Examining racial inequity and political protest in the United States
By Norman Gabriel
On Thursday the 7th of July, 2016, Micah Johnson shot and killed five police officers during a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, USA. Johnson was the first person to wrongfully and horribly radicalise racial hatred during a peaceful the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest, crystallizing vividly the debate of Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter.
Although the massacre is a colossal step backward, opening deep racial wounds, I believe it is important to remember why BLM was an inevitable manifestation of the collective experience and concern of still too many black Americans.
It was only a generation ago that the United States Supreme Court decision on Brown vs Board of Education ended lawful segregation in 1956, but things did not change overnight. Thirteen years later, in 1969, America landed its first Apollo mission on the moon—“one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Later that same year, Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is shot and killed by police during a raid.
A federal grand jury refutes the police’s assertion they fired upon Hampton only in self-defence, but no one is ever indicted for Hampton’s killing. It is clear that while America was reaching for the moon, the cops in the raid on the Black Panther Party were reaching for their guns.
Since then, the US has made huge strides to further integrate all races into society, but progress is nowhere near where it should be. African Americans are burdened with a criminal justice system that is disproportionately harsh and inequitable. African Americans are three times more likely to be stopped by police, six times more likely to go to jail for the same crime, and one in three African Americans killed by the police last year were identified as unarmed.
In the Summer of 2013, “black lives matter” started as a trending topic on Twitter shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin. This small cry has grown into a movement that fights the racial profiling, police brutality and racial inequality disproportionately faced by black people within the criminal justice system.
The response to the Black Lives Matter movement was another movement called All Lives Matter. The All Lives Matter is a call for unity. It is a movement that proclaims, despite your race, gender or religion, we should all unify against all injustice because we are stronger together. It is a movement that may appear noble in its cause, but is in no way born out of the struggles, realities, or experiences of black lives.
No one could fault the call for unity by All Lives Matter, or the call for equality and equity of Black Lives Matter. But it’s hard not to miss or feel that the All Lives Matter call, and the timing of such a call, does serve to undermine black lived experiences within the United States justice system.
When the world witnesses two brutal police shootings of black men, and that issue is then brought to the media, BLM is then met with “all lives matter” as a response. I see this as demeaning to the struggle that black communities are going through following events like these shootings.
Obviously all lives matter, and all groups experience their own injustices every day, but right now African Americans in the United States are suffering far more than any other community at the hands of their criminal justice system. It is extremely appalling to think that in 2016 we see, multiple times a month, videos of unarmed black people being beaten and killed by white police officers.
What Black Lives Matter is asking for is something the black civil rights movements has always been asking for. It’s what MLK, Malcolm X, the murdered chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, was asking for. It’s the same thing Trayvon Martin’s family is asking for.
I think US President Barack Obama said it best during a memorial service following the Dallas shooting and its aftermath. His words really resonated with me. “To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends, your co-workers and maybe your fellow church members again and again, it hurts.”
I think All Lives Matter is part of that dismissal.