I began writing this in response to an old friend (who happens to be an open-minded white male, troubled by the Police shooting of Black Males pandemic) who messaged me asking my opinion, I knew I could not be brief so I just kept writing. I wrote this in the beginning hours of today, July 7, considering recent Black Lives Matter actions and the July 5th police shooting death of Alton Sterling. This morning I awoke to the news of yet another senseless death of a black man at the hands of police. His name is Philando Castile.
After Black Lives Matter of Toronto disrupted the annual Pride March in Toronto for 24 minutes, the media asked and sparked commentary around the question of whether such aggressive actions are necessary. To which we can respond, were the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner or Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku of Canada necessary?
First, while I could be inclined to say that while I may or may not agree with some BLM tactics, I do support the Black Lives Matter movement. I understand that development takes time. The movement, born from a simple hashtag out of dismay and frustration has continued to evoke solidarity and action amongst those wanting to do something. The mission is to eradicate Institutionalized Racism. As history and our present day has revealed, this is a long-term commitment, this is a Civil Rights Movement. A few days, weeks, months of protesting won’t. fix. anything.
The extreme measures that the movement takes pale in comparison to the unlawful brutal deaths of black men and women that have taken place for a very long time, predating the technology that enables individuals to capture and then spread globally events and information through digital channels. Yet media reaction to the Toronto Pride March is filled with harsh criticisms, going so far as to call BLM bullies. This sentiment was shared across borders, including an Op-Ed piece in the LA Times by Foreign Policy Initiative Fellow James Kirchick, who goes so far as to associate BLM actions with “right-wing hooligans.” He also criticized the Black Lives Matter decision to pull-out as Grand Marshall of the San Francisco pride march because of a planned increase in Police presence in the shadows of the recent massacre of 49 individuals at a Gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a man said to have pledged allegiance with an ideology of terrorism.
Dear Mr. Kirchick, Frederick Douglass said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” So the response to your cluelessness begins by asking, what are the demands of the Black Lives Matter Movement and many other Black Americans? Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus, in 1960 four African-American college students sat at a white-only lunch counter. We can now sit anywhere we like, use whichever gender assigned restroom we like, drink at whatever water fountain, shop at the store of our choosing. What we cannot do is be black while driving, be black while exiting a luxury hotel, be black while selling loose cigarettes or heading to our teaching position at an Ivy League school, or be black while complying, to name a few, without the uncomfortable knowing that the day could go all wrong and end up shot dead by the police because of their fears and lack of training. The two most damaging institutionalized discriminatory practices affecting black people in America today are Mass Incarceration and Police Brutality. In her seminal text on the new caste-like system in America “The New Jim Crow”, called “The bible of a social movement” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Michelle Alexander closes her introduction by saying “No task is more urgent for racial justice advocates today than ensuring that America’s current racial caste system is its last.” In the chapter titled “The Color of Justice”, Alexander explains the Court’s “blind eye to race discrimination” that takes place in policing. Discretion and authorization are two nodes where discrimination comes into play in our criminal justice system, she informs. While prosecutors have the greatest power, “police have the greatest discretion.” What all of this tells us is that discriminatory practices targeting black individuals and communities begins or is conflagrated by the discretion of individual officers and entire departments/precincts in many cases. In the history of Civil Rights, demands have a specific subject which they address to bring about institutional change—focus on the lunch counter to bring about radical change in the daily lived experiences of Black Americans. In the 1960s, the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council shut down streets and sidewalks in residential areas to bring to end discriminatory housing practices. It should be added, that the young activists found that obstructive practices, like the kind Black Lives Matter movement uses, brought about heavy press coverage. Also for consideration is the likelihood that fellow African Americans (who may not have been participating in protests at that exact moment) were inconvenienced by marches and sit-ins in the Civil Rights Era as well.
But today the focus is Police Brutality at the individual and institutional level. Because Police play such a vital role in our everyday, confronting them, calling them to task is most definitely going to create situations such as the ones that occurred at San Francisco and Toronto Pride. But these situations have far less negative consequence than the kind that left Sandra Bland dead in her jail cell.
Let me frame this up for you in Foreign Policy speak. A Powerful country puts a trade embargo on another country because said country is hiding weapons, or committing human rights violation, not complying on the international political scene. Citizens suffer from the trade embargo moreso than the individual decision makers, they keep living the fat life. The point I am highlighting is that embargos, boycotts, protests all create intended and unintended consequences. Make no mistake about it, this is going to be messy.
I want to close out this short address to you Mr. Kirchick, by asking you these few questions. Have you ever been stopped by the police for being in a neighborhood that you, by color of skin, do not belong in? Followed in a department store? When have you ever walked by a group of police officers and tensed up? As an educated man with a degree and high aspirations and accomplishments have you had to remind yourself when walking by police officers to act natural, keep your hands visible, smile so they know your friendly? Oh wait, this one: Do you have any family members, close or distant, that have been racially profiled or harrassed by the police and maybe even falsely arrested? When you get pulled over for a routine traffic stop, what thoughts cross your mind, what dark fears arise?
Look forward to your reply. And with that, I and thousands of others will go on supporting the emancipation of the Black Lived Experience in America, Canada, whereever emanipation has yet to occur.
