September 1, 2016
By Marni Fritz
The summer of 2016 has been a hard one to endure; constant inundation of videos of innocent people losing their lives at the hands of the police. It has been terrifying, eye-opening and numbing for many. As of August 12th, the day I am writing this, 654 people have died at the hands of police in 2016; Native American and Black Americans bear most of the brutality. (Visit this website for an interactive look at the numbers).
Police brutality targeting People of Color (POC) is an epidemic in our country. Until Michael Brown’s murder and the police’s display of blatant disregard for his body in Ferguson, MO (evident by the abandonment of his body in the street for hours) it was easy for white people, liberals and conservatives alike, to pretend that instances of police brutality were one-off incidents, or that there must be a justification for the actions of the police. Black Lives Matter (BLM) formed, challenging these sentiments. With the growing strength of a movement asserting that black lives and communities matter, people began narrating their trauma into the mainstream. Two years later in 2016, it is no longer hidden from white America.
In light of the series of killings this summer, including Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and Korryn Gaines, mobilization efforts have been strengthening. While mainstream media outlets and opinionated white bloggers were claiming the BLM movement wasn’t organized enough, or offered advice as to how to be “most effective,” the coalition of people that make up BLM took on an extensive research project to express their demands, with the statistical data to back it up. BLM published “A Vision For Black Lives,” containing six demands and 40 policy recommendations on August 1st. The vision is a non- partisan document focusing explicitly on the root issues of oppression POC people face in the U.S.
The (simplified) demands are:
- End the war on black people
- Reparations for past and continuing harm
- Investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. Divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.
- Economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access.
- That the most impacted in communities control the laws, institutions, and policies, while recognizing that the rights and histories of our Indigenous family must also be respected.
- Independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society.
Take the time to visit https://policy.m4bl.org/ to dive deeper into these topics, review the policy recommendations and take advantage of the extensive resources provided by this coalition of organizations. These demands might seem radical to some, but pale in comparison to the generations of physical, emotional, economic, and inherited trauma inflicted on black people since they were forced to come to this country as slaves.
Another reaction to note this summer is the series of “good cop” videos pouring into the internet: cops pull people over and instead of giving them a ticket (or murdering them), the cops hand people ice cream. Instead of good cop videos, we need implicit bias training for all police forces and to de-militarize our police force. We need to hold murderers accountable, not give them leave, and to have de-escalation methods employed to prevent violence. We must welcome civilian input and review, and to demand that cops treat all people in the community, regardless of their occupation, gender, orientation, class, home-status and race, with the respect and dignity all humans deserve.
Locally, we saw support for Black Lives Matter. Hundreds gathered downtown on July 21st, wearing all black, answering a call for the Movement for Black Lives National Day of Action. Bekezela Mguni read the names of lives lost in 2016 at the hands of police, locally mourning the death of Bruce Kelley Jr., a man murdered by the Port Authority Police on January 31st. New Voices Pittsburgh, in collaboration with other groups, organized events such as Defend Black Women and 100 Black Women #SayHerName, honoring black women who lost their lives in 2016 and noting the contributions of black women to society as a celebration of life.
As you see protests, rallies, conversations and events pop up related to racism, Black Lives Matter and justice for People of Color, I urge you to show up. For our white readership, it is up to you to do the lifelong individual work necessary to confront racism within yourself and within your networks. It is the inherited duty of white people to dismantle racism and to stand alongside people of color who are putting their safety on the line for justice and equity. For local resources regarding the individual work toward dismantling racism, or if you are just curious as to what that might mean, check out What’s Up!? Pittsburgh, Just Collaboration, or Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) for more information!
Find YUIR Pittsburgh on Facebook!
Marni Fritz is the NewPeople Coordinator and Director of Communications for the Thomas Merton Center.