There’s an old saying amongst those who fear police frame-up jobs: “Informants don’t just sing, they compose.” And while much of the country seems to have a built-in skepticism about criminals who seek to lessen their own legal burdens by leveling accusations against others, police are frequently granted a blanket exemption from such considerations.
We witnessed a classic case of this phenomenon in recent hours as Chicago activist Malcolm London’s mugshot was splashed across the internet by media outlets as they uncritically echoed police claims that London had punched a police officer during Tuesday night’s protests. London, a local poet and organizer with the grassroots group BYP 100, has at times been treated as a media darling in the city of Chicago, but amid its scramble to cover the city’s reaction to the announcement of charges against police officer Jason Van Dyke, for the killing of Laquan McDonald, the media was all-too-ready to grab on to the next stage of the story, as presented by police.
The Chicago Police Department, States Attorney Anita Alvarez, and the Emanuel administration had just had their complicity and participation in a cover-up exposed on a national stage, but police claims against an activist who played a leading role in challenging them were barely critiqued as events unfolded.
Now that the charges against Malcolm London have been dropped, we should all probably take a moment to reflect on how the accusations against him were absorbed by the public in the first place, and what this can tell us about the state of our society.
For over a year, Officer Van Dyke walked free, with his income intact, despite eye witness accounts, physical evidence and an actual video that established his guilt. The public was told to wait, for over a year, for the powers that be to figure out if Van Dyke had actually done anything wrong, in spite of footage that Emanuel now admits proves that the officer broke the public’s trust “on every possible level.”
London, on the other hand, was grabbed off the street and convicted in the headlines overnight. His guilt was assumed because the very entity he was criticizing for covering up a murder opted to redirect the public’s attention toward the face of a Black man. This is not a difficult task in a society that is all too inclined to accept that a white police officer may have had his reasons for gunning a Black person down, under just about any circumstances, while the mere appearance of a mugshot is enough to define a Black person.
And that mugshot wasn’t just present. It was ubiquitous.
London is a very prominent activist in Chicago. There are countless images of him available to the media that do not paint him as being inherently criminal. But much in the same way that the media defaults to using the mugshots of those killed by police to summarize their existence, Malcolm was instantly reduced to the accusation being leveled against him.
In this case, the accusation was a PR distraction orchestrated by a police department that should itself be on trial.
Please remember, as you process these events, that the police weren’t just replacing Van Dyke’s face with London’s in above-the-fold news stories. They were misdirecting the public to avoid discussion of the fact that Van Dyke’s indictment barely scratches the surface of this situation. In addition to being no guarantee of a conviction, this indictment in no way addresses the fact that Superintendent Garry McCarthy, States Attorney Anita Alvarez, and the Emanuel administration all conspired to conceal Van Dyke’s guilt. Their obfuscations and legal maneuvers kept a killer cop free for over a year, and ensured that our tax dollars continued to line his pockets.
I was there when Malcolm London was arrested. He had just given a speech to a silent crowd. “Don’t believe the narrative that the mayor tells you, that we don’t love our people,” he told protesters. London then called for the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, mere minutes before being bum rushed by police in an arrest that played out like a violent kidnapping.
The march, which was about to disperse under the leadership of London and his fellow organizers was re-energized by London’s arrest. With reinvigorated outrage, protesters turned toward downtown Chicago, raising their voices loudly against police. They counted out the sixteen shots that Van Dyke fired into McDonald, again and again as they marched. They lifted up Laquan McDonald’s name in lights as they shut down street after street, including a major expressway.
And all of this, much like the beginning of this painful media spectacle, happened because of the unjust and unnecessary actions of police.
Is it a coincidence that amid the city’s current PR nightmare, an activist who recently refused to meet with Mayor Emanuel, and who had just called for the firing of Garry McCarthy, was violently tackled by police and smeared to the press? Or is it possible, that just maybe, we should all stop letting the city of Chicago reframe its own crimes, and join Malcolm London’s call for the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and the indictment of this whole damn system?
Author’s note: If you would like to join me in demanding that the city drop all charges against three other local organizers who were arrested last night, two of whom are elementary school teachers, you can call Mayor Emanuel’s office at 312-744-3300 and ask that all charges against Johnaé Strong, Troy Alim and Page May be vacated.
