#BlackLivesMatter: Why we can't wait

Note: Dominque Stevenson, director of AFSC's Friend of a Friend program in Baltimore, and many other AFSC staff around the country have been very much involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement since the killing of Michael Brown. Dominque and Eddie Conway were interviewed by Democracy Now on Thursday, April 23rd (see below) regarding the recent protests in Baltimore in response to the killing of Freddie Gray. Here, Dominque reflects on the movement and why none of us can wait to take decisive action to interrupt the cycles of violence enacted on black men, women, and children in this country every day. - Lucy

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, catalyzed a renewed level of youth activism on the issue of police brutality.

It was, for many, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as young people in Ferguson organized demonstrations and protests that resonated around the world. Their demands for justice spread like a prairie fire, igniting #BlackLivesMatter and many other groups to begin organizing across the United States.

Some will say that similar moments have come and gone before. However, if we look with a more critical eye, we might find that missing from these earlier moments was the recognition and support of individuals and organizations with resources, and an unwillingness on their part to accept new leadership.

We are now on the cusp of a movement that should be nurtured and supported by all who work for justice and peace. Because police abuse and brutality are very real and sometimes very visible offenses. It’s a fact that can be seen by riding through some of our nation’s poorest communities.

Take the videotaped shooting of Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 4, 2015, the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Given the frequency of police shootings, this event salted wounds that had never healed.

In the report, Operation Ghetto Storm, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that a black man, woman, or child is killed every twenty-eight hours by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante. Their study included police reports and other available data on these shootings.

A recent ACLU report on police shootings found that in Maryland, African Americans make up 29 percent of the state’s population yet comprise 69 percent of the 109 people who died at the hands of police in 2014.

In addition to these killings, black people face other forms of oppression such as mass incarceration. Often there is a direct link between police brutality and incarceration. Many prisoners in Maryland report that they have experienced physical abuse, including the use of stun guns, during their arrest.

Black Lives Matter protest in Baltimore by Susan Melklsethlan

While we lift up the murder by police of African American men, we cannot overlook the fact that this issue touches every segment of the black community. Women, children, and LGTBQ are all vulnerable to police brutality.

What makes African Americans potential victims is the invisibility of so many to the larger society. Up until the time of his death, Freddie Gray was an anonymous young man living in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore.

I did not know him, but I know many young men like him, and I know the difficulty of their lives and the struggle to survive a neighborhood that time and society has forgotten.

Since the protests have begun here in Baltimore, I have been contemplating a question. Do we love these young black men in life, or value them more in death because they have become symbols of oppression and suffering?

One of the best ways to honor Freddie Gray and the many victims of police brutality and murder, is to care about the hundreds of Freddie Grays that live among us now. We must work to end police brutality, but we must also remove the veil of invisibility that allows conditions of inequity and oppression to exist for so many.  

It is time to stand with the new crop of activists. Many of them are the very people who will be the victims of police brutality and shootings.

All of us need to listen with open hearts and minds, and respond with support that reflects the guidance of the grassroots.

Many strategies have been initiated and suggested by groups around the country. Community control of the police is perhaps the most widely discussed possibility. This could be supported through a mass movement or a “bloc” of residents in different cities pushing city council resolutions.

Boycotts also have been effective when used strategically, and demonstrations that focus on a specific entity or individual have proven useful.

AFSC has a history of standing with marginalized groups and working on unpopular issues. We will use our resources to convene people to ascertain how they can best support this movement. We invite other groups with resources to do the same.

Now is the time to renew the spirit of our activism. Now is the time to stand with those who have had to remind the world that #BlackLivesMatter.

(Note: AFSC South Regional Director Kamau Franklin contributed to this piece. He has been a dedicated community activist for over twenty years, first in New York City and now based in the south.)

Related Content

A Lifetime of Resistance: an Interview with Eddie Conway

Blessed are the peaceMAKERS: Praying for just peace in Ferguson by Joshua Saleem

Reflections after Ferguson October by Liz Oppenheimer

Note to self: White people taking part in #BlackLivesMatter protests by Vonn New

Friend of a Friend: What do we mean by love? by Lucy Duncan

Call for Spirited Action conversation with Dominque Stevenson and Eddie Conway