Black Lives Matter. BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.
Of course, Black lives matter. Or at least they should. But here in the United States, like many other places, we haven’t done a good job of acting like it. Certainly not during slavery and when the country was founded and not during Jim Crow and the Tuskegee experiments and not when single-residence zoning and racist real estate agents and gerrymandering school zones worked to keep segregation in effect after segregated schools and deed restrictions were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and not during the Civil Rights Movement when Martin Luther King, Jr. was beaten and arrested and assassinated and many other peaceful protestors were beaten and murdered and not during the Vietnam War when young Black men were sent to jungles in Southeast Asia while rich white kids feigned bone spurs and got extra degrees and not during the late 80s or early 90s when police departments like the LAPD would beat people like Rodney King with impunity and not last month when it took 10 weeks and a video to become public for white guys in Georgia who chased and killed a Black jogger to get indicted for murder and not last week when George Floyd was killed by a police officer as other police officers stood by while helpless bystanders pleaded for his life or today when Black maternal mortality rates are far higher than whites’.
So, yeah, I get the slogan.
But Black lives aren’t the only thing that matters. To become a better country and better society, we need more than Black people merely surviving. Survival should be the bare minimum. We should want Black people to thrive. So we should also demand dignity for Black people. And respect. And love.
Because while it would be so much better if George Floyd had survived, he still should not have been handcuffed and thrown on the ground for allegedly forging a check or using counterfeit cash or whatever bullshit he was suspected of doing.
And it would be incredible if Breonna Taylor hadn’t been shot and killed in her own apartment, but it would be even better if plain-clothes officers did not use no-knock warrants in the middle of the night looking for drugs.
And it would be so wonderful if Trayvon Martin had survived his encounter with George Zimmerman, but in addition to seeing their twentieth birthday, it would be great if Black teenagers could go buy skittles and walk home without being harassed by gun-toting vigilantes.
And while I wish so dearly that Sandra Bland had survived her time in jail, she should not have been forced out of her car or violently arrested for failing to signal.
And my heart would feel so much better if Tamir Rice had survived being shot by a police officer, but no 12-year-old child should have to deal with the trauma of being shot at by police while playing in the park.
We need massive change. We need meaningful civilian oversight boards for police departments. We need to get rid of qualified immunity for police officers. We need to outlaw certain maneuvers, including, but not limited to, chokehold maneuvers and strangleholds. We need to require de-escalation. We need to require warnings before shooting. We need to allow police officers to use lethal force in only the most necessary situations. We need to stop outfitting our police departments with tactical and military gear. We need a duty to intervene when other officers are engaging in brutal or illegal actions. We need to ban shooting at moving vehicles. We need to require all force to be reported. We need community policing. We need all people and all communities, including and especially Black ones, to get the same kind of policing that rich white communities receive.
And we need to teach our kids, and friends, and parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and siblings and cousins, and acquaintances and colleagues to love and respect Black people (while also loving indigenous people and Asians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Christians and Buddhists and atheists and Latinx … and LGBTQ people … and on and on).
We need to educate ourselves and our communities. Register. Vote. March. Call. Write. Scream if necessary. Not just today. Not just tomorrow. But for as long as the work is necessary. And it is so necessary.
Black Lives Matter. Let’s act like it.