As the city of Chicago continued to await the release of a graphic police dashcam video, on Monday, with officials hinting that unprecedented charges against a Chicago police officer might be in the works, a coalition of young Black organizers announced that they were refusing a private meeting with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, scrambling in the face of a PR nightmare, had hoped to discuss the pending release of police dashcam footage of the death of Laquan McDonald with Black youth leaders. A refusal issued Monday morning, in a statement jointly issued by the grassroots groups Black Youth Project 100, Fearless Leading by the Youth, We Charge Genocide, Assata’s Daughters, the #LetUsBreathe Collective and Black Lives Matter: Chicago, carried the sentiments of those who have led the charge against police brutality in Chicago during the last year. The mayor was no doubt hoping to harness the power of these groups’ credibility in the coming days as he continues to call for a tempered response to the sight of a white police officer firing 16 shots into the body of a young Black man, who reportedly posed no threat to the officer’s safety. Upon receiving word of the coalition’s refusal, I was both heartened, and unsurprised.
In a situation that has been defined by the choices of those with political and structural power, the power of the Black community has now been asserted, and the legitimacy of a politician who deserves no respect has been denied. It was a choice made from a position of strength and moral authority, and I am grateful for it.
This situation has been a complex one for young organizers, who are faced with the pending community trauma of the video’s release. The video is said to have captured white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, as he attempted to walk away from approaching officers. Police, who had been following McDonald for allegedly slashing tires, have offered claims that the young man was armed with a small knife, and under the influence of drugs, in defense of the killing, but with a video of a young man riddled with bullets while simply trying to walk away about to be released, few expect those excuses to hold up to scrutiny. From what is already known of the killing, it seems evident that this is yet another case where the mere act of Black disobedience was deemed a capital offense by a white police officer, who was all-too-ready to play the part of executioner.
McDonald’s mother has not viewed the video of her son’s death, and has openly expressed that she does not want footage put on public display. But the clamor over the video’s release has continued over time, as the city has continued to drag its feet, over the course of a year, neither firing nor indicting McDonald’s killer. With the video’s release now imminent, organizers are faced with the task of helping a community to express its outrage, and find love and healing in one another, as they continue to demand justice for McDonald and others.
In my own conversations with organizers, I have consistently heard them talk of love, of healing, and of wanting to show respect for McDonald’s mother, who never should have endured the loss of her child, and who should not have to bear witness to the media spectacle to come. Her pain has been in their thoughts daily, as they’ve worked to envision a way forward, and in mine as well.
When I think about McDonald’s mother, whose son’s death will soon be elevated to a world stage against her wishes, I am reminded of Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket funeral for her son, Emmett Till, in 1955, after he was lynched at the age of 14 in Mississippi. After bringing his body home to Chicago, Till’s mother chose to let the world bear witness to the horror of her son’s death by holding a public, open-casket memorial service. She explained her decision by saying, “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.”
Those words are crucial, so allow me to emphasize them again:
She wanted the world to see.
Mamie Till Bradley chose to allow her son’s bloated, mutilated body to be viewed by the public, and photographed by the media. She believed there was meaning in doing so. That matters. And it matters that McDonald’s mother did not believe there was anything to be gained by what’s currently unfolding. And given the endless spectacles of Black death that this country bears witness to, I can understand how she might feel that one more video – her son’s video – won’t be the one to turn the tide, and may in fact cause her and others more unnecessary pain.
In any case, her reasons are her own, and I respect that she has them. I recognize the harm of her being deprived of the right to choose what would be seen and unseen, with regard to her son’s death. And we all should.
I also respect that young Black people have made a significant decision about how to build forward as the release of this video approaches. Monday morning, as dozens of Chicago activists headed to court to face charges related to last month’s massive act of civil disobedience against police violence, a number of the city’s most prominent young Black organizers released a statement announcing that they have refused Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s invitation to discuss the pending release of the video of McDonald’s death. In their press release, the group stated, “The Mayor’s office is calling on community ‘leaders’ to control Black people’s response to the execution recorded on the dashcam video to be released. It was important to deny this invitation to meet because we believe that the community has a right to respond as it sees fit.”
