mistakes. So many mistakes. And I’ve grown up and I’ve figured some stuff out. And I continue to try and figure things out. Try and find ways to be better, try and find ways to contribute and to try and make the world a better place.

I am writing this because I am heartbroken at how we have abandoned any hope for so many people. We would much rather kill people who have been accused of being connected to drugs. CONNECTED. Like what does that even mean? And without any substantial evidence, they are being shot. People are being brought into the precinct, and goodness all these guys are fighting and trying to take cops’ guns? Seriously?

Okay, so I get that we want to be safe. We are afraid of these bad people who might do us harm. We want to protect ourselves, protect our families. But every single time I see one of these people who are dead, I think, that could’ve been me. If I made different decisions in my life, I could have turned out that way. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to go to school, I can imagine being driven to do whatever it takes.

And so I want to give people the chance at redemption. I want to live in a society that believes in its people. I know this is utopian. I know all of the things that can be said to counter this hope that I am forwarding. But I want to express it, I want to be a voice, no matter how faint in this maelstrom.

We can be better. People can be better. We need to build a society that believes in that and creates support systems so they can be. I was lucky. I got into a good school and I’ve made a commitment to do as much good as I can to pay society back. That’s the system working. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. And maybe that’s what we should do, try and make things better, give people more opportunities to be better. Not put them in the ground.