Black Women’s Lives Matter: Respecting Civilian Voices in Police Encounters
It could be because your life doesn’t depend on knowing how the state responds to your existence. This is most likely because your life and ability to thrive is not marred with racist, classist, and sexist policies that could end your life.
On a bitter spring morning I was falsely arrested by the Oakland Police Department. Regardless of the circumstances, I was put in harms way and my black life could have been taken and I could be on the list of black women killed by police this year. Every time a black or brown person is in eye view or arms reach of an officer of the law we are at risk of dying. This is fact.
#blacklivesmatter is widely known as a hashtag that inspired a movement. A movement in response to state violence that is unchecked by law, human rights, or reason. A movement that had no start or end for some of us because each breathe black and brown people take is in direct violation to the state designed to destroy us. This system promotes racist, classist, and sexist policies that have, over centuries, creating living conditions and political environments that lead to an illegitimate rationale to implement a stronger military state to dismantle our human rights.
With such an arduous lack of equal protection under the law, black and brown men, women, and children experience an immense amount of psychological trauma from the loss of life and dismantling of our foundation. Our families are separated, our bodies are broken, and our economic ability to compete are thwarted at every turn.
Korryn Gaines had the experiences that many people with low to no income experience. Unpaid parking tickets, maybe even fines for late payments. By no means did this grant the police officers the right to break down her door and shoot her while her five year old child watched.
MSN reported that in a routine traffic stop Korryn was arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. All of which are subjective and not punishable by death. None of her offenses were worth being killed over. Her gun was legally purchased and she felt threatened. Clearly she was right to feel that way because the hour long dialogue ended with her death.
In other instances police officers talk people down who are physicallyt violent. My own cousin, who is a white man, is in prison for fighting cops for the fifth time. He may be in prison, but he is still alive.
In other cases there is evidence of police officers using no lethal force even when guns were pointed at them by white people. Why not Korryn? Did she not deserve the same level of discretion and credit of humanity?
Luckily, there was video evidence of this savage act. Video evidence taken by Korryn, not the police, that documented her case and how she defended herself. Even though the Baltimore Police Department enforced a body camera policy in July the police officers involved were not trained on using their police cameras and they were not issued cameras. This is a lack of oversight.
What bothers me to the highest degree is that Facebook responded by removing Korryn’s video. Is it not the right of Korryn Gaines to freely express herself on her own Facebook page? Did she not earn that right with the loss of her life?
Who makes the Facebook executives God over the use of the Internet? If Facebook is supposed to be an open social networking site, why restrict a woman who – is now dead – when she was trying to show how she was brutally murdered for a lack of discretion by police officers. They should be ashamed. With the removal of her videos from Facebook we see them acting in partnership with the Police state to silence the racist betrayal of our so called democratic state.
Much of the organizing work to bring dignity to communities of color in relation to the state has focused on unlawful excessive use of force by police and vigilante killings. Our response to these deaths is valid and righteous.
We should be in the streets, we should be in our living rooms talking to one another in hopes to influence politics, and sharing pertinent perspectives that influence our everyday realities. The important thing is we can’t stop there.
Like many times before, there will be those in power who will never hear our voices and shifting their decision making can be a maddening process. I’ve been struggling with another response that resonates with how these acts of violence shift an individual’s life choices.
How do people accept the status quo and simultaneously respond to the hostility from a government that would rather kill me than give me justice when raped or murdered? How does a community that has been tortured, stalked by the state, and stripped of our history survive and thrive in this environment?
As a Political Science & Psychology professor, my students regularly ask about the #blacklivesmatter movement in comparison to the civil rights movement, among other efforts for recognition. I urge my students to think critically about why they believe understanding of the struggle requires a distinction between the two as if one wouldn’t be possible or probable without the other.
Many of my students are millennials and their unrequited attachment to a post racial narrative narrows their view only to leave them destined to relive the beginning or middle of the 19th or 20th century; rotten and unknowing, complicit and resentful, complacent and uninterested. And for some of us it will lead to our death.
When looking forward, sometimes we are asked to look back. Often times mainstream American perspectives allow state oppression to exist in the physical realm without giving weight to the psychological and social consequences. The African American Policy Forum is a group focused on bringing light to the intersectional nature of problems directed towards black communities. This group focuses on dismantling structural inequality at its root. This is a radical approach as it addresses the foundation of inequity in our society.
I’ve been pondering on this question – when should we begin framing the necessity to address inequity in black lives. I believe it starts at the conception of a black child’s life and the condition in which that child’s parents are living. And from there, we can expect to see the trickle down affect that will determine that child’s life chances based on systemic racism and social bias unfettered by law or reason.
A person’s life does not rest comfortably alone in their home or on the street. We are intrinsically connected to everyone around us, whether they accept it or not. This is not something all people can accept or want to think about. It stretches the brain and asks our hearts to be outward thinking rather than superficially inward focused. If we could do this well, #blacklivesmatter allies would stop electing people who promote and protect police departments that kill us.
In the civil rights movement, we gave weight to the opposition’s narrative that came back to haunt us in the later 20th century. Some accepted the idea of special rights and even allowed for the narrative of reverse racism to be heard in order to win a seat at the table. We allowed for weaker policies and stronger networking to be the spine of our salvation that allowed less people to be saved than we intended. We cannot afford this any longer.
Civil Rights is considered to be a pathway and roads of access to resources granted by the state. This is a narrow way to look at the innate rights we have as individuals and free people who want to live, love, and build community. Civil rights implies we have to earn it. I have the highest level of contempt for this idea.
Not in name but in cultural ignorance, the Civil Rights Movement has been translated by many as the Black Rights Movement – completely disregarding the gains made in self determination for other people of color, in the disability justice realm, women, and the LGBTQ community.
That being said – I see us making a similar mistake as we aren’t making the linkages necessary to build sustainable cultural change that will last past moments of visible injustice.
We have the opportunity to organize in response to current needs and respond to one another and institutions in ways that can mitigate future harm. My unfulfilled dream is that we will unify towards a vision and mission to collectively create communities and systems of survival that are not reliant on state control.
We deserve better so we should do better. I cannot accept anything less. Neither should you.