Critical of the mayor’s overall treatment of peaceful protesters, the group rejects the administration’s current efforts to make young organizers players in its damage control efforts. Having challenged the mayor on the slashing of public services, and the unchecked brutality of local police, the city’s efforts to host a private sit -down, at this late stage of an unfolding PR crisis, ring hollow to many in Chicago’s organizing community. After all, the mayor has had no shortage of opportunities to address the concerns that Black youth have steadily raised about his slash-and-burn attitude toward Black and Brown communities and the overall nature of policing in Chicago. And while Emanuel has repeatedly claimed that community oversight has caused police to hesitate in their work, effectively scapegoating activists for Chicago’s infamous crime rate, organizers point out that in spite of this alleged hesitation, Chicago police have not ceased their overwhelming use of violence.
“Chicago police kill more civilians than any other police force in the nation,” according to Veronica Morris Moore, a local activist who organizes with the grassroots group Fearless Leading by the Youth.
The problems with policing in Chicago run much deeper than the current controversy over one young man’s murder, at the hands of police, no matter how egregious the circumstances of his death may have been. While much has been made of the $5 million dollar settlement paid to McDonald’s family, the larger context of that number is far more telling. The city of Chicago has spent more than $500 million dollars over the past 10 years in settlements for police misconduct. And as Chicago’s mayor continues to cry poverty with regard to the city’s schools, educators and public health care, he continues to oversee a police department that bleeds Chicago’s public coffers of four million dollars a day.
Ask anyone in Chicago if they think they are getting their money’s worth, in terms of public safety, given that level of investment, and you will hear a chorus of negative responses loud enough to drown out one of the most powerful municipal PR machines in the country.
And now, finally, after so much failure, so much protest, so much distrust, the mayor wants to talk with young organizers. But privately, and quietly, so that when the video is released, he can claim that he consulted with local activists, and imply that they are in agreement with his vision of “healing” and forgetting. Emanuel wants his city to enjoy its heaviest shopping season, stare at the shiny objects in the store windows of Michigan Avenue, and to forget all about Laquan McDonald. And more than anything, he wants to avoid the world bearing witness to any of those windows breaking, because in a city as troubled and poorly governed as Chicago, he knows that the blame for such unrest would fall squarely at his feet.
After all, what action has Emanuel taken to address the tragedy of McDonald’s death, prior to the imminent release of this video? What action had he taken on behalf of any Black or Brown person murdered by police in his city? Now that the visual proof of McDonald’s murder is about to hit the airwaves, Emanuel is ready to acknowledge that the officer who shot McDonald “violated [the public’s] trust at every level,” but where were such pronouncements when young people cried out for justice for Dominique Franklin, who was tased to death by police for allegedly stealing a bottle of liquor? And where was the mayor’s indignation when Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin was acquitted after firing into a crowd and killing Rekia Boyd?
Fortunately, Chicago’s young organizers aren’t amateurs. They are not about to lend their power to a politician who has done nothing to earn an audience with them. If Emanuel wants to engage with these young people, he will have to do so publicly, and be accountable for rejecting calls to fire an incompetent police superintendent, who has routinely defended killer cops, no matter how high the mountain of evidence against them.
At this tense moment, as we all await the trauma of our city, and the world, bearing witness to yet another police murder, Rahm Emanuel will find no free shelter. His choices have paved the path to this moment, and no one who cares about our city should stand beside him as he calls for calm and patience.
Instead, we should stand with those whose choices have always reflected a willingness to fight for a better Chicago.
It’s important to remember that this is not the first time in recent history that fears of unrest in the streets have been stirred up by both politicians and the local media. Last year, as our communities prepared to protest the pending non indictment of Darren Wilson, for the murder of Mike Brown, I was asked by numerous reporters if I was afraid of the violence that might erupt upon an announcement being made. It was a year ago this week that I took those calls, and responded to each inquiry by explaining that the fears of our communities were grounded in our fear of what police are capable of, of what they perpetrate in our communities daily, and what they might do to harm peaceful protesters.
There was, of course, no rioting in Chicago that week. Community members marched. They sat in. They created art in tribute to those the police have killed. And they built forward in strength, harnessing the momentum of the movement for Black lives to win the passage of the Reparations Ordinance – making Chicago the first city in the nation to pay reparations to victims of police torture. The organizing of Chicago’s youth was sound and strategic, and unlike Emanuel’s governance, it was grounded in accountability and an abiding love of Chicago’s most marginalized communities.
Throughout this year, the young leaders who have carried the fight against police violence in Chicago have made the right choices. And in exchange for their efforts, they have been ignored and ultimately scapegoated by a mayor who has not cared for his city, or delivered justice when it was needed.
