Black Lives Matter Part 1: America – Land of the free or land of the fractured

Do all lives matter? Yes of course they do. After all we inhabit the same planet breathe the same air and bleed the same colour. Do people within differing minority groups such as race, culture, disabled and LGBT feel that their lives matter as much as the people within majority groups which society deems the social ‘norm’ and readily accepts with open arms? Evidence suggests – not always. The LGBT community have had their struggles throughout history such as homophobic slurs, unwarranted attacks and the denial of their civil rights which are afforded to heterosexual citizens. As a direct response to the inequality the community suffered, the gay pride movement was founded in the 1980’s but its first rumblings began as far back as the late 1950’s as a stance against discrimination and inequality towards the LGBT community – A group of people within a minority

Within the UK workforce it was statistically proven that people with disabilities were often discriminated against by prospective and current employers due to physical or mental illnesses which some employers believed made the employee incapable of completing their job, this encouraged a number of employers to treat the disabled person differently from their non-disabled colleagues. To ensure employees with physical or/and mental disabilities received fair and equal opportunities and treatment the Disability discrimination act was introduced in 1995 to protect the disabled persons civil rights from prejudice within the workforce.

Just why do we need these laws, legislations and acts? We need them because history has shown the groups of people in the previously mentioned minorities are vulnerable to unfair treatment compared to those within the majority. In theory these laws were introduced so that their lives could be valued in equal measure alongside the majority because – all lives matter. It is every human beings’ right and entitlement to live freely without fear of retaliation from individuals or groups of people who refuse to accept them because they are gay, black, disabled, Muslim, African, Jamaican, elderly etc. these laws and legislations have been created to assist equality between groups of people who are different in some way to another group of people, which I find both welcoming and worrying – In these modern times in a world without slavery or enforced segregation we should have figured out how to coexist and live in harmony as a species and it’s a cause for concern that we – the only known intelligent species in our solar system have to be coerced into treating others equally by way of law when this should be a natural instinct as members of humankind, by the same token it is also welcoming because without these laws to protect the minorities (to a degree) we would be living a hellish existence which I’m sure our cousins across the Atlantic feel they are living right now.

Great so we’re all one big happy family and these laws mean no one is harmed and we’re all holding hands chanting to Enya in pure bliss? – As any rebel without a cause knows not every person likes to live by the law or play by the rules, some people have been raised on fear and in turn this fear fuels an irrational hatred of people who are different to them and no law or legislation can erase a lifetime of indoctrination passed down from generation to generation. Some people have been raised as rebels with a distinct cause which seems to be to deepen the divides between themselves and others they view as inferior or unworthy. It’s why we march against injustices, it’s why Rosa Parks exercised her right to sit where she chose as an equal member of society, it’s why there have been recent black lives matter protests in the U.S and all over the world in response to the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling and Phiando Castile. America has a long and complex history of unhealthy race relations and segregation which has had long lasting ramifications to this day as we’ve all bared witness to in this age of social media where police brutality is captured on film and shared in seconds allowing the population to view the stark reality of events as they unfold in real time it highlights to the masses that one of the minority groups in the U.S (black males) are more vulnerable than ever and three times more likely to lose their lives after being stopped for routine questioning by law enforcement compared to that of white males. With only 6% of the U.S population making up the African American male demographic it’s alarming then that statistics show in 2015 of the 60% of unarmed people fatally shot by police; 40% of those fatalities were unarmed black males. These statistics which have been recorded and documented as being on the rise year after year is the reason African American males fear for their lives and feel powerless to defend or protect themselves when the right to bear arms does not seem to apply to them in the same way it does to white males, their fear is not only justified by statistics but reinforced by images of unreasonable force in situations where it is unwarranted, there is rapid escalation of routine stops with little or no explanation to the subject as to why they are being stopped and being screamed at to “Get on the ground” as seen in the moments before Alton Sterling’s brutal killing. These altercations often end up in the victim being shot multiple times at point blank range due to the officers’ often irrational fear that their life was in danger even in instances where the person in question is fully compliant and following instructions as seen with Philando Castile. It begs the question – Why in the so called land of the free (where it is legal in most jurisdictions to carry a concealed weapon provided you obtain a permit to do so) did this second amendment not protect Alton Sterling and Philando Castile when they both declared they were carrying a concealed weapon. Police had not yet determined Alton Sterling had breached his probation by carrying a concealed weapon nor were they aware of his criminal record before they shot him to death. The instant Alton Sterling declared his weapon it should have been presumed legal as the necessary checks had not been carried out to determine it was not. If the police had made checks on his criminal history it still does not excuse the officers decision to execute a man who was fully restrained, was not reaching for his gun and whom 5 minutes beforehand was selling C.D’s and asking what he had done wrong.

