Policing

Why Black Lives Matter to us

AS AFRICAN Americans and the wider Black diaspora came to terms with the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the murder of five police officers quickly shifted public attention from Black Lives to ‘Blue Lives’.

One explanation for this shift may be that, in the national consciousness of the US, white lives are worth more than Black lives. Another intertwined explanation is that, given their incredible frequency, police murders of African Americans are seen as normal an unremarkable.

Despite the police killer Micah Johnson being in no way connected to the movement, and in fact having being condemned by Black Lives Matter activists, the mere fact that the police officers were murdered at a protest organised by the movement has brought an unprecedented level of scrutiny to the movement.

Just as any Islamic terrorist is seen to be representative of all Muslims, Micah Johnson is now assumed to represent the entirety of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whilst rejecting this racist logic, it is important now that the impetus and fundamental principles of the movement are defended.

History attests to the remarkable efforts that the white media, politicians, and law enforcement will go to in order to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize’ black revolutionary politics. It is clear that the white establishment has been as troubled by the rise of the BLM movement as they were by the Black Panther movement and Black revolutionary movements of the past. We should not be surprised then that attacks on the BLM movement have proliferated.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged in response to the high profile police murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The growth and salience of the movement is reflective of the racism that permeates US society generally, and its criminal justice system particularly. Indeed, the need to restate that Black lives matter has not dissipated since the movement’s inception. Rather, the systemic and systematic murders of African Americans have ensured that the movement continues to resonate.

To understand the need for the BLM movement, it is necessary to consider the recent murders of Sterling and Castile not in isolation but as the latest in an almost incomprehensibly long line of white terrorising, brutalising and murdering of African Americans.
This is a genealogy that extends to the slave patrols and public lynchings that characterized earlier epochs of American history. In essence, the murders that sparked this latest protest are modern-day, state-sanctioned lynchings.

Whilst in no way suggesting that some lives are worth more than others, when positioned in their larger contexts, it is important to recognise that the murders of Sterling and Castile, and the murders of the five police officers are characteristically different.

The police murders of Sterling and Castile remind us that Black lives are considered to matter less. In so doing, they act to keep in place a system of white supremacy.

In contrast, the murders of the police officers do not carry the weight of systemic power. It is, a manifestation of, or reaction to, the failures of that system.

In a society where black lives are apparently so expendable, where one in three black males are incarcerated over their lifetime, and where the education system remains separate and unequal, it is fundamentally important that a national and international movement exists that affirms and fights for the importance of Black lives. It is inconceivable and ahistorical to assume that progress would be made without black movements demanding change.

Following the murder of the police officers, former US congressmen Joe Walsh used Twitter to place the blame at the feet of Obama, liberals, and Black Lives Matter.

Walsh’s critique is woefully misplaced. It is not Obama, or Black Lives Matter, that brought about these murders.

Rather the deep-rooted anti-black racism that characterises US society spurned these police murders.

Given the levels of inequality, and the snails-pace of racial progress, should we really be surprised by this expression of helplessness, anger and frustration? As James Baldwin observed, ‘The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose’.

Rather than condemning the Black Lives Matter movement for the actions of an un-associated individual, people like Walsh should consider encouraging Black Lives Matter: a peaceful and progressive movement that, ultimately, provides a space that channels anger. Without the presence of Black Lives Matter as a voice for the disaffected and disenfranchised, it is not hard to imagine more frustration bubbling over into acts of individual terror.

As Langston Hughes once wrote,
Negroes,
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day
They change their minds!

This piece originally appeared on The Voice, and was written by RJN’s trustee Remi Joseph Salisbury

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