It's been a bleak week in American history. On July 5, 2016, 37 year old Alton Sterling, who was illegally selling CD's in front of a store, was shot dead by two police officers who had tackled him to the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The next day, on July 6, 2016, in St. Anthony, Minnesota, 32 year old Philando Castile was shot dead by a cop at a routine traffic stop after following the police officer's order to take out his license.
The unjust deaths of the two black men by police officers sparked nationwide outrage, igniting the Black Lives Matter movement to a degree more powerful than it has (arguably) ever been. The entire country mourned and millions of hearts broke at not only the lost lives of these two men, but at the fact that these tragic occurrences were not isolated instances.
And of course, in contrast to the trending hashtags calling for justice, the peaceful protests, and the general exclamations of grief, came the biased opinions of (white) people to the effect of:
"But Philando Castile had a gun, his death had nothing to do with race, he would have been shot if he was white, too!"
"Alton Sterling was illegally selling CD's; he had possession of a weapon and was resisting arrest, what did he expect would happen?!"
Here's the thing: A black man should not be shot five times at a routine traffic stop. A black man should not be shot four times when he is already pinned down on the ground by two police officers. No man should be shot in those circumstances, actually. But it turns out, the only men that are victims of such horrendous occurrences are black men, and that's the problem. Let us remember Jesse Williams' BET speech:
And as for all of those wondering, "What did they expect to happen?" because the two men were both in the possession of a weapon (Castile was licensed to carry and told the officer just as much) that they did not aim at officers, well, you see, they expected to not lose their lives. Crazy, right?!
It's important to mention that Castile's mother, who always instructed him to obey police, stated, "My son was a law-abiding citizen and he did nothing wrong. I think he was just black in the wrong place." Not 'in the wrong place at the wrong time', but "black in the wrong place."
A day after Castile's murder, on July 7, 2016, five police officers were shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, at what had started out as a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. This sparked the #BlueLivesMatter movement to trend, stressing the importance of our police officers and their commitment, sometimes at the ultimate sacrifice, to protect and serve us and law enforcement. This ultimately led to an unnecessary divide between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Journalist Trevor Noah addressed this opposition in a broadcast, claiming:
As for the infamous All Lives Matter counterargument:
Blue Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.
How many people have to die before we care about this?
And it seems to me that all too many
white people don't care about this at all. People are dying. It is the year 2016 and black people are still (!) oppressed. White people are still denying their privilege.
I have never lost sleep at night worrying anxiously about the lives and well being of my father, brother, male cousins, uncles, and friends. I have never held my breath at their departures from my house, worrying the worst, worrying that they could be the next victims to lose their lives as a result of a traffic stop. I have never experienced the fear and pain of a community losing a loved one because of the color of their skin.
I can, however, empathize with the horrific injustice and support people of color in the Black Lives Matter movement. I can spark a conversation instead of staying silent for fear of misspeaking and offending.
Because the truth of the matter is, if I'm not saying anything, if I'm neutral or indifferent, and not outraged, terrified, and heartbroken at the recent murders of the black community, I am a part of the problem. And if you're staying silent claiming neutrality or indifference, you are a part of the problem as well.
How You Can Help:
Educate Yourself: Ask questions, start conversations, read books like Between the World & Me, The Hidden Cost of Being African American, and Black Lives Matter. Read articles about the misconceptions and effects of BLM, as well as it's "moment".
Raise your voice: Become outraged, angry, sad. Don't let the recent police shootings by a single black man discredit and invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement that only calls for EQUALITY and the SAFETY of the black community.
Donate to the cause:
Contact your local politicians: Action and reform starts within your own community! Find and contact your local Congressman here
Protest: Google "Black Lives Matter and your city" or find your Black Lives Matter chapter here
We are all humans and are all entitled to the most rudimentary of rights: to live our lives without fear of losing them, and to live our lives in equal measure to one another. The time to act, and the time to help, is now.