#BlackLivesMatter and the Conspiracy of Privilege in America

In the early morning of July 5th, 37 year-old father of five, Alton Sterling, was shot in both his chest and his back by law enforcement officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Following this tragedy, on the night of July 6th, a 32 year-old father, Philando Castile, was brutally slain with 4 to 5 shots by a law enforcement officer outside St. Paul, Minnesota, after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation – a faulty tail-light. Witnessing the murder was his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and his 4-year-old daughter. His daughter attempted to comfort her distressed mother, while being dragged to the back of a squad vehicle, repeating: “It’s okay, Mommy, I’m here with you,” unaware of the horror of the tragedy that had just stricken.

Later that night, Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, was refused authorization to see her son’s body, even though by the time she’d reached Hennepin County Medical Center, he had passed away. She’d refused to watch the video account of her son’s murder: “I want to remember him the way I last saw him, leaving my home earlier that evening,”

President Barak Obama bashfully noted the recent shootings at a NATO summit conference in Warsaw, Poland: “…given my institutional role, I can’t comment on the specific facts of these cases, and I have full confidence in the Justice Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and fair enquiry”.

While there is yet to be a serious discussion on ways to confront the endemic of police brutality targeting mostly people of color in the United States, a sense of dread is already felt in other countries. For examples, the Bahamas, the United Arab Emirates, as well as Bahrain have issued travel warning statements following the recent homicides in the States warning their citizens of Police brutality carried out against black and brown people on American soil.

All of this comes in at the heels of a very bloody context, where many black men and women in particular, but also Latinos and other minorities, often find themselves victims of police brutality. There can be no other explanation behind the maltreatment of minorities in American society than that of color, or class or both.

On February 26, 2012, vigilante George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed black high school student, Trayvon Martin. On July 14, 2013, Zimmerman’s defense team congratulated him after receiving the verdict of ‘not guilty’. Paying no heed to the grieving family nearby, his attorney, Mark O’Mara said, referring to brimming Zimmerman’s well-being following the case: “I think he is still worried. Hopefully everyone will respect the jury’s verdict.”

Ironically, their sympathies were extended to the assailant rather than the victim, which has been the norm in these situations among many Americans, especially in rightwing media such as Fox News. Following the death and subsequent widespread outrage following Trayvon’s tragic death on August 9, 2014, unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, was also shot, at least six times by law enforcement officer, Darren Wilson. His crime: allegedly stealing a pack of cigarettes from a liquor store. The grand jury was comprised of nine white and three black jurors. Following these events and the historic protests of Ferguson, Missouri, which spread throughout the United States, the hashtag, and most importantly, the movement #BlackLivesMatter came to fruition.

However, the rise of that movement was hardly seen as a rational outcome of violence targeting black communities. Leading Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, for example, threatened Black Lives Matter activists with violence. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will,” he said. Trump is well-known for his lack of sympathy with human rights activists of any kind, but equally worrying are those behind him, his financial backers and supporters, including some of the most racist segments of society. Trump has, as of June, won 1,542 delegates in the presidential primaries and almost certain to be the Republican Nominee. Trump’s rise may seem shocking considering his undemocratic core values and seeming determination to bring them about. But he is not alone, for his stance is also shared by other Republicans.

Democratic Party Senator Harry Reid chastised his Republican rivals in a series of tweets late last year. “Racism has long been prevalent in Republican politics. The only difference now is that Trump is saying out loud what other (Republicans) merely suggest,” read one tweet. “Donald Trump is standing on a platform of hate that the Republican Party built for him,” said another.

However, although Democratic Party officials may appear to use all the right sounding words, in reality they remain largely disconnected from the plight of minorities.

In fact, Black Lives Matter activists refused to endorse any of the candidates, even the more amiable Bernie Sanders. BLM activist Darnell L. Moore wrote in an open letter to the Democratic candidate saying: “If you really want to demonstrate that you care for black lives, and are willing to engage in the work of an ally, you actually have to listen to black people”

Many Americans, who may feel that their civil rights are not in jeopardy, seem to be blind to the fate of other members of their own community, particularly people of color, despite the irrefutable evidence of their subjugation.

In December 2015, the British Guardian reported that 1,134 black men were killed by law enforcement officers that year alone. Within that shocking number, it was confirmed that 15 percent of those killed were young men, ages 15 to 34. About 25 percent, or 284 of them were unarmed, even though, according to the Guardian, “black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.”

In fact, this is precisely why Black Lives Matter exists. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement explained in a statement the motives behind their mobilization effort: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

Interestingly, the call for justice by BLM activists has resounded among people around the world, but especially those who are experiencing similar struggles.

During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, starting August 2014, Palestinian activists became involved, either directly or via social media platforms. One of the weapons used by armed officers in Ferguson was teargas, something that several generations of Palestinian activists have been subjected to by Israeli soldiers in their common struggle for freedom. Messages of instruction and encouragement abounded, such as not keeping much distance from the Police since ‘if you’re close to them they can’t tear gas you.’;  always make sure to run against the wind /to keep calm when you’re teargassed / the pain will pass / don’t rub your eyes!; don’t wash your eyes with water!

Human rights attorney and scholar, Noura Erakat explained the Palestinian reaction in an interview with Al-Jazeera America: “Here were two groups of people dealing with completely different historical trajectories, but both which resulted in a process of dehumanization that criminalized them and their bodies as expendable.”

But while Palestinians, thousands of miles away, understand the struggle of black Americans, it’s quite disheartening that many Americans find the Black Lives Matter movement ‘controversial’, if not even threatening.

The Black Lives Matter movement has the social resource, strength, and tenacity to stand on its own; however, it requires the genuine solidarity and support of everyone to achieve its rightful objectives – regardless of class, race and privilege. There is a great need for change in the way the ‘white community’ perceives the pain, struggle, and sacrifices of their brothers and sister in the Black community. If they remain silent, real change will never come.

Zarefah Baroud is a Media and Communications student at the University of Washington. Read other articles by Zarefah.