Black lives matter. Stop trying to change the narrative.

On August 9, 2014, ex-Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson unleashed a hail of bullets on an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Supposedly, he’d done something wrong.  Whatever mistake he did or did not make, whatever law he did or did not break, one thing is certain: his penalty should not have been death. The penalty for jaywalking isn’t (nor should it be) death. Even if Brown robbed a convenience store (which is still in question since the owner of the store did not call the police), the penalty for that is not death. Like all other citizens of the United States, Michael Brown ostensibly had the same rights as every other person. The right to a speedy and fair trial with adequate representation. He was robbed of his rights and his very life by ex-police officer Darren Wilson.

And with that, a movement was born.  A movement by black people and for black people.  Especially the young people. Using social media, they organized. On the streets of Ferguson they came together.  To protest the execution-without a trial-of a black man. To criticize those police officers across the U.S. who choose to use extreme, and sometimes lethal force against black people, rather than less lethal means (or even talking to them to defuse a situation). The movement has vocally, loudly, and peacefully criticized the problems in law enforcement that led to the death of Michael Brown.

Almost from the beginning, attempts were made by the defenders of the status quo to turn public sentiment against the protesters. The same day that Darren Wilson was identified as the Michael Brown’s killer (which took almost a week), the Ferguson PD released surveillance video from the Ferguson Market which purportedly showed Brown stealing cigarillo’s from the store. Many people saw this as an attempt to poison the well.  To show that the protesters were defending a “bad guy”…that he wasn’t innocent (because if he wasn’t an innocent person, then that totes means he deserved to be shot and killed, amirite?). To show that their protesting was, at best, misplaced. It was a thinly veiled attempt at character assassination by poisoning the well. Narrative disruption achieved.

The LRAD can produce up to 149 decibels, which is higher than the 130-decibel threshold for potential hearing loss. It may be non-lethal, but this isn’t something that should be deployed against a civilian population.  But I guess cops have to make use of all that military grade weaponry somehow. Why not use it on those uppity black people demanding recognition of their humanity?
In December, a judge ruled that police could not use tear gas against protesters.
Despite advances in technology, rubber bullets CAN kill. They also apparently hurt like the dickens.

Then the cops arrived on the streets of Ferguson, ostensibly to help “maintain the peace”. To better aid their peacekeeping goals, the police brought some weapons along with them. Among their arsenal was a long-range acoustic device, otherwise known as LRAD, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even attack dogs. This was a deliberate show of force. The intent was clear: intimidation. The message was clear: “Stop protesting. Stop complaining. Sit down and shut up. We want the status quo to continue. You black people need to be happy with how things are.”

Why do I say that’s the message? When you look at the weaponry deployed against the protesters–peaceful protesters, remember–it looks like the police are preparing for war.  They’re supposed to be there to serve and protect, not intimidate the populace.  Not to scare them into submission. Not to remind them of their place.  None of the intimidation tactics worked, of course, but it did serve to remind some people of the history of state sanctioned violence against African-Americans, which only provided fuel for the complaints of protesters. Given the support law enforcement has in the United States, there are many people who would look at images of law enforcement using an LRAD or tear gas against protesters as a sign that they {the protesters} did something wrong and deserved that treatment. Because the police couldn’t be wrong. They couldn’t have fucked up. They are good and righteous and wouldn’t brutalize the very civilians they’re supposed to protect. The seeds were planted in the early days. Seeds intended to turn public sentiment against the protesters and change the narrative surrounding the protests.

Thanks to the police showing up with their intimidation gear, their intimidation tactics, and their intimidation weapons, the protests took a turn for the worse.  Some opportunistic people began looting Ferguson stores (described in some circles as rioting; a term I refuse to use in reference to the protests). Despite the fact that there were precious few looters, the media focused on them, as if they defined what the movement was about. As if they were the face of the protests against law enforcement abuse of power and police brutality.

Frustration is now boiling over after decades of discriminatory policing, near-zero accountability, and lack of will from lawmakers to reel in the spiraling police state. In fact, as we have documented in depth, the militarization of the police is rising despite the increased outcry from concerned citizens against it. The overbearing presence of riot police in Ferguson deployed to contain peaceful protesters may have been the very spark which ignited the rioting in the first place.

