Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two innocent black men, murdered, two days. As we all already know, these men were killed by police officers—the same Americans who had vowed to protect them. And no, these two men did not deserve to die, neither did the 136 other African-Americans who have been killed by this nation’s law enforcement in 2016 alone.
These deaths, however, come at no surprise to me, for they are driven by the racism that still prevails in America and that will continue to prosper until ignorance is defeated. But from what I have read on my Facebook page since these murders, ignorance is exactly what is being disseminated.
With each progressing minute, I read another insensitive, uninformed Facebook comment that attempts—but fails—to refute the fact these crimes occurred as a result of the victims’ race. “Police brutality happens to people of all races,” some comments mention. While it certainly may be true that police brutality does affect those who aren’t African-American, bringing up such an idea makes no attempt to solve the issue at hand—police brutality against African-Americans—but, instead, serves only to draw attention away from the lost lives Castile and Sterling. Furthermore, the entire notion that such brutality affects those of all races does not undermine the fact it disproportionally affects African-Americans—which it does; blacks 3.5 times more likely to be killed by cops than white men, statistically proven, full stop.
Another problematic phrase that has revived itself on social media as a consequence of these murders is “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter, but currently, this nation’s law enforcement is making clear that it doesn’t care about black lives—how? By murdering African-Americans. It is, therefore, time that we as a nation focus on those black lives and let our law enforcement know that we care about those black lives in the hope that they will start to, too, by saying the using #BlackLivesMatter. It doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter—just makes evident that black lives DO matter. As well, for those who haven’t been following the use of the phrase “All Lives Matter,” it is typically used by those who, in fact, do not care about black lives and are only using such a broad statement in an attempt to disguise the real issue so that no progress actually occurs—because they don’t want any progress. In short, “All Lives Matter” is a blanket statement, with a reputation of being said only by racists, that masks the issue at hand, leading to no progress.
What else, still, that I have read over the past three days is, to put it bluntly, white people instructing black people on the ways in which they should feel about the deaths of two other black men, using phrases such as, “You can’t think this is racist.” In reality, the incidents were racist, and even if they weren’t, the attempt to suppress black voices is in itself another form of racism—an explanation for why really doesn’t seem necessary in this case.
The only way to achieve progress in this nation is to acknowledge the racism that still exists. Very few people—other than people of color—seem to be making any attempts to understand it, however. Just because all U.S. citizens are considered equal in our law books does not mean that racism is gone; discrimination has simply found other forms in which it can embody to harm people of color—one of those forms being, of course, racial profiling in the nation’s police force, leading to innocent Black men’s deaths.
And acknowledging this racism does not divide us, as some have proposed. It allows us, instead, to understand that not everyone experiences life in the same way. I, for instance, being white, will never experience the pain and hardship African-Americans go through each and every day as they not only think about the murders of so many before them but also about their own safety and their own lives. But just because whites have the privilege of not having to fear police officers does mean there must be tension, or a division, between blacks and whites, as some have claimed acknowledging this privilege creates. In fact, it is once we do recognize the racism that caused these murder that we can go about preventing them from reoccurring. On the other hand, failing to discern racism in this nation does create problems, for without understanding that racism caused these murders, we cannot prevent them from occurring again.
But beyond the harmful rhetoric of some that has found itself on Facebook and the failure of others to recognize the racism that plagues this nation, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shall not die in vain. For the sake of America’s future, we cannot and will not forget these murders.
-James Wellemeyer (Head Officer of Redefy’s Outreach team)