In the wake of the many nation-moving events that took place in 2014, I sometimes ask myself, what now?
What is to be done after the dust settles? What has North American culture and Humanity as a whole gleaned or taken from all of these occurrences? Now I understand that some feel powerless, or not directly affected, as the groups victimized, or directly involved, are of different ethnic backgrounds. However, the thing that unites us all is the fact that we are all human. Injustice, abuses of power, prejudice, and hate/hateful acts out of fear affect society all the same, regardless of race. It touches all of us regardless of race, heritage, or religious belief because it sets the tone for what becomes accepted… for what becomes the norm.
Be it the excessive violence and inhumane response of a supposed official to Mike Brown, or the unprofessional, mob-like group takedown that resulted in the “coincidental” death of Erik Garner, injustice does not simply stop after it makes headlines. These are just a few examples of the numerous other responses of officials in positions of power reacting with a biased, fear-driven response often resulting in death, and all I can ask myself is why? Why do people of colour, often and disproportionately, illicit a response from police officers that result in the loss of life first, and a calm, calculated conflict resolution as an afterthought? Is it an image that some disenfranchised, aggressive Black youth in North America may give off (such as in parts of Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore)? Is it the pervasive attitude of young black men as being aggressive and confrontational in the media, perpetuated all the more by rappers and the images that they give off? Or is it, at some level, systematic racism and prejudice that needs to be addressed by measures such as sensitivity and cultural awareness training? I believe all three, among other things, act as large factors in why a “Shoot First, Talk Later” approach is adopted by law enforcement. To add to this, even when these excessively violent acts are committed, a system protects these individuals from any repercussions, or even attempt at corrective action – such as seen in many, if not all, of these trials. Many officers have walked away almost unscathed, brushing indictment off as if it were a joke.
How can people not be angry? How can they not feel cheated and/or disregarded when the system put in place to govern and maintain order doesn’t govern itself to the same standard? Many officers pledge and place that badge on their uniform to truly serve and protect, but we are all human, and it is human to err. Nevertheless, we must address the error and take corrective action when gross errors or malfeasances have occurred, or else who will the people trust?
The outcry, rage, and reaction that followed the occurences of 2014 will continue to occur. Black lives do truly matter. It is important to address that there are individuals who make it hard to walk down the street as a young Black individual and not worry about how we are perceived by others, however, as a society, we need to rise above and let a young Black boy or girl know “it’s ok.” It’s okay to want to excel and achieve. It’s okay to live and be free in expression and not be ashamed of embracing your individuality. It’s ok to want to be accepted, for you’re the content of your character, and no others who may tarnish your image by their acts. And this brings me to my next point.
As a people, Black men and women need to realize that YES, you are an example and representation for your culture, whether you like it or not. The interaction you have with someone will unfortunately and undoubtedly change and shape how they interact with others of our race. This is why we should always strive to be ambassadors as Sean Bell’s, Trayvon Martin’s, and the year 2014 has taught us – we do have a slightly uneven playing field when faced with law enforcement and public officials. This is not to say the system is against us, but to say that prejudice and bias don’t exist is just ignoring the facts and trends. This is why I personally cringe when I see my younger counterparts dressed in a way that sets us back and makes others feel alienated/cringe. I know I am not the only one who feels this way and I am not trying to stop freedom of expression, but as I said earlier, we are ambassadors for our people. I write this from the point of view of a 25 year old Black man in Canada/North America but the themes within can be applied to all marginalized and individuals of colour. Many of my closest friends are Non-Ethnics, but this just reinforces my point that after the dust settles, we need to learn from the tragedies that take place and address them on all fronts. As there is nothing more precious than life, to lose it or take it because of a prejudiced and ignorant lifestyle and point of view – be it as a Young boy in the Ghetto’s of Chicago or a Law Enforcement official with a biased perception of race – we all lose.
Words by: Ucal Shillingford