“Freedom emerges from the very process of struggle,” proclaimed Ms. Davis, as I sat perched on my seat amongst an auditorium of young, gung ho future activists.
Of course her lecture was just as empowering as it was informational. There I was, eight seats from the front of the stage in Herrick Hall, witnessing one of the most influential political activists of the 20th century; Ms. Angela Davis. This past February, Angela Davis made a trip to Denison University to discuss her most recent work, in the fight against oppression and equal rights.
She left a lasting impression, reminding me, and everyone in the room, of the blood, sweat, and tears that had been shed during the countless, victorious battles that had been fought long before any of us had even been drafted for the war.
“It’s never going to be a short struggle,” she said. “There’s always going to be something, but out of that something comes greatness.”
Immediately my mind went to the plight that continues to plague so many communities across the country, specifically those of African Americans. My mind flooded with articles and reports on the disparities and injustices that had become uniform and almost a way of life for my people. I thought about black lives and their current state.
Then Angela took me a little deeper. She explained that many before us had paved the way.
“Knowledge,” she said, “is produced in movements”- like those of the Women’s Rights and Civil Rights movements.
She was referring to one of the most controversial movements of the 21st century, the “Black Lives Matter” movement (BLM). She began to elaborate on the importance of the movement, and why the pains of the past are that much more relevant today.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was coined up in 2013 after leaders within the African American community noticed a pattern of police officers and vigilantes gunning down unarmed black men and getting away with the shootings. One of the most prominent was the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot by Neighborhood Watchman George Zimmerman. Zimmerman sought out and approached Trayvon, despite law enforcement urging him not to. Outrage exploded across the nation when Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. What was most alarming was the white privileged flocking outrage at black communities’ call to action on the frivolous massacring of black men that was and is still sweeping the nation.
NYC action in solidarity with Ferguson. Mo, encouraging a boycott of Black Friday Consumerism.
Since then, BLM has fueled countless conversations surrounding the fate of the black community. The result has been unified demands for a complete overhaul of the justice system. One of the most influential cases in Ohio being the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by police officers just seconds from arriving on the scene. His crime? Playing with a toy gun. To force the knife deeper, the officer that killed young Rice was acquitted because the incident was “tragic” but “reasonable.”
But, as in the past, when one of the most disenfranchised groups begins to use their power to demand equality and respect for their lives, they’re met with resistance.
The most recent and probably the most controversial was the introduction of “All Lives Matter”, despite the fact that all lives aren’t being gunned down in the street.
If all lives matter, then why are our white counterparts committing comparably much more heinous crimes, but being escorted from the scene in handcuffs and while those of color are being scooped off the pavement by a-little-too-late ambulance? There were two incidents that seemed to solidify opinions on the treatment of African American men by law enforcement.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo. Law enforcement officers stopped 18-year-old Brown as he was walking down the street after recognizing him from the description dispatch gave of a young man who’d recently robbed a convenience store, stealing a box of cigarillos. Witnesses say that after a confrontation there was an altercation between Brown and the shooting officer, Darren Wilson. Officer Wilson fired two shots at Michael; one grazing Brown’s thumb. Afterward, Brown runs, with Officer Wilson following on foot. Brown stops and turns facing Wilson and Wilson shoots him several times.
After the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the community responded with protests, some of which were violent. People were upset; fires and looting occurred across the city.
“All Lives Matter” advocates may be able to see that the fate of Brown was unfortunate, but they can’t even fathom the notion that Brown’s death is a representation of our criminal justice system and a crime of discrimination. But when you look at cases like that of the Charleston Church shooting, it’s clear that the value of life is not equal across color lines.
The shooter, Dylan Roof, a white 21-year-old male, was photographed wearing a bulletproof vest while being escorted by police officers during his arrest. The irony? Roof had finally been found, only 16 hours later, after he’d unmercifully executed a hate crime, killing 9 African Americans attending service at a historic African-American church in Charleston, SC. He was arrested without incident, and was treated as if his life mattered. Weird, right?
It’s not about whether Dylan Roof deserved or didn’t deserve laxed treatment. But if ‘all lives matter’, why was a terrorist’s life handled more delicately than that of a thief’s?
The bloodshed of our people is not just heartbreaking, but serves as a new and renewed faith in the fight and why we must remain resilient. The end of their lives marked the beginning of a new revolution for the advancement of their people. The BLM movement matters because it is a testament to why those that have been a victim of the “routine bureaucracy” – the killing, robbing, disenfranchisement, and institutionalization of our men—did not die in vain.
It reminded us of our voices. It sparked up a fire that had been temporarily quenched by the excitement of past victories. This unified stampede by African Americans, seeking real justice reform makes everyone so uncomfortable. But the state of African Americans in this country shouldn’t be something that we are comfortable with.
The BLM movement has been widely utilized to spread national outrage against deadly force from law officials, disproportionately towards African Americans, but that is certainly not all that the movement signifies.
It is easy to crunch numbers and argue technicalities when it comes to the justification of gunning down African American men, but what they cannot continue to refute is the years of “routine bureaucracy” that threatens the black communities and our country as a whole. When exactly have all lives mattered?
Rates at which Ohio’s black babies are dying have consistently been the highest since 1990. Currently, the rate at which black babies die in Ohio is higher than the national average. So do black lives matter then? Or what about unemployment in Ohio? How is Ohio’s black unemployment rate 2.6 times higher than that of white rates, and 2.3 times higher across the nation?
If we didn’t need to remind or, rather, insist to the world that black lives matter, then why are there such stark disparities in the use of the death penalty in Ohio? A recent study of the 53 executions Ohio performed between 1976 and 2014 found that the likelihood a homicide will lead to an execution is just 53%. However, the likelihood that a homicide will result in an execution is 81% when the victim is white, but plummets to 29% when the victim is black. This is the “routine bureaucracy” that Angela Davis speaks about.
“We transform our sorrows into joy,” said Ms. Davis. I think what she ultimately wanted us to understand about the BLM movement, is that we now have a more modern and relevant platform to begin re-tackling some of these issues. Our political reach expands as we gain new territory with every one of us that have been clenched between the grasps of systematic inequality in this country. It is because of reinstated force to fight, that we can proudly and unapologetically stand up for our people and demand better.
Toward the end of her talk, Angela Davis recited a few lines from an old civil rights song that simply went:
They say that freedom is a constant struggle
They say that freedom is a constant struggle
They say that freedom is a constant struggle
Oh Lord, we’ve struggled so long
We must be free, we must be free.
The freedom that the slaves sang of can be realized tomorrow after our fights through the struggles of today. Today, we, and our movement, are an embodiment of the dream that the 3/5s of a person once dreamed of. We ought to recognize the magnitude of the movement and implications it has for the future of our community and the state of African Americans across the country.
Sources & Citations: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/12/tamir_rice_decision_no_indictm.html