Opinion: How to Make #BlackLivesMatter truly

It seems like every day there is a new trending hashtag for the death of a black man, woman, or child under the auspices of law enforcement. With each hashtag I feel a little less human. With each hashtag, another individual is immortalized -- another victim of modern-day lynching. I try my best to not bear witness to the butchery as overt miscarriages of justice are committed before my eyes, photographed and video recorded from conflict to deadly end.

We Are Perverted

I believe that those of us who are able and willing to watch these modern-day lynchings, behind the comfort of our lapped windows into the world, are afflicted by a sort of perversion that seems insatiable. Once you’ve witnessed one murder from the comfort of your television or smartphone device, what’s to keep you from watching another?

Think back to the many picnics that begot the latest Civil Rights Movement: do you remember the gathering of whole families of spectators to watch the lynching of a black man, woman or child after a long hunt of pursuit, capture and torture? The picnics were documented by photograph and sent as souvenirs to loved ones and penpals throughout the world. Imagine these, postcards of hundreds, even thousands, of smiling faces enjoying whiskey, sandwiches and other pleasantries whilst a dead human being swings above their heads like strange fruit. These mobs carved out severed body parts as keepsakes in many souvenir packages that gained international attention. Praised as “heroes,” mobs of white supremacists and Ku Klux Klansmen were lauded for protecting their likeness from threats of miscegenation, desegregation and other perceived breaches of law and order in their disparate communities.

These mobs were made up of affluential members of society; they were law enforcement officials, pastors and other clergymen, politicians and business owners. After the collection of chunks of flesh, genitalia, limbs and more, lynching victims were burned, never to rejoin their loved ones or be exonerated from the circumstances leading up to their murder. These mobs suffered no legal recourse and the consequence of their terrorism has been generational blows to the sanctity of life and coexistence.

Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) Further Desensitize

The U.S. Department of Justice’s latest assessment (2014) of the efficacy, or lack thereof, body cams worn by law enforcement officials includes perceived benefits such as enhanced transparency and legitimacy of law enforcement by citizens. With the prospect of unbiased evidence to introduce to courts of law for more objective adjudication and the Hawthorne Effect, the general assumption of citizens surveyed regarding the implementation of body cams for law enforcement personnel throughout the U.S. has been empirically favorable. However, recent public outcry of misuse and/or abuse of force as evidenced in the release of particular body cam recordings evidences that there has been increased mistrust of law enforcement officials, especially in disproportionately criminalized communities that are “over-policed” as discussed by 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. A good example of this is in the unfortunate conclusion of Freddie Gray’s case where a 25-year-old black male accused of carrying an illegal switchblade suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in the custody of police in the city of Baltimore, Md. Though his death was ruled a homicide, the judge found none of the officers involved guilty of reckless endangerment, misconduct, assault, or manslaughter.

The mistrust of law enforcement officials has fueled the preponderance of video evidence, made available by body cams and smartphone devices, resulting in the almost involuntary buy-in on the part of the public to be accomplices to modern-day lynchings in order to be advocates for change and justice. Equipped with raw photographic and video evidence, emotive reporting by the media and the public’s blogging and hashtagging on social sites call out unjust practices and treatment while demanding justice and accountability for wrongdoings. The legitimacy of law enforcement is then shaped by the media and majority public perception therein. Then, rather than trust that justice will be handed down in the court of law, the public partakes in viewing and corroborating modern-day lynchings caught on film or by photograph, unknowingly growing more and more desensitized, in order to take matters into their own hands because they don’t trust that justice can come from a status quo system that so rarely hands down just rulings. The status quo has long plagued our criminal justice system since days of Jim Crow. Then, mob rule kept law enforcement immune to the rule of law; now, the same seems to be true.

Community Policing

Do you know your neighbors? Less than 50 percent of Americans know their neighbors by name according to the latest survey released by the Pew Research Center. This is especially true for Americans who are renters. Today, we live rather atomistically and seem to find greater comfort in living among one another invisibly. This undoubtedly contributes to our inability to properly protect and correct harmful behavior in our neighborhoods. Investing in ourselves requires investment into our neighborhoods. And community policing is most effective when paired with structural investment into our disjointed communities.

