A challenge to power
A challenge to power
Black Lives Matter and there is a new generation of activism. It could wake up the world fight for black liberation. By Amy Hall
‘I’m eight years old, I have no weapons. I have nothing that will hurt you.’ Ariel has practised saying this. She looks into the camera as she says it and holds her hands up. Her father sits next to her and says that they practise, at home, what to do when they see the police.
Other black American parents describe how they teach their children how to react to the police, in the video. They talk about how to try to stay alive around police, the people who are paid to protect them.
It’s difficult to watch, but these parents do not want to take any chances. Nearly a quarter of the 987 people the US police killed in 2017 were black. Twelve of them were under 18.
The attack on black people by the police and others, has made anti-racist campaigning in the US more important. Around the world people are saying that it must end – for black people everywhere.
The change started six years ago. A volunteer for neighbourhood watch, George Zimmerman, shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead. Trayvon was walking from a local shop to his father’s house in Florida. People around the world protested and said the government must prosecute Zimmerman.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote at the time that if the police continue to kill black men and women with no punishment, it’s very possible that we could have more of the urban rebellions in America in the 1960s. This isn’t the 1960s, but the 21st century – and people expect more now we have a black president and a black attorney general in Washington. They were waiting for Zimmerman to be arrested.
On 11 April 2012, more than 40 days after he killed Martin, Zimmerman was charged with murder. On 13 July 2013, a jury decided he was not guilty because people can use force to protect themselves if something is or seems dangerous.
I followed the news on social media in Britain, and I will never forget Martin’s killing, and the reaction of the state and press. It showed that if you are black, people give less value to your life and your right to live your life. It showed that people can think that the boys and men in my family are threatening because of the colour of their skin. And it showed that other people accept that.
I wasn’t alone. Trayvon Martin was a teenager with no gun or knife, wearing a hoodie, headphones and carrying sweets. Black people around the world saw their sons and brothers.
87 per cent of black Americans (in a survey in July 2013) said there was no good reason for the shooting. Only 33 per cent of white people agreed.
More than 90 per cent of black Americans voted for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections. But a black man in the White House cannot change hundreds of years of racism in a society built on slavery.
Martin was one of many black people killed by people who should support the law, when Obama was president. Angela Davis wrote in 2014 that this shows a stream of racist violence, official and outside the law, from slavery and the Ku Klux Klan, to today.
Race still had a very big effect on the lives of all black Americans. For example, between 2009 and 2012, the income of black families went down by nearly 11 per cent (the income of white families went down by only 3.6 per cent).
After Martin’s death, so many people were angry. This brought fresh energy to civil rights activism. After the news that Zimmerman was ‘not guilty’, Alicia Garza, an activist in Oakland, wrote on Facebook that many Americans were cheering and celebrating. She was surprised how little black lives matter. Patrisse Khan-Cullors from Los Angeles reposted Garza’s post and adding the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The two worked with Opal Tometi in New York to spread the message across social media, building Black Lives Matter. It is now a campaign network with more than 40 groups across the US. Activists across the world are getting more people to act.
Assa Traore, the elder sister of Adama Traore at a demonstration, July 2017, one year after he died. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)
Trial by media
Trayvon Martin’s death was one of many killings. Social media shows everything. On 17 July 2014, police killed 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York City. 'I can’t breathe’, said Eric when police held him, face down. A video of Garner’s final moments quickly went global.
The killings continued: 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson was the centre of protests for weeks.
Then, in November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police in Cleveland, Ohio. He was holding a toy gun. The protests continued.
Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Rosan Miller ... With the news of each killing, the media also attacked the dead.
Journalist Matt Taibbi wrote the book I Can’t Breathe: The Killing That Started a Movement in 2017. He says the media almost always shows black victims as very strong, but policemen are not; everyone agrees that black men are scary, and the police are doing the right thing to kill them.
A global fight
There are now new black liberation movements around the world – often with many women and LGBTQ+ people. From Britain to Germany, South Africa to Australia, black people saw that black lives matter less.
Less than six months after Rice was killed, police shot 10-year-old Eduardo de Jesus Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Police say they thought his phone was a gun. Someone from Papo Reto ('Straight Talk' – a group that shows abuse and police violence in the favelas) filmed the killing.