To be clear, rioting did not start on August 24th until police began mass-deploying tear gas and other crowd dispersal tactics and an overwhelming majority of protesters remained peaceful.

In the predictable manner in which the corporate media operates, the news cycle has been shifted away from the tragedy of the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown, and switched to the few who lost their cool and began looting and rioting. While the riots are newsworthy, the main focus of the news coverage should be on the death of this unarmed young man, and the overall rise of documented police brutality that is permeating in all corners of America. More Americans have been killed in the last decade by the police than the total number of US soldiers killed in the entire Iraq war, but they won’t talk about that on TV.

No, we don’t see or hear that. That wouldn’t play into the narrative the media wants people to buy. From the beginning, organizers called for peaceful protests. They’ve condemned violence. They’ve helped clean up their own streets. They’ve helped protect stores from looting.  They’ve policed their own community.  But rarely is this shown by the mainstream media.  I can’t speak to the why of it, but one of the results is clear. For some people, the looters came to embody the movement. The people who condemned the looters and rushed to characterize the protesters as being looters displayed more concern for stores being robbed than the extrajudicial killing of a black man. Priorities people. Priorities. You can buy more goods to sell. Michael Brown will never be alive again, and his family and friends will suffer that loss for the rest of their lives. But the damage was once more done. Some people in the public condemned the looting, the civil unrest, and the protest movement itself. Once more, the media sought to change the narrative around the protest movement, in what looks like a deliberate attempt to discredit the protesters.

There were other attempts made to shift public opinion on the protests.  We saw people complain that protesters shouldn’t say “Black lives matter”. No, these people felt protesters weren’t being fair, and should more properly say “All lives matter”.  Of course, doing so ignores the ugly racism at the heart of the criminal justice system. It ignores the fact that every 28 hours, a black person is shot and killed by a member of law enforcement. It ignores the fact that a USA Today study of the FBI’s justified homicide database found that in 96% of cases involving a black person dying at the hands of a white police officer, the officer was rarely indicted (what about a trial you say? Pish-posh. That hardly happens). It ignores the fact that young black men are 21 times more likely than young white men to be shot dead by police. Saying “all lives matter” would distract from the very point of the protests: that people of color are unfairly, unconstitutionally, and unethically deprived of their rights and their humanity on an ongoing basis by our criminal justice system. Or as Julia Craven said:

There is seemingly no justice for Black life in America. An unarmed Black body can be gunned down without sufficient reasoning and left in the middle of the street on display for hours — just like victims of lynching.

Strange fruit still hangs from our nations poplar trees. Lynching underwent a technological revolution. It evolved from nooses to guns and broken necks to bullet wounds.

Police brutality is a BLACK issue. This is not an ill afflicting all Americans, but that does not mean you cannot stand in solidarity with us. But standing with us does not mean telling us how we should feel about our community’s marginalization. Standing with us means being with us in solidarity without being upset that this is for OUR PEOPLE — and wanting recognition for yours in this very specific context.

Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already. But, just know, police violence and brutality disproportionately affects my people. Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally and neither is our outrage.

You can breathe because you’re white, dumbass.

In December, a New York grand jury declined to return an indictment against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Pantaleo is the NYPD officer whose chokehold move resulted in the death of Eric Garner. This followed on the heels of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and served to further anger and frustrate protesters. Protesters around the country began wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “I can’t breathe”, the final words of Eric Garner, who suffered from asthma.  The shirt expresses the idea that black people across the United States feel that the oppression, discrimination, and racism they feel from the criminal justice system is preventing them from living…from breathing. To protesters, any of them could be Eric Garner. Any of them could have been held down, been prevented from breathing, or killed by law enforcement. All for being black.  One of the responses to the “I can’t breathe” T-shirts came from supporters of law enforcement.  You can see the slogan “I can breathe” in the image above.  It’s worn by people who are not experiencing systematic discrimination and racism. Of course they can breathe. They aren’t the victims of racism. They aren’t the ones dealing with racism in law enforcement or in the courts. They are the ones with the privilege of being white. Wearing that shirt sends a message whether they like it or not.  That message is “I don’t have a problem with police violence and abuse of power from law enforcement”.  As a response to one of the core problems the protest movement has been decrying, whoever came up with the T-shirts is an unequivocal asshole. Making such a shirt was a knee-jerk, unthinking response to legitimate protests. At best, wearing that shirt is privilege-laden, tone-deaf, and fails to acknowledge the very real problems that people have with law enforcement and the court system.  At worst, wearing that shirt has been a way for people to justify the death of Eric Garner.

