Comment: Black Lives Matter – why is this grassroots movement important?

It is no secret that throughout history minority groups have been persecuted. It still happens in the 21st century and since the death of 18-year-old African American Mike Brown, the shouts of protest against law enforcement brutality against African Americans are getting louder.
Mike Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police office Darren Wilson after he was identified as matching the description of someone involved in a liquor store theft. Darren Wilson claimed that he was afraid for his life when Mike Brown allegedly charged at him, and having already been attacked, shot the boy.
Here are some of the injuries that Officer Darren Wilson sustained in the alleged assault:


Officer Darren Wilson injury. Images via Time Magazine

The death of Mike Brown led to originally peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri, but this didn’t last long when the Pentagon supplied the police force with military weapons as part of a program known as “1033.” Amongst the weapons were items like armoured vehicles that are used in conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
These protests spread across the nation and soon a Department of Justice inquest war ordered. Before discussing the findings, it is important to go over some statistics. It can never truly be known how many people are victims of police shootings, with the reporting being on a trust basis or with reports by officers being lost or being categorised in such a way that it doesn’t sound like an instance of death by the hands of law enforcement.
In the original research for this piece, it indicated that more white people are shot and killed by police, this is without taking into account fundamentals of statistics and ratios, with only about 14% of the population identifying as black. Once finding the above information it was decided none of that could be conclusive. Statistics about Ferguson can be known, however.

Ferguson has a population of over 60% African Americans and in the top 10 for most segregated cities in the United States, being situated in St. Louis county. In this city with such a high population of African Americans only 3 out of 53 police officers are black, only one person on the school board is black and only one city council person is black.
The Department of Justice found that the policing methods in Ferguson were unconstitutional, “It was about the years of police harassment and violence that has disproportionately affected the black residents of the city…the investigation found that Ferguson policing was intentionally discriminatory. They discovered policing practices that both “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes.”
What happened to Mike Brown and the uprising in Ferguson that followed was not the first time African Americans have been the targets of police brutality, nor will it be the last. The most recent case is Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The 25 year old was arrested on April 12, 2015, for possession of an illegal switchblade, which was actually a legal knife. Freddie Gray was put in a tactical hold, loaded into the police van head first and on his stomach and he was not restrained by a seatbelt. Mr Gray suffered injuries to his spinal cord and he later died in hospital after being in a coma.
This has led to fallout similar to Ferguson and the six police officers involved being charged with criminal offences. Protests have been classified as violent, but with mass media and the police accused of exaggerating some of the factors.

The idea of law enforcement brutality towards African Americans is so all encompassing that even pop culture has adopted jokes regarding it. In its second season, broadcast in 1991, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air aired an episode called “Cased Up” and it brought with it an idea unnervingly similar to “hands up, don’t shoot.” Jazz, played by DJ Jazzy Jeff, won’t put his hands down in front of the court baliff.
Here is the scene in question:

Hands Up – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Its baffling that something aired more that 20 years ago almost predicted the phrase that came out of Ferguson, “hands up, don’t shoot.” Its frustrating that even more than 20 years later, this is still relevant. After the Civil Rights Movement, the anniversaries of all the milestones, how is this still something that is going on?
Changing the law doesn’t change the ideology, everybody knows that, but when it has been more than 50 years – isn’t it time to let go of backward ideas?
Michael Brown and Freddie Gray aren’t the only two names on the list of the dead. Rumain Brisbon, Tamir Rice, Yvette Smith and Miriam Carey are so few names on such an extensive list. So many people have fallen victim or lost people because of this.

In the words of President Barack Obama, “When you’re dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you’ve got to have vigilance, but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady, so that you don’t give up when you don’t get all the way there.” The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t new, but it should be something that ends soon because there is no longer a need for it.

Feature image found here

Originally published in 2015.

Opinion’s expressed are the author’s own


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