Before all lives can matter…

By Emily Smith

Assistant Opinion Editor

Last week, Scott Kendall published an extremely well-written article titled Another Perspective. In this article, Scott explains his frustrations with the protests that were happening all over the country pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement, and specifically in North Carolina after the death of Keith Scott at the hands of police officers.  Scott cited numerous sources of information describing how the victim of the most recent killing, Keith Scott (the names are confusing, bare with me) was not necessarily a very good guy. He stated that Keith had domestic violence charges against him, and was reportedly threatening towards his wife and children. In summation, no, he doesn’t sound like a very good guy. My question, however, is did he deserve to die?

Before I go any further, please let me announce my privilege in being able to talk about this topic at all. I am a small, white girl who grew up in the suburbs of Rochester, now attending a prestigious college filled with the majority of people who look just like me. Because of this reality, I do not understand the lives and realities of the victims of police brutality, and the families I will be talking about. However, I understand that my position of inherent “power” because of the color of my skin gives me more space and more leverage to talk about these issues. Let me be clear: I am not black, and I do not understand the black experience, nor will I pretend to. I am writing only to defend those around me who are literally dying in the streets at the hands of the fearful, and the ignorant.

Back to my question: even though Keith Scott wasn’t an upstanding citizen, did he deserve to die? I would argue that he absolutely did not have to die, but I, unsurprisingly, don’t believe that anyone should die for crimes they have committed. Furthermore, I find it appalling that anyone would argue that because of Keith’s insubordination on September 20, 2016, he deserved to be shot down in the streets. He did not have a trial for his crimes, he did not get to argue his case (although it might have been a weak one), he did not get to serve time and continue a partially full life; he died because he was a black man arguing with cops and for no other reason besides that one.  

What I feel that Scott and many others fail to realize in their critiques of the outrage in the black community is that it’s not just about one person dying at the hands of police violence, it is about the 200 other black people who have died in the same way just this year (feel free to look up this statistic on The Guardian’s website called “The Counted”). Keith Scott being killed by the police was a horrible, disgusting tragedy, but when you add up the deaths of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and the many, many, many other unarmed black men and women being shot and killed by the police, the real problems begin to come to the forefront.

Here is a truth: America is not colorblind. If you have heard that we are finally living in a post-racial society, you have been lied to (probably by people who are keeping us from ever being able to live in a post-racial society). As much as we want to believe it, race relations shape everything that we do, everything we think, and everything that we create ourselves to be. A lot of this reality can be traced back to the fact that American society was built so heavily on the oppression of non-white folks. This history is something that will never, ever go away. Hell, it wasn’t even that long ago! The scars of slavery, oppression, and outright racism are in a past that is not so distant at all. The historical context of oppression and violence is also the reason that reverse racism doesn’t exist, but that’s another article for another day.

Another one of Scott’s arguments that drove his article was that the protests being held by the Black Lives Matter movement (specifically in Charlotte, NC) had been turning violent. Scott pointed out that people who were protesting were targeting innocent people who had nothing to do with the problems they were angry about. And there is no arguing this: some protests have turned violent, and innocent people have been hurt. I can’t begin to deny that. However, who would pay any attention if the protesters didn’t do anything to stir up outrage? Who would listen if they sat quietly and peacefully? Absolutely nobody. In fact, most people still aren’t listening. I’m definitely not condoning violence as a way to get attention, but I do understand that people are outraged at the police brutality against the black community, as they rightfully should be.

I also think there is a misconception about what stating “black lives matter” means. When I say that black lives matter, I am not saying that black lives matter more than any other lives, but they are the lives that are being gunned down in the streets. When I say that black lives matter, I’m not insinuating that other people are not also falling victim to violence. I am not saying that I don’t understand that black people can be violent, just like every single other person can be, in every single race or ethnicity. When I say black lives matter, I am not saying that I hate police officers or that I think that their job isn’t noble, because I certainly do. Black lives matter means exactly what it sounds likes: black lives are (surprise!) important.

Nobody said that blue lives mattered until black lives mattered. Nobody said all lives mattered until black lives mattered. After all, black lives have to matter before all lives can matter.

 

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Comments

  1. Nice formulation of an important argument. Especially in a society that prides itself on non-arbitrary government action, it’s unacceptable that certain categories of humans do not qualify for those protections.

    We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which black women and men deserved what happened because of X, Y and Z in their past, despite the fact that the police will rarely know those things before (not that it ought to matter), and many other people charged with criminal acts are described primarily in terms of the good X, Y, and Zs of their pasts (see e.g. Brock Turner). To the extent that the death penalty exists (though it should not – as the chapel on campus attest by ringing bells any time NYS takes someone’s life), it is intended as the highest penalty for the most heinous crimes (ethics and Catholic teaching alike would lead us to the conclusion that rehabilitation would in most cases be preferable for society and for that person). Disrespecting police officers does not fit the bill.

    Of course, when we talk about making sure that Black Lives Matter in a real and tangible way, we ought also to consider the ways in which police are part of a system that wants them to think and behave otherwise, and are often overworked, underpaid, undertrained, and not provided (because of stigma or resources) the (primarily mental) health services they need because of the work they do.

    -Jonathan Beck ’13 (former Griffin News and Opinion Editor)

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