Wednesday, September 9, 2015

About the Black Lives Matter campaign

There has been criticism of the Black Lives Matter campaign that its focus on black lives only implies white lives don't matter. This is an obvious and probably intentional misreading of the Black Lives Matter message, but there is a context where the criticism may make sense.

In terms of police brutality, of course black lives matter and of course there is an experience of being black (or a person of color) in the U.S. that is unique and that many "white" people cannot understand because they have not experienced it and, if they are thoughtful people, find it hard to believe even happens because they cannot imagine people could be so nasty to each other, or that surely such violence does not happen without provocation.

But as we've seen over and over, there is racism in law enforcement (and elsewhere) and a campaign to highlight that is good, but not sufficient. We cannot change the attitudes of racist cops overnight. But we can demand for everyone's sake that cops who do as they please and violate civil rights be reined in. As a society we can say we will not tolerate out-of-control law enforcement for anyone. This does not end racism, of course, but it does help protect people of color who bear the brunt of such behavior as well as "white" people who are also subject to such abuse albeit less often and not as deliberately.

In 1974, my husband, who is white, was travelling with some friends in the U.S. in a green car with Michigan license plates. They were in southern California and a green car with Michigan plates had been involved in a robbery in the area. The police pulled them over and forced everyone to the ground at gunpoint screaming obscenities the entire time. At one point, my husband who is Swedish was going to reach for his passport to prove his identity but, thankfully, did not. When it was clear they had the wrong car, the police simply drove away. No apology.

I understand the potential danger to the police, and the odds of two green cars with Michigan plates in that part of California at the same time is low, but coincidences do happen. And to approach it with such a macho attitude only increases fear and tension. To leave with no apology is inexcusable. There is no doubt in my mind if my husband had reached for his passport, a natural thing to do if you are in a foreign country and/or unfamiliar with possible police attitudes, he would be dead today.

While not deliberate victimization by racist cops, it was nonetheless a shocking and frightening experience for my husband and his friends and did nothing to increase their overall trust in U.S. law enforcement.

So keep up the "Black Lives Matter" campaign to build awareness of racism in law enforcement and elsewhere, but for pragmatic results that indirectly curb the behavior of racist cops and that benefit everyone, we should demand loudly and unequivocally that aggressive, out-of-control cops be removed from their jobs.

© 2015 Kvick Thoughts. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. The same thing happened to my husband, who is white, and his friends as teenagers on the way to a school-sponsored tournament in southern Illinois. An identical car was used in an armed robbery. They ended up lying on the side of the highway surrounded by cops with guns screaming obscenities. Growing up and living in a poor working class suburb on the South Side of Chicago had trained them to not move a muscle, and probably saved their lives. When the cops realized they had the wrong people, they just left them standing there shaking, no apology or explanation.


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