Breathing While Black is Punishable by Death
Today, being Black in America means you are at risk of being killed by police while selling loose cigarettes or CDs, or going to a party, or wearing a hoodie, or breathing (or not being able to breathe), or running away, or being fully cooperative.
Last week, activist and Advancement Project Boardmember Jesse Williams spoke passionately about the need for systemic reform. His speech was a call to action in a world where the names of Black folks murdered at the hands of police have become nothing more than hashtags for thumb activism. We watch in horror as another slaying is caught on videotape, and then sob and shake our heads in pure frustration when police officers go free despite damning evidence that proves their guilt. We share memes about injustice, and ask ourselves why this is happening, until the next shooting inevitably occurs. And the cycle continues, despite public outcry.
It is not our hearts and minds or those of our allies which require adjustment, but rather the hearts and minds of those who are blind to injustice that need to be transformed.
Many of us in the movement have worked tirelessly to change the systems and laws that have prevented people of color from living safely and thriving. But one system - whose job it is to protect and serve, has failed us time and time again. The brute force with which law enforcement mistreats, abuses, and kills Black and Brown people demonstrates a real disregard for those lives. Mainstream media helps to uphold the idea that Black lives are less valuable than those of Whites, while misconduct by law enforcement proves it’s true. We live in a society that dehumanizes and criminalizes Black people so that when one is killed at the hands of police, the media is quick to present “evidence” that depicts them as unworthy of being protected. It is a system that gives police a free pass to murder innocent people.
Like you, I am fed up. I stand in solidarity with the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and so many others who have died at the hands of police. My thoughts and prayers go out to them. But I know that’s not nearly enough. So many of us are preaching to the choir with our activism. But we’re preaching to the wrong people. It is not our hearts and minds or those of our allies which require adjustment, but rather the hearts and minds of those who are blind to injustice that need to be transformed. And law enforcement must be at the top of the list.
Perhaps what Jesse Williams offered up is a good next step. Let this be an opportunity for us to make it our collective business to better define the role of police in this country, and to really examine the practices and policies that allow the murders of Black people to continue. The current system lacks accountability and consequences, which makes it a safe space for this kind of behavior to persist.
Until we have justice, until we have dignity, and until we stop being murdered, we will not stop fighting.
Those who hold onto the idea that #AllLivesMatter without understanding the importance of #BlackLivesMatter will continue to be defensive and unyielding by holding onto their racist views. If we as human beings aren’t fully committed to changing hearts and minds, then hate, fear, and ignorance will continue to fuel the war on Black lives.
A recent video highlighted an experiment where Germans were asked to sit down with refugees and look them in the eye for four solid minutes. In short, the result was compassion and understanding. You can watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/748953555246154/. Watching it made me realize how important it is to have one on one connection with people who don’t look like us in order to see their humanity. But how can we foster understanding and mutual respect when many people’s views are informed by racist representations of people of color by the media?
We must not let up. We must continue the conversation and be willing to challenge the current police state and the implications it has for the Black people upon whose backs this country was built. Until we have justice, until we have dignity, and until we stop being murdered, we will not stop fighting. In the meantime, continue to say their names: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Travyvon Martin…