To understand this repeated dynamic and deadly outcome we’ve read about or seen far too often as a hashtag since Michael Brown’s murder in August 2014, we have to understand the fragmented history of America and the racism and prejudices stitched into its sickly and bloated underbelly. The end of the U.S civil war in May 1865 heralded a new America where former slaves were now able to live as freemen. The end of the war saw the collapse of the confederate states of America (11 American states which branched off and formed an allegiance in favour of the continuation of the slave trade) and the abolishment of the slave trade itself. By law slaves were now free to make a life for themselves instead of living their lives serving others, the former slaves hoped to live fearlessly and to enjoy freedom as every human should. In reality the former slaves were oppressed by a large portion of society who did not believe they should be free and enforced this belief by attacking terrorising and often murdering the ‘freedmen.’ In this strange and hostile so called ‘free’ America, white supremacists predominantly residing in the southern states decided amongst themselves that they did not want black men to own guns (even though there were no laws stating they could not) and these groups set about removing weapons from the freeman by force whilst they retained the right to own guns. In response to the reports of vigilante groups (mainly the KKK) confiscating guns from the freemen the general of North Carolina at the time tried to encourage equality by reiterating black men could own guns just as white men could. State officials chose to ignore the general’s statement and continued to turn a blind eye to the lynching and murders occurring of former slaves. With the issue spiralling out of control, congress stepped in and announced that ex slaves “Had full and equal benefit to all laws and proceedings including the constitutional rights to bear open carry firearms”

This back and forth and double standards relating to gun laws reared its head again in the late 1960’s with the formation of the black panthers, a group formed to protect members of the African American community from police brutality and unfair treatment as segregation laws were abolished only a few years before the black panthers formed. With America being fresh out of segregation the divides between black and white people were ever prominent as mind-sets were still set to segregation mode which created racial disharmony. The black panthers took full advantage of the open carry gun laws and armed themselves with weapons and kept an eye on police officers conduct to ensure their fellow African American’s civil rights were not being abused by police, who were also armed with guns. Although the black panthers were not breaking any laws by standing nearby on a street corner with guns strapped to them, police complained they felt intimidated by the black panthers which eventually led to the ban of open carry weapons in 1968 (concealed carry permits were not widely issued until the late 1980’s, up until then most states issued guns under the strictest restrictions); the hypocrisy being those same police officers were making efforts to intimidate and oppress the black community by openly carrying their weapons and at times using them. No police officials had called for a mass ban on open carry weapons since the law was introduced in 1865 and they did not have the same complaint against white citizens who were doing the exact same thing as the black community – openly carrying their weapons because it was legal to do so. When black citizens tried to defend themselves from muggings, robberies, attacks and in worse case scenarios murder which they had the right to do, sponsors pleaded for tighter gun control for black people only, shop keepers would willingly sell cheap hand guns to white citizens but not the same style and make of gun to black citizens, this was in a bid to lower the amount of black people owning guns. An American newspaper ran a story warning of a “crazed ‘negro’ who was running round shooting white people in unprovoked attacks and therefore all black people with guns were dangerous” the story had no basis in truth but it had delivered its intent – to strike fear into the heart of the white community who believed they were at risk of being gunned down by a member of the black community and in turn the black community were fearful of a law enforcement intent on demonising them to support the case they should not have the rights to bear arms, in effect leaving them powerless to defend themselves and protect their families from attacks from the police and citizens. This was a clear case of fear fuelling fear often resulting in a vicious circle of hate which then spawns irrational behaviours.

