Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and the list goes on. All of these names ring bells; actually, alarms might be the most appropriate term. Whenever someone, especially a person of color hears them they are a reminder about the injustices that people of color suffer at the hands of police. These names hold pain even more so because their murders were never rectified, not that one ever truly is. Out of these names, these lives lost has come to a movement: Black Lives Matter. A movement of 3 words has the power to rile up an entire country, to force news stations to put together panels for discussions on policing and race, to drown out America’s usual pop culture focused the conversation and have a legitimate one about a serious topic.
On August 9, 2014, Mike Brown an unarmed black boy was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His death sparked what many of us have come to know as BLM. That’s not to say that Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant or any of the countless others were less significant but something about Mike Brown was different. Perhaps it was the immediate attention it gained as community members scrambled to their timelines to live tweet about what was going on, perhaps it was due to the fact that Ferguson was already a boiling pot of poor relations between police officers and people of color; whatever the case it was different most of us could feel it. Although we didn’t get justice with Mike Brown, a grand jury ultimately decided not to indict Darren Wilson, it did help to further the conversation of Black Lives Matter and why it is such a simple yet effective rally cry for people of color.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, of course, has come the criticism. “Well how come only Black lives Matter? ALL lives Matter”. “Well if you obey the law, you won’t get shot by police”. “Not all police are bad”, etc. etc. Most of the criticism of BLM and the notions behind it come from 1 of three things: A misunderstanding, a refusal to understand, or you’re just a racist troll that deserves nothing more than loneliness and misery; it should be noted that 2 and 3 usually work hand in hand. These criticisms can all be effectively dismissed and never seen again, though we probably will. The criticism that is the most infuriating for me personally to hear is “Well what about black on black crime?” Most people’s response to these is to say something along the lines of “well all crime is between races, white people kill white people too”. While that is true, I have a problem with that being the response because to me, it lacks heart, it lacks perspective. The reality is that yes whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, etc. However, when it comes to gun crimes, specifically homicides, we (black people) are killing each other in high numbers, especially here in Chicago. And I think it’s possible to defend BLM and still recognize that violence against each other in our communities is a problem, however, it is a separate one.
Here in Chicago, shootings have become as solid a guarantee as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. According to the New York Times, there has been a 62% increase in homicides in 2016. Shootings are up 60% and ¾ of all homicide offenders and victims are black. So far this year 2500 people have been shot in Chicago according to a Redeye article. Chicago is leading New York and LA in terms of the volume of shootings and killings. It is a problem. However, progress on it has been slow because it is a problem for poor communities of color. If you can afford it you can move out of this particular problem in the city. However many can’t afford to.
Some BLM dissenters may be looking at those stats on B.O.B. Crime and smirking feeling like I’m making their point, hold tight I have more stats for you. According to the Washington Post, in 2015 there were 990 fatal shootings by police. Of those 93 were unarmed, of that 40 % were Black men. That means that unarmed Black men were 7 times more likely than unarmed white men to die from police shootings. This disparity holds up even when other factors are included though it does get lower. Don’t be fooled by the people who tout that white people die in police shootings more than black people, because although yes 49% of those killed by police officers will be white, as opposed to 24% being black , Blacks only make up 13% of the Population. So when taking all of this into account, Black people are still 2.5 times more likely to be killed by cops. And studies have found that there is no correlation between violent crime and who is killed by police officers so it’s not just because Black people are more violent or involved in a more illegal activity. The reality is that there is a difference in the way Black men and Women are treated by police officers as opposed to White men and women. The stats on shootings in communities of color don’t negate or make irrelevant the fact that racism is alive and well in police departments across this country and it is killing us.
When bringing up shooting violence in Chicago in order to criticize the BLM movement many people want to just make the point that if you’re going to complain about the loss of Black lives at the hands of the cops then you also need to complain about it when it comes at the hands of your own communities. There are a few problems with that sentiment. First off, we have been. Since as long as I can remember black people have been begging those in charge to do something about violence in our communities. Almost every time there is a shooting or we have a particularly violent weekend community organizations and leaders get together and rally and protest and ask for a relief, to date, there has been none.
If you were to ask some of these BLM dissenters who bring up “black on black crime” what their solution to it would be many of them wouldn’t have even one to suggest because the reality is many have not even stepped foot in these communities. Upon research, they’d find that it’s not an easy problem to fix. Gun violence in black communities, which is usually due to gang activity, can all be traced back to poverty. In these communities, poverty has been concentrated not for a couple of years, but for decades. Poor black people have historically been redlined to certain communities where they can effectively be out of sight and out of mind. Many fail to acknowledge how this leads to a cycle in which many people turn to gangs and illegal activity to make money and help their families. As noted by Emily Badge in a Washington Post article “We don’t acknowledge that we created slums and perpetuated poverty. We don’t acknowledge that people who are poor were denied the chance to build wealth. And we don’t acknowledge that the problems we attribute to poor neighborhoods reflect generations of decisions made by people who have never lived there”. This is ultimately a huge reason why bringing up B.O.B. crime when discussing BLM is a problem. You’re again pointing your fingers at the victims of oppression when you should be pointing it to the oppressors. Gun violence in Black communities is a real problem, especially here in Chicago. But unless you want to talk about the government-enforced poverty that got us here and kept us here, unless you want to talk about real solutions that can only be thought of when you adequately understand the causes than don’t bring it up. There is not a black person, at least that I’ve met or heard about, that is in denial about the problem of gun violence. We acknowledge that it is a problem. However, police departments, unions, and associations still refuse to acknowledge that there is an implicit bias when it comes to policing communities of color vs. white communities, that officers make mistakes, that there is a structural and institutional failure in police departments across this country when it comes to how people of color are treated. Black people have acknowledged that we have a problem. Police departments and have yet to.