TT sprinter Akilah Lewis supports the Minneapolis school board’s recent decision to end its contract with the city’s police department after the death of George Floyd.
The 19-year-old, a sophomore student at the University of Minnesota, expressed pleasure at the board’s swift reaction to protect the school body as Floyd’s death continues to prompt widespread anger and protests in Minneapolis, throughout the US and around the globe.
On May 28, university president Joan Gabel said the university will no longer use Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers during large events such as football games and concerts. Gabel also directed the UM's chief of police Matt Clark to disband the use of the MPD when specialised services such as K-9 explosive detection units are needed.
In a letter to university members, Gabel wrote, “We will limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty and staff at risk.”
Lewis, who returned to TT on March 21, the day before TT’s borders were closed, agrees with the president’s decision and believes it may be a step in the right direction.
“I think it was a really good move and a quick reaction by the school administration to take matters into their own hands to protect the school. Minneapolis will not be the same. People are now more aware of racial disparity. What has happened is revolutionary,” said the track athlete.
Civil unrest in the US state has escalated to looting and destruction of state and private property. Lewis disagrees with the violence by protesters but hopes the experience can spark a renewed awareness of discrimination against African Americans by police officers.
“I would like to see an intentional change, not only in the way that police address matters but also in the legislation that America has in place. Their racism is systematic, it’s in everything; laws, policies seem to be systematically designed to oppress black people in the US. I’d really like to see an intentional effort for them to deal with situations differently,” added the Bishop Anstey graduate.
In early March, Lewis was advised by her university coach to return home since classes were transferred to online platforms and the athletic season cancelled due to covid19. She was lucky to get a flight on March 21 to escape the rapid spread of coronavirus in the US. Fortunately, she was also able to avoid the mayhem which followed over the past week.
Lewis still maintains close contact with school friends who reside in Minnesota and are taking part in daily protests. She revealed some of her schoolmates were also in the vicinity of a truck driver who recklessly sped towards a crowd of peaceful protesters. Lewis said she has never been a victim of racial discrimination or profiling in the US.
She believes peaceful protests are relevant.
“All the protests and riots currently happening in the US are really important. It’s the only way change can happen. Over the years, black Americans have been oppressed and I think this is just a reflection of all the built-up anger and injustice faced. I think it’s important that these protests happen.”
Since her return to TT, the 60m (indoor) and 100m, 200m (outdoor) sprinter has been forced to train indoors and use her yard space as a make-shift gym. Lewis’ arrival at that time also required her to stay quarantined for 14 days.
As Government's phased lift of stay-at-home restrictions continues, Lewis opted to visit her community park to run and cycle with her brother. The speedster recently resumed training in small groups with Concorde Athletics and coach Ken Barton at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
“Covid19 has directly impacted my training since there aren’t any more competitions in the US or locally. During quarantine, my coach made sure I did jogging, bodyweight circuits and core exercises. It’s so weird training at this point in the season without a competition to prepare for. It’s just off-season and background training now,” she said.
Looking ahead, the business student hopes for a positive turn of events regarding covid19 and Black Lives Matter protests. Lewis fears these massive demonstrations may generate another wave of covid19 which would affect her classes in the fall semester.
“I’m looking forward to having a complete year of school since my first year was interrupted by the pandemic. My plans for the near future are to qualify and score at NCAA meets and possibly qualify for the 2021 Summer Games. I do feel like my life will change though. The protests brought a lot of unity among people and I hope people become more understanding. I don’t believe in violence, at this point, against racism and oppression of black Americans, I think we really need divine intervention.”