Black Lives Matter: A Quest Toward Understanding and Continuing Education
Other than sharing a black square on Blackout Tuesday, I’ve been incredibly silent on social media the past week.
I’ve been spending my time deep in reflection and research following the massive momentum the Black Lives Matter movement has made in response to the death of George Floyd. Admittedly, I wasn’t as up to date on instances of injustice and police brutality as I should have been, and wanted to make a point to change that.
I was at first overwhelmed and not sure where to start in my research. I was experiencing sensory overload from the sheer amount of information being shared on my news feed from many different sources and perspectives. An article entitled It’s Time For White America To Step Up caught my attention, that was written by my friend M.J. specifically for his white friends. We’ve never met in person, but M.J. and I have been friends for several years, contributing music and movie related content to publications such as Mind Equals Blown and Substream Magazine. He was always a writer that I held in high regard for his attention to detail, and his recent article was no different. M.J. has written several pieces over the past week on his newsletter that are all very insightful, as he’s able to write from an oppressive and honest perspective that I simply can’t write from regarding the recent protests.
Being a white male, I’ve been relatively oblivious to my privilege until recently. I’ve been pulled over several times from the police if I happen to be driving a little too fast or have a taillight out. Every time, the biggest concerns looming in the back of my head were if I was going to get a ticket, how much it would cost, if I would get any points on my license, how I would find the time to go to traffic court and plead my case, etc. I have never once had any deeper fears regarding my safety in these encounters, and can’t imagine having those feelings of dread during an interaction with individuals whose job is to serve and protect.
Several years ago, my good friend DaJuawn faced a felony count for fleeing and eluding.
Growing up in Detroit, DaJuawn was always taught to find a well-lit area to pullover in, as he’s known people who were robbed by fake police officers. DaJuawn pulled over in a Sam’s Club parking lot 1.5 miles up the road after sticking his hand out of the window and signaling to the officer, acknowledging his presence. He did not speed up, turn off his lights, or try to get away in any manner. The police officer was originally pursuing DaJuawn because his vehicle matched the description of a car that he observed driving on the sidewalk on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University. To which, the officer admitted that he lost sight of the original vehicle and was uncertain of the make and model. It took four months of public outcry and local support for the felony charge to be dropped on DaJuawn.
I believe the larger issue more so lies in the structure of the police and the wording of their policies. There’s a fantastic podcast entitled DeRay Mckesson on Ending Police Brutality that summarizes everything beautifully, and talks in-depth about the policy reforms that his organization is pushing for. In short, having access to view policies state by state was incredibly difficult until a few years ago. The podcast lists resources such as 8 Can’t Wait and Check the Police to break down some of the largest cities in the US and how their policies compare to one another, and how to get involved in order to try and change some of the policies in favor of more effective deescalation tactics.
One doesn’t need to look much further than the Stanford Prison Experiment to see how the human psyche can be altered in an aggressive environment. These were 24 college students, all healthy, intelligent, middle-class males. Half were randomly assigned to be prisoners and the other half guards, with no distinguishing characteristics separating the two categories. Guards were given no formal training, and were asked to maintain law and order within the prison in a manner that they deemed fit, within reason. The experiment lasted only six days from a planned two weeks. There was a power struggle between the prisoners and guards almost instantly. Guards resorted to psychological torment in order to try and maintain order, and roughly one third of the guards became hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their form of prisoner humiliation. Interestingly enough, the tactics used by the guards in the experiment with no training, mimicked tactics used by guards in real prisons. I think a lot of parallels can be drawn between this experiment, and the potential dangers of unchecked authority without proper justice.
I am not claiming to have all of the answers right now. I don’t think anyone does. However, I believe education and understanding are crucial in these times. I implore anyone reading this to educate themselves on what’s happening in the world right now, and to try and obtain information from as many different perspectives as possible. True understanding and empathy is not possible without being well-rounded, and even if we can’t relate to someone else’s experiences first-hand, we have to respect and understand their vantage point in order to come together towards a mutual understanding.
We’re on the cusp of a revolutionary change. With all 50 states and 18 countries participating in the Black Lives Matter protests, it has now become the largest civil rights movement in world history. It’s been nothing short of inspiring to see individuals, companies, states and countries all coming together for a common cause. However, real change doesn’t happen without persistence and continuing education. Everyone’s form of contribution can be different. Some are posting on social media, protesting in the streets, silently donating, having tough conversations with friends and family or simply educating themselves further.
I’m not even scratching the surface with all that can be said about the current protests. Summarizing over 400 years of oppression in a 1,000 word article simply isn’t feasible. Be kind to one another. Share resources and perspectives as much as possible. Speak up if it feels necessary. Let’s try and reach mutual understanding and commonality as history is currently writing itself.