The uprising in Ferguson has shone a national spotlight on police violence in this country. It is heartbreaking to think that it took the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown for the media to be convinced that Black lives are news worthy and to acknowledge that Black and Brown people being murdered by law enforcement at an alarming rate. It took the outrage of a small suburban Midwest community before the rest of the world caught on to what has been going on since the end of Reconstruction when the emancipation of Black people led to oppressive laws restricting their rights and freedoms.
The scale and size of the violence against Black people has not shifted since the emergence of the Black Power Movement. The Panthers organized in cities across the U.S to protect their communities against police violence. A generation later organizations like Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) began training community members in Cop Watch programs that continue today. In a 2012 report, titled Operation Ghetto Storm, MXGM found that a Black person is executed by police in this country every 28 hours. Local organizers have formed collectives and coalitions to address community safety concerns without depending on the police. The point is, that we have known for a long time that police are not here to protect us. The presence of the police does not make us safe, nor does the criminal justice system that they serve. In 2001, Incite Women of Color Against Violence published a statement illustrating the intersections of police violence and interpersonal violence where they challenge anti-violence movements to consider the consequences of calling the police to our homes to protect us from harm; for women of color this means risking the added trauma of arrest along side their abuser.
So this is not a new movement. This is a tidal wave in a movement that has swelled and receded for over 30 years but has remained ever present thanks to some dedicated community organizers who understand that movements don’t get built overnight. People on the ground in their communities every day who will tell you that movement building requires more dedication and discipline than a social media trend can provide. The energy and passion is alive right now, so the question is how will we make sure that we don’t turn back? I think there are a few things to keep in mind as we do. First, police violence is sponsored by the state; yes our government supports and funds the actions of law enforcement. As result, police are not held accountable for their actions, in fact the federal government has emboldened and empowered them with military grade weapons so they can instill fear and do damage in the communities they serve. Furthermore, the “War on Drugs” has been used to set legal precedents in the highest courts that make it nearly impossible to prove de facto racism is at the root of policing practices. Yet even though we know this again and again we call on the very system that legitimizes this violence to adjudicate and administer justice on our behalf. But that did not work for Rodney King, Oscar Grant, or 7-year old Aiyana Stanley Jones or the many other Black and Brown people who have lost their lives at the hands of police. Our movement has to be bigger than a call for justice. The movement to end police violence must demand the complete overall of policing tactics and shame the U.S government for their hand in feeding this ravenous beast killing Black and Brown folks.
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Mother, wrote a beautiful letter to Michael Brown’s Family. In the letter she challenges us all to galvanize our communities beyond these tragedies. I think her words struck just the right note for this moment, “If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us.” It is time we made the U.S Government feel us. Let’s build off the work of organizations like the October 22nd Coalition who have held a National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality for 19 years. One of their offerings is the Stolen Lives Project, which records the stories of people killed by police from 1990 to the Present. It’s time we held a People’s Tribunal in the U.S Capitol and called out the names and stories of every single person that have been killed by police in this country; much the way Melissa Harris-Perry began on her show last weekend. She only called the names that we know, the people who have been written about, sadly there are so many more and we need to call their names for the world to bare witness too. We need to amplify their stories and do it every single year on the day that Ferguson rose up until “they feel us” because not only do Black Lives Matter but the U.S Government needs to be held accountable for protecting those lives.
Ways to Support The Movement in Ferguson Now:
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