This reflection was originally posted on December 4, 2014, shortly after the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
I worked on two desegregation cases last summer. Yes, Brown v. Board happened in 1954. Yes, there are still numerous problems with de facto segregation across the country. Yes, segregation is almost universally accepted as problematic. And yet it is a problem that we are still not free of in this country. It, like the issue of police violence with respect to race, is merely one small facet of the broad problem we as a country have with discussing and acknowledging a troubled history with racial issues.
We have made incredible strides as a country. However, regardless of your views on the past few weeks, I hope you can agree that we still have problems in this country. As somebody with friends that live on West Blvd (the road adjoining the park where the Tamir Rice shooting happened), this is news that is not surprising to me, but is something that you should take notice of. Whatever your opinion of the federal government, problems exist on a systemic level. They exist not just with single bad apples, but in a governance structure and large organization as a whole. (For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, the Cleveland PD has agreed to cooperate with the reforms that the DOJ plans to hand down.)
And if you have any ideas that the Brown, Rice, Garner, and countless other recent cases are just randomly clustered occurrences, I will note that this investigation was originally kicked off because of this case [the killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, in which the cops actually WERE indicted by a grand jury].
Police violence and our sanctioning of it as a society is a much more difficult problem to pin down than school segregation. Considering that it is not as easily disposable with a single decision from the Supreme Court (and certainly not from this current Supreme Court), it is not something that will simply become illegal overnight. It is something that is difficult to have a civil conversation about. It is easy to be conclusory with your statements, and I can understand why both sides think that they are unquestionably validated. I hope that people on both sides of the debate, first and foremost, see the assumptions each side is working with and the reasons those assumptions exist.
Systemic change happens as a result of several things: acknowledging that there is a problem with the system, educating the public as to the scope and the severity of the problem, and working to persuade not only the public but those who have the power to use that power to effect change.
You don’t have to work on social justice movements to be a part of that change. You don’t have to be a member of an minority to understand that not everybody might have the same freedoms that you do and that those freedoms are essential to the lifestyle that you might currently live. You don’t have to constantly remind yourself of these things to be a supporter of change. However, you can and you should recognize that the ability to forget these things is the direct embodiment of the privilege that you have.
Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Convicted felons’ lives matter. Undocumented immigrants’ lives matter.
These lives. They matter, and we must recognize them.