No Justice No Peace: The Black Lives Matter Movement from the Perspective of a Black Student (OPINION)
June 25, 2020
In early May, the world was introduced to Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was gunned down by two white men while simply on a jog. He was murdered in late February, but action was not taken until the video surfaced and caused an uproar on May 5. While this was not the first time I had heard of a black person being murdered in cold blood, it was the first time I watched as it happened. Soon after, we learned of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was shot eight times in her own bed during a failed drug raid. Once again, news broke much later since she died on Mar. 13. Finally, on May 25, we watched the gruesome nine minute video of George Floyd, the 46 year-old man complying with his arrest over an alleged counterfeit 20 dollar bill. In this video, we see Derek Chauvin press his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 43 seconds as he cries out “I can’t breathe!” This stirred something in the American people and launched worldwide protests. However, these are not new occurrences and stories of racist police gunning down Black people have circulated for years.
I am turning 16 this year, so I have been learning how to drive. Because of the constant reminders of how getting pulled over could end, I am intensely afraid of driving. I am always afraid of what someone might say to be or do to me because of my skin, especially since we are in the South where white supremacist groups are free to roam the streets.
I am also afraid for my family members. I have tons of older cousins, many of whom are men, and everytime I see one of these videos I am afraid they could be next. Although it is not talked about enough, Black women also experience these forms of racism. In 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over and arrested for a minor traffic violation. Three days later, she was found hanging in her cell. Her death, like many others, was ruled a suicide, but popular belief is that that was not the case.
I like to believe that my perspective on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is fairly simple, it is wrong that I live in a country that forces me to beg for my life. Now, the correct response to that statement is not for me to leave this country, but for the country to fix its broken system. Additionally, this is not a political issue in the sense that it is not affiliated with a political party.
The mark of a BLM supporter is basic human decency, not red or blue. Black Lives Matter is a human rights issue, and this country was built on human rights. The Declaration of Independence states,“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Black people have not been treated equally by the institutions that hold this country together, the justice system, nor our fellow Americans who stand by and watch these injustices without taking action. We have not been allowed to live, we are without liberty, and we cannot pursue happiness. Our Pledge says, “With liberty and justice for all,” yet we have not all been granted liberty nor justice.
During the first few days of the protests, with the night came looters who took attention away from the protests. I would like to thoroughly note that the riots have ceased, or at the very least toned down. Now, I am not trying to condone violence; however, it is understandable why protesters and Black people especially would resort to violence. It is due to the feeling that being peaceful has not done enough. When I first saw a picture of the precinct that Derek Chauvin worked in on fire, I felt satisfied. I am aware setting the country on fire will not bring back any of the Black lives lost, but sometimes people resort to violence while grieving and also when feeling that they are not being heard.
As Martin Luther King Jr., a man who has been brought into the conversation for the wrong reasons far too often, once said, “I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard, and what is it that America has failed to hear?” It is also important to note that many, if not most, of the riots were caused by unrelated groups or by the police officers themselves. I would like to remind everyone that property can be replaced, but lives cannot.
“A lot of the looting is being done by white people who are using the protests as an excuse to act out of line. Obviously I do not think the looting is a good thing, but even if it is Black people doing it, as a white person I have no right to police or judge how Black people are responding to this because it is coming from a place of grief and I cannot judge how they grieve. However, since the majority of looting are not being done by Black people and the majority of protests are not involving looting, people are manipulating the protests to give a negative movement to the black lives matter movement. Arrest the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor,” said Isabel Bequer (‘23).
To begin my perspective on police officers I would like to give you some background. I do not trust the police, and I haven’t for a few years now. After reading “The Hate U Give,” a book about the community’s response to police brutality, I truly learned and understood the police brutality geared towards Black people. After watching “When They See Us”, I learned that the abuse has been prevalent for decades. “When They See Us” tells the story of the Incarcerated Five , also known as the Central Park Five, a group of Black and brown boys who were falsely convicted of sexual assault, without evidence, in 1989 . This conviction was built on a lie the prosectuters built. Once I realized someone I loved could be convicted without actually committing a crime, my fear deepened.
“A majority of the time, it is the cops instigating the riots and uproars so they can arrest [protestors], like when they knocked over the 75 year-old-man and said he fell,” Natalia Guzman (‘23).
“Blue lives” do not exist. The explanation is quite simple, “Blue” is not a race but an occupation. Being a police officer is a choice that comes with a risk that was chosen. When the decision is made to become a police officer, while reading the terms and conditions, one learns of the risk they are signing up for. If you choose to sign your name on the line, you choose to put yourself in harm’s way. Unfortunately, I was not given a preview into what I was signing up for by being Black. This is because I did not choose my race, it was decided by genetics. I want to emphasize that although I have said all of these things, it does not take away from the fact that police officers still choose to put themselves in harm’s way which is an act deserving of respect.