‘In Brazil, a person is killed several times,’ explained Raull Santiago of Papo Reto in 2016. ‘First, they are killed by the bullet. Then, they are killed by the media story. This repeats the police story and describes the person as a criminal and destroys their reputation. And finally, they are killed by the legal systems that do not punish the people who killed them.’
In Europe it is similar. In France, it is taboo to talk about race and there is very little data on race. Police killed Babacar Guèye, when he wouldn’t drop a knife he had been using to harm himself. Adama Traoré died in police custody after an ID check. Many other black men died after contact with the police. Because of them, many people have protested on the streets that Black Lives Matter.
The UK the first Black Lives Matter day of action was in August 2016. Black Lives Matter protesters blocked roads in many cities, eg. to Heathrow airport in London. The date was the anniversary of the death of Mark Duggan. Police shot him dead in 2011, and there were riots across the UK.
Black Lives Matter started in Britain only a month after the UK voted to leave the European Union. The Leave campaign was mostly about racism, blaming migrants for problems. In the 11 months after the vote, racial and religious hate crimes went up 23 per cent. The racism under the surface of British society came out with a new confidence.
People couldn’t ignore street racism any more. The 2016 ‘Healing a divided Britain’ report found that, in England, 37.4 per cent of black people felt unsafe in their homes or around their local area. Many people had experienced street level racism long before Brexit.
Some people said: ‘But aren’t things so much worse in the US?’ In the UK, guns are not the problem but police and criminal justice system is against black people at every stage. Three times more black people are prosecuted and sentenced in England and Wales than white people.
Some of the many black people who have died in police custody in the last 10 years are: Sarah Reed, Sheku Bayoh, Sean Rigg, Rashan Charles, Kingsley Burrell.
In Melbourne, Australia, Jack Latimore, a Goori writer and researcher, believes that the Black Lives Matter campaign could be good for indigenous rights. In November 2017 he met with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Rodney Diverlus from Black Lives Matter, when they travelled to Australia to accept the Sydney Peace Prize. Latimore feels that the visit could bring more attention to indigenous struggles. People can come together under a ‘global blackness’. He thinks social media is important.
It is more difficult now for countries that say they are ‘diverse’ or ‘tolerant’ to not talk about race. It also forces the (often majority) white population to see that they are white.
Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote in her 2017 book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race that white people who are not racist now have to look at their part in supporting racism. This does not mean that white people have an easy life. But if you’re white, this has probably made your life better in some way – maybe you don’t notice it.
Built on racism
For hundreds of years, whiteness has kept people in power. Colonialism, white privilege and capitalism go together. ‘The West is built on racism,’ says Kehinde Andrews (Associate Professor in Sociology at Birmingham City University in Britain). He says the West takes from people who are not in the West, people who are not white. The West has built empires with colonialism and slavery. It is not a coincidence that Africa is the poorest continent in the world and the white countries are the richest. Andrews says we can stop this with black radicalism: a radical politics that includes the African diaspora across borders and wants to change the existing political economic system. Andrews thinks Black Lives Matter is positive, but he thinks it has not gone far enough yet. We are trying to treat the symptoms of racism (eg. police brutality) but we need to change the disease.
Racism is a big part of the world’s power structures, and it won’t change soon.
Black and indigenous people are at the front of some of the most important fights for social and environmental justice across the world. Anti-racist activism is not new, but these new movements show us that black lives matter, and that we can organize a real challenge to power. We have that power.
Black Lives Matter - blacklivesmatter.com
Movement for Black Lives - policy.m4bl.org
We The Protesters - wetheprotesters.org
Radical Monarchs - radicalmonarchs.org
Black Lives Matter UK - @ukblm
United Friends and Family Campaign (UFFC) - uffcampaign.org
Black Lives Matter Canada - blacklivesmatter.ca
Fórum de Juventudes do Rio de Janeiro - facebook.com/ forumdejuventuderj
Reaja ou Será Morto! (React or Die!) - reajaouseramortx.com
Brigade Anti Négrophobie - @Antinegrophobie
Democracy In Colour - democracyincolour.org
SOS Blak Australia - sosblakaustralia.com
Amy Hall is a freelance journalist, working for New Internationalist and openDemocracy, among others. She is a member of Shoal Collective, a co-operative writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2018/03/01/a-challenge-to-power