I asked one man wearing a “I Can Breathe” t-shirt what the phrase meant. “If he hadn’t resisted arrest,” the man said with a shrug, “he could still breathe.”

Watching the video [of Garner’s death], I’d be hard pressed to view Garner’s actions as resisting arrest. In any case, even if he had been resisting arrest, that should not be sufficient grounds to kill him!  Once again, one of the key narratives surrounding the movement has been challenged by those who don’t want progress.

Those defenders of the status quo emerged once again this past weekend, following the murder of two NYPD police officers at the hands of a mentally ill man. This seemingly provided an opportunity to criticize the protest movement and attempt to demonize protesters, as if they (rather than killer Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley) were responsible for the tragic deaths of those officers. First up is former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani:

“We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” said Giuliani during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t care how you want to describe it — that’s what those protests are all about.”

Giuliani cited the nationwide protests against institutional racism and police brutality that followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York, and that flared up anew after the respective grand jury decisions not to indict the officers responsible in either case. Giuliani said those demonstrations, and the ongoing criticism of police tactics and the criminal justice system, were part of what led to the shooting of two NYPD officers in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon. Police say the alleged shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, traveled to New York from Baltimore with the intention of killing police officers.

“The protest are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence — a lot of them lead to violence — all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist,” said Giuliani. “That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police.”

The former mayor accused black commentators of creating “an atmosphere of severe, strong anti-police hatred in certain communities.”

Giuliani also accused New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of “allowing protests to get out of control.” But he said it was not the time to call for de Blasio’s resignation, as “a lot of other police officers were killed under a lot of other mayors.”

What Giuliani describes in not remotely an accurate representation of the protests in the US. The vast majority of protesters have been peaceful. They have called for non-violent protests. They have not said “all police are bad” or that “all police are racist”. Nor has there been “4 months of propaganda”. This is a blatant attempt by Giuliani to whitewash the ongoing protest movement. Instead of treating protesters as having legitimate concerns…of acknowledging the very real problems People of Color face from law enforcement, Giuliani has attempted to change the narrative around the protests.  In doing so, he dismisses the concerns of a great many U.S. citizens. Given the wealth of evidence that sits contrary to his views, it looks like Giuliani is attempting to rewrite history.

He’s not the only one though. The head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, had this to say recently:

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Lynch said. “Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on. It cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

Who are the people he’s talking about?

Who are these people who have incited violence under the guise of protesting? By not naming anyone, and generalizing about the protests, Lynch has subtly attempted to undermine protesters. Again, the protest movement is overwhelmingly peaceful and non-violent. To attempt to characterize it otherwise is an attempt to…change the narrative.

Look, I am firmly opposed to violence as a means of conflict resolution and I condemn any such actions. I am also saddened about the deaths of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. While their deaths were tragic, a mentally ill lone gunman does not represent the entire protest movement. I also condemn anyone who looted, committed arson, or engaged in violent activities under cover of the protests. But those people do not represent the protest movement either. The protests center around a desire for reform in police departments across the country, as well as reforming the criminal justice system.  Referring to the protests as anything other than that does nothing more than dismiss the very real problems in our criminal justice system. Problems that disproportionately affect African-Americans and other communities of color in the United States. Though they may try, I don’t think the defenders of the status quo will succeed in retconning the narrative surrounding the current protest movement in the United States.  They may have done some damage though, and that’s why I think these people need to be called out and criticized for what they say. Because black lives matter.

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Black lives matter. Stop trying to change the narrative.
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