Before we get to into this, I would just like to clarify one thing that seems to confuse some of my classmates. The Black Lives Matter movement does not mean to say that black lives are the only lives that matter. It is not saying that your life doesn’t matter. In fact, on their website, this is how they describe the movement: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” See, guys? Nothing in there about hating white people or police officers. (In fact, if you’ll click right here, you’ll find nine other debunked myths about Black Lives Matter). I know that it might be shocking to comprehend, but the majority of the human race can tell the difference between one bad apple and every other fruit that grows from the tree.
And frankly, saying “Well, all lives matter, not just black lives” in response to Black Lives Matter isn’t a valid argument. Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that black lives are the only lives that matter. All lives do matter, but not all lives are being threatened at the same rate. Black people are more likely to be victims of police brutality than white people. That’s just a fact. Saying Black Lives Matter is just a way to bring awareness to that fact, not to disregard the lives of poeple who aren’t black.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
On August 18, 1977, anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko was arrested and taken into police custody. The officers interrogated him for almost 24 hours, and they tortured and beat him over that period. Their attacks sent him into a coma. His injuries included a major head injury. On September 11, police loaded a naked and chained Biko into a Range Rover and took him to Pretoria, because there was a prison there where he could receive treatment. He succumbed to his injuries on September 12, shortly after arriving. Police said that he died as a result of a hunger strike, but his autopsy said that he’d died due to a brain hemorrhage (which was the result of his beatings).
On March 3, 1991, taxi driver Rodney King was beaten by officers of the L.A.P.D. after a high speed chase. Once the chase came to an end, King had been ordered to get out of the car. He initially refused but then complied. He resisted arrest and got physical with one of the officers, and they tased him. After that, King was beaten with a baton and kicked repeatedly. He survived this attack, but he fractured a bone in his face, broke his ankle, and suffered plenty of other bruises and lacerations. Four officers involved were tried. Three of them were acquitted by a grand jury and the jury didn’t reach a decision on the fourth. The officer’s acquittals led to a lot of protests in the LA area.
Those two examples were a long time ago. Things have gotten better, right?
No. Not even close! Come on. We have Donald Trump as our president (although that’s a rant for another time). Things have not gotten better! If anything, things have gotten worse.
On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant was shot by a BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle. Grant died the morning after the shooting. His death later became the basis of the movie Fruitvale Station, which chronicles his actions on the day that he died (and includes actual footage of the event). Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but was released early.
Six years ago today, on February 26, 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot by former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman (who was later acquitted). Martin was walking in his dad’s neighborhood when Zimmerman spotted him and decided Martin looked suspicious. He called 911 to report this, and the dispatcher told him not to get out of his car or to approach Martin. Zimmerman ignored this, and the next thing anyone knew, the neighbors were reporting gunshots. Zimmerman had shot Martin.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed after officer Daniel Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold to restrain Garner. Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Although he’d been tackled and restrained by several other officers, Pantaleo was the only officer charged. Pantaleo was investigated by a grand jury but he was not charged.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was unarmed, and according to some people, he had his hands up in surrender. His death led to a series of violence and protests in Ferguson. Some time after the shooting, my family and I went to Missouri to visit some other family members in St. Louis, which isn’t very far from Ferguson. A lot of the stores in Ferguson were still boarded up due to tall the protests.
On November 22, 2014, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by officers in the park as he was playing with a toy gun. A 911 caller had reported that someone was waving a gun around in the park, however, the caller also noted that the person waving the gun was most likely a juvenile and the gun was most likely fake. The officers that were involved claimed that he had reached into his waistband for the gun when the officers asked him to put up his hands. After arriving on the scene, officer Timothy Loehmann fired twice at Rice, without asking Rice to drop his weapon. There were protests in Cleveland after Rice’s death, protests which were made worse on November 25, after the decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown a few months prior.
On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray died after a week-long coma, the result of a spinal cord injury he’d recieved in police custody. On April 12, 2015, Gray was arrested for possesion of an illegal blade (which actually was legal under Maryland law) and placed in a police van. The van made several stops on the way to the police station. Paramedics treated him at the station for some time before taking him to the hospital, in a coma. He died a week later in the hospital. The detectives were acquitted.
These cases I picked because I remember them all quite vividly (aside from the first two, since, you know, I wasn’t actually alive for them), but there are so many more people of color who have lost their lives in similar ways. There’s Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Robert Davis, Frank Jude, Akai Gurley, Sean Bell, Timothy Thomas, Abner Louima, and so many more.
Why does this happen so often? The job of the police is to protect and serve. (Note: obviously not all police officers are bad people. A lot of them are great. But some don’t always make the best decisions, and it’s costing people their lives.) How is using violence to combat violence–that, in some cases, hasn’t even happened yet–protecting anyone? How is using violence serving the citizens of America? By robbing innocent people–in some cases, adolescents–of their lives? By taking people’s loved ones away from them?
And what kind of message does it send to the families of the victims when their loved ones are killed and the perpetrator are not held responsible for their actions? What kind of message does it send when the blame is placed on the victim?
It’s 2018, you guys. America has become more and more progressive throughout the years, but this is still a huge problem for us (and while this is mainly focusing on BLM, I could easily rant for just as long about “the wall” or the lack of gun control in America or the travel ban or women’s rights or LGBT rights or the rights of sexual assault survivors or the fact that Trump signed a bill allowing states to defund Planned Parenthood). Black people shouldn’t be losing their lives at the hands of police at this rate. And when they do, those police officers need to be prosecuted, and they need to do time. They shouldn’t get off scot-free for taking a life and they should not be acquitted. That’s part of the problem.
Things need to change.
We need to change. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote (in Hamilton’s “My Shot”), “Will the blood we shed begin an endless cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?”
He was referring, of course, to the American Revolution and the fight for American freedom, but it’s still relevant today.
We don’t want an endless cycle of deaths. We don’t want an endless cycle of unnecessary acquittals. We want change.
What will it take for us to get that?