Cops are the most necessary part of the solution, Mr. Shapiro. You just never bother to mention that [No one ever says, "only," before] #BlackLivesMatter but you're all "law and order," like nobody cares on the Left for #BlueLives. This is all for our Great, Stable Genius, eh? pic.twitter.com/mM0JuqMNem
— Eric Sandberg (@Sandberg_Eric) June 18, 2020
ACAB is a phrase that has been circulating recently meaning “All Cops Are Bad.” I do not particularly disagree with this statement. I believe that while you may be a good person, that does not transfer once you put on your uniform. It is difficult to be a “good cop” when the police force is inherently bad, based on the racist origins of the police force.
In order to be a “good cop” you cannot just be non-racist but actively anti-racist. The police force is a broken system that deserves to be torn down and rebuilt, not fixed. In the north, being a police officer was not a desired nor respected job because it was more of a punishment than a job. In the south, the police force derived from slave catchers. In the earliest days of the police, most, if not all, officers were a part of the KKK. Currently, many people become police officers because they have a god complex and crave superiority.
Of course, not all police officers have malicious intentions, many truly do want to protect people and make their community a better place to live. Unfortunately, as time has progressed, it seems to me as though being a police officer is not the way to fulfill those dreams.
ACAB is often paired with the statements “defund the police” and “dismantle the police.” Defund the police hopes to spread some of the large sum of money that goes to the police force to other areas that need it such as homelessness and education. Dismantle the police demands the disbanding of the police force as we know it. I specified by saying “as we know it” because the disbanding of the police force does not mean the destruction of the police. Dismantle the police calls for the community to act as law enforcement or some other form of policing. Sometimes, police officers are required to deal with a situation that they are not equipped to assist. For instance, a social worker should arrive on the scene of a mental health crisis rather than a police officer because they are trained to help those situations. Disbanding and rebuilding the police force allows for the reformations that has been proven necessary.
Police sympathizers will often try to argue and debate why someone was shot or killed, for example, Rayshard Brooks.
Such responses from the public exemplifies the double standard for Black people. When an officer approached Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people in a Charleston church and had a Glock 45, he reholstered his gun. After Roof was jailed, police officers brought him a meal from Burger King. It is human nature to react the way you are treated. If you are treated aggressively, you will most likely respond aggressively, and vice-versa. The underlying concept should be that there is no excuse nor acceptable explanation for why Black people keep dying this way. If your first response to that statement or these situations is contradictory, you need to reevaluate your morals by educating yourself.
“I know that with everything going on people keep saying that not all cops are bad, but if they see problems and aren’t willing to do anything about it, it makes them just as bad as the ones who are doing the killing. Either step up or step back,” Titi Varmah (‘23).
— The Hill (@thehill) June 25, 2020
Racism has been called the deadliest disease, and I believe that performative activism is the second. Performative activism was widely showcasted through Blackout Tuesday. The original idea for Blackout tuesday was for celebrities to refrain from posting about or promoting themselves and instead post about Black Lives Matter. Once the general public caught wind of the movement, there was the addition of posting a black screen, blank or with information, in solidarity, but then to post about BLM. Unfortunately, most people did not fulfill the second half of the day’s purpose. This led to an Instagram hashtag having more posts then the signatures on many petitions. This is performative activism, when someone presents an image that shows them supporting a cause when in reality they are doing it for likes, views, or merely to fit in. While this could have been another instance of miscommunication, overall that was not the case.
“I can’t wrap my head around performative activism because I feel like it takes so much effort to fake being woke. Like if you’re going to go through all of that just for clout and some pictures you might as well actually support the cause. It really makes me furious because with everything going on people are only supporting movements like Black Lives Matter because it’s trending, not because they actually care,” said Tress Jacobs (‘20).
During this time, many businesses and companies have spoken out to announce their support for the BLM movement and say that they stand in solidarity with the Black community. Some of it is quite performative, being that this support is announced in an attempt to appease the public. Netflix, for example, released a statement announcing their support for the Black community. Many found this to be interesting being that Netflix rarely casts Black characters in non-stereotypical roles. Netflix also constantly fails to cast dark-skinned Black women in their productions. There are so many other stories, fashion brands or magazines that rarely hire black employees, institutions that do not act out against racism within its own walls, and many more. The issue is showing false support in order to look good.
— timothée chalagec (@haaniyah_) June 10, 2020
Earlier I mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been brought into the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. I say this because the people who continuously use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to condone violence, and invalidate the progress it has made are failing to acknowledge many of the other things he has said. In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he said, “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with the effects and does not grapple with the underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative”. This quote encapsulates my thought process once I see someone verbally attacking the protestors while completely disregarding the reasons for the outroar.
What is often forgotten is the way Martin Luther King Jr. was treated during the Civil Rights Movement. The fact that he was assassinated should be a well enough explanation for how much he was disliked. Similarly, many people have been calling for peaceful protests, something Colin Kapernick attempted. Colin Kapernick is the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who knelt during the National Anthem of every football game he played in the 2016-2017 season. Though many misinterpret his movement for disrespect for the flag, he has specified through various interviews that he dealt as a protest against police brutality against Black people, which is not disrespectful to neither the flag nor the veterans. Many people fail to remember that those who fight for change are villainized in the present-day and revered in retrospect. I am aware that these conversations are hard, but they are necessary. As uncomfortable as a conversation this is, it is necessary for change. Racism is not taught, it is learned and needs to be unlearned starting inside the home.