It’s interesting how someone’s intention can frequently lead to misinterpretation by another depending upon the observers perception, pre judgements, learned behaviours and ‘truths’ taught to them which are often ingrained into a person’s consciousness from their childhood years either by family, friends or the environment in which they grew up in; there are also outside influences such as the media and the person’s own experiences with an individual/s from a minority group which also forms the basis of a person’s opinions and can provoke negative reactions towards people they view as ‘different’ to them. In 1964 Malcolm X intended to exercise his consitiuential rights to bear arms as an act of self defence against the nation of Islam whom he believed wanted to assassinate him (his premonition was realised a year later) he’s shown in an iconic black and white photo solemnly looking out of a window holding a rifle, a right given to all American citizens regardless of race; instead the photograph was misinterpreted as a statement of combat and aggression most likely due to the fact that American’s had been brainwashed for centuries to fear the black man rather than recognise the black man who is IN fear. The reoccurring themes of prejudgements, misinterpretations, stereotyping, profiling hypocrisy, supremacy and segregation throughout America’s racial unrest which were first seeded in the deep south, sees those stigmas spread in the present day like a fungus which has been allowed to fester and infect the mind-sets of many in America, these echoes of inequalities have intensified and waned and intensified again so often that a pattern of poison erupting in spates of violence seem to put a strain on race relations and is keeping segregation alive if not by law then definitely by mind-set.

Black lives matter is not one race stating they are better than another; it is a compassionate plea to authorities, governments, politicians and the population at large that a community within one of the minority groups – African American, is under threat and living in fear, their human rights are being denied daily, they are being slaughtered in the most inhumane and barbaric ways and as if that wasn’t vicious enough the slain are tarnished and their family members are subjected to a media determined to vilify the victim to try and justify the fact these men were executed like wild animals rampaging on the streets. To a number of officers of the law in the U.S it doesn’t matter what you say, if you have the correct permits or if you do exactly as they ask with no resistance, you are judged as a criminal by colour. Black lives matter is a collective of voices saying – I am human, beyond the colour of my skin I am a person just like you, respect me and treat me equally and not like an unintelligent primitive species who is not fit to walk the earth for the fact that I am here means I have EVERY right. Retaliation and hate is never the answer as seen with the horrific killings of five police officers in Dallas at the end of a Black lives matter protest, no one should have their lives snatched from them at the hands of another. Alton Sterling; a man who was selling C.D’s to make enough money to feed his wife and kids did not deserve to die. Philando Castile a man who was a law abiding citizen and put the children he worked with first at J.J Hill Montessori school, did not deserve to die. The 5 police officers – Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens killed in Dallas did not deserve to die. They had every right to live and everything to live for. They deserved the liberation to live fearlessly and harmoniously. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” – Dr. Martin Luther King.

The Echoes of segregation are not confined to the U.S, segregation is felt within UK institutions in present day and just like the U.S these were ingrained deep within its history.

Part 2 next week – ‘Black Lives Matter: Is Britain really that Great?’

 

If you would like to make a donation to Alton Sterling’s family you can support the ‘see no race’ movement by purchasing one of their ‘see no race’ t-shirts. You can place your order via IG: @seenoracemovement , for more information Email: seenoracemovement@gmail.com to view T-shirts check the See no race FB page: https://www.facebook.com/Seenoracemovement-298026213874452/  All proceeds from T-shirts sold will be donated to Alton Sterling’s’ family

If you would like to make a donation to Philando Castile’s family : https://www.gofundme.com/philando

If you would like to make a donation to the 5 Dallas police officers family: http://atodallas.org/support or https://atodallas.org/donate

 

References:

Huffington post newspaper

Washington Post Investigation

The Atlantic newspaper

News Mic online

 

Picture credits:

Rosa Parks: United Press photo. New York World Telegram and Sun collection

Louisiana, Baton Rouge Black Lives Matter Protest: Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

 

Cammy Thomas