Nearly 400 years ago, the first Black people were stolen from their native lands across the African continent and brought to America to toil as slaves. They were separated from their families, whipped, raped and dehumanized. They were treated no better than mules. In 1865, the American Civil War erupted and Black people were no longer legally allowed to be enslaved. Yet, the dehumanization continued in the form of lynchings, rapes, economic exploitation and denial of other basic liberties that many privileged, white men took for granted. Thus, the Black nadir began and continued up until The Civil Rights movement. The actions of activists like Martin Luther King, Diane Nash, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer and others brought an end to the state-sancitioned Jim Crow laws, which were designed to dehumanize and disenfranchise Black people. No longer could Black people be forced to the back of the bus, no longer could Black people be lynched with impunity, no longer could Black women be raped at will. Today, we have overcome many obstacles, but unfortunately the story of Black people didn’t end after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Today, America is still largely segregated, Black schools are underfunded and many poor, Black neighborhoods are in disarray. Today, the Criminal Justice system has been likened to the New Jim Crow. The prison population holds more Black people today than there were slaves in the antebellum era. Black people are more likely to die at the hands of police. This combination of unequal education, the war on drugs and a biased criminal justice system has literally destroyed Black communities. Thus, #Blacklivesmatter was born.
Too many Black people’s lives have been deemed expendable and too many people have turned a blind eye while countless injustices occur under their very noses.
On July 7,2016, a peaceful Black lives matter protest erupted into chaos when one suspected sniper shot 11 police officers and killed 5. This event occurred after Philando Castile, a Black man from Minnesota, was shot by police in front of his girlfriend and a 4 year old child. He was pulled over allegedly for a broken tail light. Earlier in the week, a Black man from Louisiana, named Alton Sterling, was shot outside a convenience store after he had been selling Cd’s. Both men were armed, however according to accounts from witnesses, it seems that the police acted violently without provocation. Alton Sterling did not threaten the police with the gun and was thrown to the ground and subdued before the police shot him. Philando Castile was licensed to carry a gun and his girlfriend had said that he was complying by retrieving his ID before he was shot by police.
However, the circumstances of the cases won’t matter because many people already believe that Black people are inherently violent and unworthy of equal protection or a right to trial. Throughout history, Black people have been stereotyped as violent, lazy and inferior to white people. Although times and laws have changed on the surface, these stereotypes still persist. Just ask Dylan Roof.
Many people will look at the stories of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and they will presume that these two men must have had it coming because of the stereotype that Black people are inherently violent. Some will look at the story of the Dallas Police Shooting and use that as propaganda to not only discredit the necessity of the Black lives matter movement, but they will use it as further evidence that Black people are inherently violent, even though the overwhelming Black people are NOT violent criminals, but law-abiding citizens, who are trying to survive in a society that is structurally racist.
I am truly saddened by the killing of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. There is no question, that the criminal justice system is racist. There is no question that there needs to be nation-wide police reform. There is no question that Black people are justified in our anger. However, I am also saddened that the Dallas Police Officers, who had nothing to do with either of the shootings, were killed. As racist as the policing system in this country is, there are still some police officers who truly do respect and serve all people, regardless of color and violence, unless it is in self-defense, only begets more violence. I fear now that Black lives matter protests (who consist of many women, children and students) will be targeted because of this isolated incident in Dallas. There will be people who will overlook the fact that the vast MAJORITY of Black lives matter protests have been peaceful, there will be people who will overlook the fact that many many Black people are law-abiding citizens who simply want the same equality and rights that any American would want. How many more Dylan Roofs might be out there waiting…?
Most of us know that we can’t fight a structurally racist system with violence, we need political reform from the highest level. We need police to be trained in racial awareness/racial justice, we need them screened for bias. We need to implement restorative practice, we need to put politicians in office who are concerned about the wellbeing and justice of ALL Americans, not just white people. We need educational reform, not violence.
Now, I’ve had some people express the fact that in hundreds of years that Black people have been here, we have faced one obstacle after another. We achieved emancipation, but then we get lynching and Jim Crow, we dismantle Jim Crow, only to get mass incarceration. For every step forward, we take a step back ,so is there any point? Some people believe that the best thing for Black people is to have a separate, self-sustaining community where we control our own police. While others contend that political and criminal justice reform and embracing of diversity is the solution.
What do you all think?