The viscerally pungent media that shocks among us those who wish the world were fair and equal, harks back to the open casket funeral of Emmet Till, and the graphic images of his mutilated body that sent a shock through culture and jolted the Civil Rights Movement into an electric unstoppable force. The killing of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s murder was inciting as a reoccurring subject. However, it was Brown’s lifeless dead body that remained on the pavement for hours and that image, which I believe incited the movement into fervent and lasting action.
Police/government/law Brutality in the black community has been a constant narrative in our lived reality for the entire existence of industrialized America, which typically is referred to as some kind of period of “enlightenment,” in so far as there was less poverty and strife; the end of serfdom, the beginning of pluralism and ownership by the masses. Although some would argue that we’ve entered a new era of serfdom where individuals no longer own public goods, see Detroit.
There is enough fact and Truth to demand an end, by any non-violent means necessary. It is the Civil Rights Movement 2.0. A hybrid of past movements that will obstruct until voices are heard and things change.
Sandra Bland’s Mother, for her speaking engagements, calls out our complacency, “the walking dead” syndrome she names it. She challenges the audience to name the six other black women who died in police custody during the same month as Sandra. We are implicated by our humanity, but we become complicit in our ignorance and lack of courage to demand justice for those who we share our humanity with. “Wake up!” she says, wake up and start demanding justice, participate in the emancipation of ourselves and others.
To seek justice is to take a traditional pre-determined passage, “Write your Congress man or woman.” But to demand justice can lead to acts of civil disobedience, which as we know is how the Civil Rights Movement reached its successes.
Black Lives Matter didn’t wait for permission to begin demanding. The movement came out of the gate picking up where the Civil Rights Movement left off. And obviously there has always been more work to be done, so it becomes a more impactful movement. In 1964 Nina Simone released “Mississippi Goddam” in response to the killing of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed three young black girls, in which she howls “Keep on sayin’ go slow’…to do things gradually, would bring more tragedy.”
But why the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto? This is an across the board action, to leave no stone unturned in a fight to extinguish what should be considered and is a Pandemic. In America over 130 black people have been killed by the police in 2016 alone. There have been 600 police shooting deaths in the U.S. so far this year and this is only July. While most victims were white, the percentages of minorities and those with mental illness comparatively is much greater. And in many of the cases of black deaths, police walk with impunity.
But this was Canada. Contrary to what some may think the anti-black and anti-LGBTQ sentiments are alive and well up north too. In Canada, the Gay District constantly finds itself under the foot of police harassment. So I suppose this is why Queer Black Black Lives Matter members took their stand. They seriously brought the political back to Pride. As reported in The Globe and Mail, Rinaldo Walcott, director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto and a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement said, “The police have no place in Pride on floats, when they are harassing black youth day in and day out in this gay village.” You see, having some institutionalized racism and discriminatory practices eradicated is not enough anymore. Back in July 2015, the grassroots Black Lives Matter Canada movement was birthed into action following the police shooting of two black males in Toronto. 3000 Canadians showed up for a short notice candlelight vigil. Judging by those bored and bold enough to add their comments via social media channels, there are sentiments that American-style activism is invading their sacred peaceful land, and that is putting most of the comments (“bullies”, “animals”) nicely. But the truth is, it is our blackness that unifies us across borders and our queerness. Peaceful civil disobedience works. At this year’s Pride March, among the issues that BLM-TO brought to the table were concerns for the marginalized Trans members of the LGBTQ community.
This is not a case of American ideology spilling over into Canada, these are major human rights violations for which the world must respond. The world, individuals, do respond but don’t necessarily agree on a course of action. Canada has this “TAVIS” program. Police get to ride around and randomly stop and frisk and I.D. individuals, it’s called Carding. Regardless of no criminal record, their information is stored indefinitely in a database. A recent investigation showed that, like Stop and Frisk in New York City, the majority of individuals stopped are black men. From what I am understanding they also use this TAVIS program to target trans and sex worker communities. Another good reason to protest at Pride. Pride is a major source of tourism dollar, and as such also receives government funding that in the past has swayed influences as to what types of groups can participate.
Among the walking dead, you can count fractions of every community or subculture, including the LGBTQ community. Even here, I have to say, is a socially acceptable level of race-based discrimination within the community. Contrary to what you may believe the acceptance of members of the Transgender community has equally been an issue within the LGBTQ community as well. So in every community people must become woke, there is an unjust imbalance of power. Where there is a lopsided scale of power, science says, tensions will erupt.
Disrupting lunch counters and department stores worked then, but life has advanced. Those were practical targets of the day. Not only practical but worthy examples that crisscrossed the daily lives of a variety of people. But today, the lunch counters aren’t the issue. The demand is for full equality and justice. Despite there being LGBTQ members of the police force, the escalating longstanding levels of brutality and death are unacceptable, and the best way to get folks to listen, to wake up, to get woke, is to shut-it-down.
The Black Lives Matter movement exists to do the following: To let our police departments and public officials know that this reality will no longer be tolerated. It exists to invoke in the individual her or his power and autonomy to act now! It exists to challenge racist ideologies of individuals. It exists to disrupt the national and soon international dialogue and to demand justice and to see an end to institutional practices of discrimination.
How many more black men need to die senselessly at the hands of Police to evoke solidarity by those who are not affected? Or do we affect you?