Recently, the Congressional Black Caucus joined the nation in protest against police brutality. More than a dozen of its members marched down to the Department of Justice last month to demand federal intervention to end the killing of unarmed Black American citizens by police. Across the nation, athletes are taking a knee during the national anthem in protest, initiated by NFL-star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick.
While I understand that these actions are well intentioned, as a 26-year-old Black woman who has participated in multiple protests and marches, I have grown quite disillusioned with the entire charade that is public protests. The “walk up and down with a sign, shout chants, and then go home” charade. The “sit, stand, kneel, or lie down” charade.
Protests are not what America needs to end police brutality or racism.
Last week, a U.N. panel declared that the U.S. owes Black people reparations for what they characterized as a history of "racial terrorism." I could not agree more. There is only one solution to the problem of police brutality and racism: equality. Social, economic, and political equality.
In 1865, toward the end of the Civil War, Black people were promised reparations in the form of 40 acres and a mule. America never made good on that promise.
Today, it is estimated that slavery reparations could cost up to $14 trillion. And that estimate is a calculation based on slavery alone. Not on the impacts of Jim Crow or the centuries of unequal access or the impacts of White terrorism that continue to this day. Yet, multiple surveys reveal the fact that most Americans overwhelmingly oppose reparations for African Americans.
Instead, America continues to fear. Fear the truth that it must make good on its promises of restitution to rid this nation of inequality in all forms. Fear of the truth that the list of Black men, women, and children killed by police will continue to grow in spite of body cameras or legislation. Because America does not simply have a police problem. It has a race problem. And that problem cannot be solved without reparations.
Black bodies continue to be used target practice. The small and tall. The male and female. The young and old. Every shade of black imaginable and all dichotomies thinkable. Another headline for CNN news. Another police officer free to live another day.
Fear. Aim. Shoot. Kill.
Why does this cycle continue? Why does it seem that so little is being done to stop this? Conversations loom and America’s news organizations loop video images of Black people shot dead in public streets, but no viable solutions to end it ever seem to be presented. Why?
The answer is quite simple: fear.
"I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then," officer Betty Shelby told homicide detectives investigating the moments that lead up to the shooting of unarmed Terence Crutcher.
“The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked,” Darren Wilson explained during his grand jury testimony while he was on trial for killing unarmed Mike Brown.
Fear has petrified the public and its governing bodies. Fear of deep, honest reflection. Fear of the truth, that as a nation, we are all afraid of Blackness, Black people, and of the "Black condition."
How many people reading this piece are not afraid to enter into Black neighborhoods?
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Nearly half (45 percent) of poor black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, but only a little more than a 10th (12 percent) of poor white children live in similar neighborhoods.”
Most Black people live in neighborhoods in the United States of America with high concentrations of crime, violence, and drugs; high unemployment rates; failing elementary, middle, and high schools; crumbling infrastructure. Most Americans are afraid of Black neighborhoods and by extension most Americans are afraid of Black people who live in them. Most Americans with badges are afraid of Black people.
We are ultimately afraid of the circumstances that have created the Black reality at which we currently gaze. The centuries of slavery. The centuries of Black codes and Jim Crow. The decades of state-sanctioned terrorism in the form of COINTELPRO. The decades of mass incarceration. The centuries of separate and unequal.
White people aren’t just afraid of Black people. White people are afraid of what they have done to Black people. That White wealth is built on Black oppression and death. How many of today’s American corporations and institutions benefitted from the enslavement of Black people? How much money have White executives made off of Black cultural property?
America’s systemic oppression of Black people benefits White people from the top down and bottom up. That’s what we call White privilege. White people’s ultimate fear is confronting their own history and privilege. And Whites continue to project their fear of confronting themselves onto Black people.
Fear. Aim. Shoot. Kill.
And no, this isn’t simply a matter of the White one percent. The White middle and underclass directly profit from Black oppression and death as well. I have long had quite a perspicacious understanding of this from childhood experiences.
For years as a child, I was not able to frequently see my mother because she had to sacrifice her time with us to make money as a live-in nanny for white families. Far too many women of color act as childcare workers for White families who do not treat them with respect.
I remember my mother explaining that we couldn’t move to a neighboring town with better schools, because no one would show her housing back in the ’90s. White homeowners renting their space would welcome my mother to a viewing, but after she arrived, somehow the space would no longer be available. Her treatment was not unique. The nation’s wealth gap between White and Black families, conservatively estimated at $100,000, is much attributed to redlining and housing discrimination. Average White families protected the value of their property by not letting Blacks and minorities move in next door.
After college, when I entered the world of writing/journalism, I was surprised to often find myself the only black person. Had I known that according to the ASNE Census, in 2015, of the 32,900 full-time journalists, only 4,200, or 12.76 percent, were racial minorities, despite the fact that minorities account for about 30 percent of the American population, I would’ve been far less surprised.
I also know some realities to be true, though I was never directly impacted by them. For example, back in 2003, a study revealed that average Americans found Greg and Emily far more employable than Lakisha and Jamal, revealing the implicit bias in American hiring practices. And, while Black people make up 60 percent of the country’s incarcerated population, the nationwide average of minority corrections officers was 29 percent in 2006.
White men make up the majority of those employed by America’s prison system that preys on Blacks and minorities.
Conversations surrounding police violence, the justice system’s blatant disregard of Black lives and solutions to solve these injustices have become far too myopic — singular and disconnected from the bigger, overarching issues: issues of racism, state-sanctioned violence, and ongoing social and economic inequality that have fallen by the wayside as a result of these protests and marches that receive headline news coverage. Thus, both the public and leadership are failing to have the deeper, more nuanced conversations necessary to address these injustices.
The Black condition in America reflects the nation’s sentiments about its people of color. We may be too afraid to acknowledge and confront just what those sentiments are, but our eyes don’t lie.
We have all seen the videos and images of Keith Lamont Scott and Alton Sterling bleeding to death in the streets. We have read the names of unarmed victims of police brutality: Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford. We have seen the homeless Black men begging for change in every major city. We have seen the homicide rates, the “black-on-black” crime, the HIV statistics. All symptomatic expressions of the disease called systemic racism.
Fear. Aim. Shoot. Kill.
Medgar Evers. Fred Hampton. Harry and Harriette Moore. Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X.
We will never forget.
One less Black person alive to scream the tale of their oppression. To demand justice.
When America is no longer afraid confront its historical and continued abuse of Black bodies, it will finally be ready to end police brutality.