A week ago, I didn’t know where we would go. We saw the rage of Black residents of Minneapolis taking place across their streets, peaceful protestors being lumped together with opportunistic looters, and I was trying to figure out how to somehow still be a college student and get through finals.
And somehow, a week later, I don’t think I’ve been this optimistic or hopeful about the world. In the past seven days, all 50 states and 18 countries and counting have protested against police violence on Black people and justice for George Floyd. And that, before digging into the nuances of what this means, who’s involved, and how we move forward, cannot be ignored. These are some of the largest demonstrations we’ve seen in history.
As you dig further into the nuance, we need to question and evaluate what these protests mean and what is being done to move forward. The way with which Black Lives Matter has been coopted and unanimously supported is in many ways tied to it now being a social “trend” as it is people who are finally realizing the institutional failures the west has placed upon Black people across the globe. What five years ago was controversial to say in response to Ferguson has now been spoken out by many corporations, politicians, and your neighbors who still may not believe in this. It is one thing to say and to even protest outside for the fact that Black lives matter; it is another thing entirely to show through your daily actions that Black lives do in fact matter. For some people, this is the first time in their lives where they are willing to reflect and have the privilege of learning the history of racism in America. We have to take this chance to make sure that follow-through after you show up to a local protest, happens. The bodies in the street, for whatever reason you are out there, is important even if you may not be there for the right reasons. Why? Because it lets the national conversation continue and allow the true activists and policy advocates more time to propose the radical reconstructions of our world to speak to a global audience.
In the past week, we’ve also seen violence by police continue to escalate. There’s an ongoing Twitter thread which I will link here of police violence being taken against unarmed, peaceful protestors. The video that may have ignited a new fervor for protestors was a clip of a 75-year-old white man who was shoved in Buffalo, NY, by two riot officers. Both officers were arrested and charged, but in some sort of show for solidarity, all 57 officers from the riot squad resigned. Now, if you wanna end policing by quitting like that, by all means, go ahead, but it was the fact that white Americans are seeing their own people being brutally attacked by police on camera for peacefully protesting, that is something that we cannot understate. For many who are not Black (we’ve seen the killings of our people over and over again, and for myself, it has become traumatizing), these videos of seeing people like themselves being attacked by police for the first time could be the catalyst for them wanting to take action. That’s also something we need to acknowledge as well. The more white and non-Black people as a whole realize and see through their own eyes what Black people in America have faced since 1619, they may change their behavior. As the days have gone on, more and more people who did not realize that police also were hurting their safety as well are beginning to shift. They will shoot at anyone who questions their authority and kill people who are not even protesting but just standing by.
Another surprising part of the past week I did not expect was the amount of acknowledgment of mistakes, acknowledgment from non-Black people that they posted resources, or were part of challenges that did nothing to advance this movement. People are looking to grow and want to educate themselves, sharing ways amongst other non-Black people to work to grow. This, admittedly without much follow-through, means next to nothing. However, again I cannot stress how different this is from the past. I’ve had far more people be willing to revise their opinions on certain policies and forms of activism in this past week than all other moments up to this point combined. Just today, we saw the Minneapolis mayor take a walk of shame leaving a protest amidst boos when he refused to defund his police department. I couldn’t have envisioned something like this a week ago to happen now, but things are moving at a pace at which we could begin to see more policies that lead us further towards abolition.
I’ve been reading more myself, educating and growing my convictions about what world I want to live in: one that isn’t predicated with a state having a monopoly of violence, but a foundation on non-violent collectivism. I was listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates speak of hope (something that is truly rare if you know his work) on this week’s episode of The Ezra Klein Show. I’m reading Franz Fanon, diving into The End of Policing, which is now available free to download, and listening to the Black women activists that have led the abolitionist movement. We cannot just use this time to stay with what we know; we have to use this time to become even more radical and think even further outside the box. I’ll link here a Google Drive folder of Black texts that I’m slowly making my way towards if you also want to learn from those who have led this fight. I know it’s not my role as a Black person to constantly educate and have to tell non-Black people why their actions are wrong, but as someone with a platform who can share such resources and ideas, I will continue to do it even if I am getting exhausted about it. But for my Black friends and family who are not asking for that challenge, telling you they are not interested in educating or telling you how to behave, STOP asking them to teach you something. Just stop.
From everyone realizing how problematic the #8cantwait campaign is to why #BlackoutTuesday was destructive, the possibilities for the changes in our world, the radical rebuild we need, seem as ripe as possible for action. Focus on what you can do in your community in a time like this. If this means talking to your racist parents and family members instead of tweeting, please do that instead. If this means educating yourself on Black history or your local representatives, do that. Not everyone can be in the streets to protest due to COVID, but everyone can watch a YouTube video or read an article, or have a conversation with someone they care about. For my fellow, Los Altos and Mountain View residents, as well as those who live in Santa Clara County, a friend built a great resource to help demand defunding of police in our area. Remember, to ask for defunding is just the FIRST step in abolition. Asking for the end of police unions and removing Student Resource Officers from our schools is also another important step, but it is not the end. I encourage you all to continue to read the works of Mariame Kaba, check out the free copy of The End of Policing, and search out for your own on understanding what abolition means. Don’t rely on a Black person to explain such an intersectional policy just because it’s easier. Get a Twitter if you don’t have one, follow people on the frontlines of this movement, and learn from the educators and activists who are telling you how to get involved. Do the research I, along with many others, spent years doing to understand why we are at the positions we are today. It takes time to change your positions, it takes time to get your parents or friends on board with ideas, but you have to have those conversations and you have to learn, or else this movement will stop.
I’m almost afraid of my weird sense of hope I’m feeling right now. But I cannot let this moment slip without doing what I can to push forward to get closer to abolition and equitable treatment of Black people in America. With the privileges I have, living where I do, with the parents I have, I refuse to be complacent and instead use whatever resources I do have to push us all towards backing antiracist policies, supporting antiracist candidates for office, and uplifting the voices of other Black activists. What we saw this week is just the beginning; let’s ensure that it remains the beginning of a new, better future.