Instituting Change

To make #blacklivesmatter truly, change must be institutionalized. Positional power and legitimate authority have to be conferred so that advocacy and activism are elevated to stakeholders with policy and decision-making authority. Change must be measurable. For the enterprise, change will be embodied in data-driven objectives; hired change agents will be residents of the community that are employed to advocate and serve. No longer can we assume or expect that change will come on the backs of volunteers and others with their basic physiological needs unmet; with the enterprise, we will invest in ourselves so that we can invest in our futures.

The enterprise’s sole mission will be to improve the health and well-being of residents of high-crime areas. With a focus on crime prevention via data-driven objectives, the enterprise will become an integral community organization that commands the attention of local political leadership, ensures that public services are reaching their intended audiences, and makes civil servants accountable to the communities that they serve. The enterprise will have a lead change agent that will direct, lead and supervise the change agents hired to function as effective subject matter experts from their respective districts. Each change agent will be employed and paid a living wage for their work on behalf of the community. The residency requirement will ensure that there is a built-in reciprocal relationship with change agents of the enterprise being both servants and beneficiaries of the work that they will passionately commit. Collectively through their advocacy, the community will have a familiar neighbor to help guide and direct their brighter futures. Ergo, the enterprise will function as an effective and salient coalition of affluence and conviction as depicted here:

Sustaining Change Institutionally

The enterprise that I propose would function like an Urban League though with much more local command of the issues. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 as a grassroots response to the economic, social and political hardships suffered by African-Americans following the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling in 1896. Begun from the bottom-up, rather than top-down, and resonant with the community it targeted, the National Urban League led in organizing the Freedom Movement during the Great Migration. The National Urban League has grown to be an indispensable community resource; it gained its prominence after several years of successful community development, youth empowerment and sustainability programs in the communities that it serves. The private enterprise that I propose will function similarly in utility though will deviate in its mission, goals and focus. By employing the community to police, advocate for and sustain themselves, the enterprise will be locally situated and focused in order to bring about the sort of change that is the most powerful and resolute as it is endorsed by the residents of the community it will govern and will ultimately be held accountable to. The relationship that exists between the enterprise and the community will be a synergistic one with great benefits and reciprocal commitments. 

Reproductive Justice

According to the Guardian (2016), there were at least 306 black people killed by police in 2015; 258 of whom were shot dead. Fifteen percent of them were black males between the ages of 15-24 years old. According to Mapping Police Violence (2016), some 37 percent of unarmed people killed by police officers last year were black. Thus far in the year 2016, more than 136 black people have been killed by police officers throughout the US. No longer can we afford to not act on the many travesties that we have endured. There are far too many mothers losing their sons, fathers losing their daughters and children losing their innocence.

Black women are uniquely impacted by the many travesties that have been spotlighted by the #blacklivesmatter movement. Black women should be able to rear children when they choose without the fear or duty of burying their children due to overtly reckless and careless behavior on the part of entrusted street-level bureaucrats with a responsibility to protect and serve. The latter is a form of patriarchal and militaristic state violence that black women have long been victims to. For as long as our history as a nation has been told, black women have had to cope with and suffer from state-sanctioned separation from their families. Black women have had to bear witness to the murder of their children and the raping, also referred to as “bucking,” of their husbands. Black women have had to surrender their right to personhood and forfeit their bodies at the will and privilege of the state; they have also had to endure forced sterilization by state orders to satisfy policy goals, research efforts and institutional racism. According to The Counted (2016), black males between the ages of 15 and 24 are nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than any other demographic.
Our inaction is violence; for black women to regain themselves and to therefore be able to regain control of their bodies, assault and metaphysical death committed against their children must cease.

A Course of Action

My action is to abstain from watching modern-day lynchings. No, I do not wish to get used to watching the deaths of individuals like Tamir Rice, shot and killed at just 12 years old, John Crawford III, shot and killed at 22, or Korryn Gaines, shot and killed at 23 years old. I also do not wish to get used to watching other overt miscarriages of justice like that of Natasha McKenna, a 37-year-old woman who died while in police custody, Ralkina Jones, a 37-year-old woman who died while in police custody, or Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died while in police custody. I will pour time and effort into a grassroots course of action to bring about the change that is needed for black lives to matter.

My action is to endeavour to build grassroots enterprise(s). With investment into a community solution, we can truly make #blacklivesmatter.