And now, because of this mayor’s ineptitude, and that of his police superintendent, a case that could have been handled swiftly, in accordance with the rule of law, has dragged on, and the spectacle of a young man’s death will further traumatize a mother, a city, and to some extent, an entire nation. One cannot feel the sting of being pushed into the margins and not feel bruised by the brutality inflicted on others who live at the mercy of a system that does not care for them.
So if Rahm Emanuel wants the counsel of Chicago’s organizing community during this difficult time, he’ll obviously have to offer them much better terms, but as an organizer who has worked against the violence of Emanuel’s police for years, I will offer my own bit of advice to the mayor: Hold your police accountable for their violence, and answer the calls for justice that young people have issued. Let your responses to their demands be just, and as public as the horror of Laquan McDonald’s death is about to be. Because you cannot spin your way out of the mess you’ve made, and at this juncture, damage control is going to have to mean a lot more than addressing one incident whose imagery happens to exemplify the anti-Blackness you’ve both allowed and perpetuated with your policies, your silence, and your disregard for the lives of the marginalized.
This is a moment informed and complicated by many choices. A young man chose to walk away from law enforcement, in a city where he had every reason to fear it. A police officer decided to gun that young man down for an alleged act of vandalism, and for attempting to leave the situation with his body and life intact. McDonald’s mother was deprived of her choice, because the matter of her son’s death was left unattended for so long that it became an unchecked opportunity to sensationalize yet another community trauma.
Now, those most affected by the continuance of police violence and impunity have chosen to turn their backs on a mayor who has never served them, and instead connect with their communities, in the hopes of building, resisting and healing with those who deserve to be heard in this moment. They will be neither political pawns nor passive observers. They will be what they have always been – a community of change-makers who deserve the support of their city, and of people around the country who are willing to own up to the realities of police violence in the United States, and demand something better.
While reports began to circulate on Monday evening that an indictment in the case could be announced on Tuesday, with some suggesting that Officer Van Dyke might actually be charged with murder, local activists remained skeptical. “If there is an indictment announced, that’s no definite signal of justice,” says Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of Black Youth Project 100. “Laquan is no longer alive,” Carruthers stressed, emphasizing that a single indictment will neither heal the community’s loss, nor address the underlying issues that have led to so many Black residents being killed and harmed by police.
“We also know that an indictment does not guarantee a conviction,” Carruthers noted, “as we just saw with the case of Rekia Boyd and Dante Servin.”
Rather than celebrating what some already view as an emergency public relations move on the city’s part, Carruthers says her community will continue to focus on the larger picture. “Given the reality of what we face, in light of the Dante Servin case, and many others, we cannot put our hopes for justice in the so-called criminal justice system,” she explained. “Restorative and transformative justice can only come from the community, and those who actually have our best interests in mind.”
If the rumored timeline is correct, an indictment will be announced today, with the video’s release to follow on Wednesday. If a murder charge is filed against Van Dyke, it will be the first time in the city’s history that a Chicago police officer has faced such a charge for an on-duty shooting.
Update: In addition to the rumored indictment, it was announced Tuesday night that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will recommend the firing of Officer Dante Servin, saying that Servin “showed incredibly poor judgement” on the night of Rekia Boyd’s death. Servin’s dismissal has been a consistent demand of Black Youth Project 100, and other organizers who refused to meet with the mayor on Monday.
A much-awaited decision was made in a courtroom in Chicago on Thursday, as a judge ruled that the world would in fact have a chance to watch a dashcam video that captured the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. McDonald, a young Black man, was gunned down by a white police officer last year as he attempted to walk away from police.
Defenders of the Chicago police, and of the officer who shot McDonald, have claimed that the young man had PCP in his system, and a small knife in his hand. Given these allegations, it is wholly unsurprising that the city is cognizant of the PR nightmare that would undoubtedly follow the release of the video, which by all accounts depicts a young man being shot 16 times while trying to walk away from a confrontation.
Such imagery would clearly render the city’s previous arguments irrelevant. The officer, of course, had no way of knowing what drugs the young man may have had in his system. And it would be fairly difficult to argue that the officer believed that his safety was imperiled by the small knife of a young man who was simply trying to walk away, after police approached him for allegedly slashing car tires. But those who have an interest in defending the police, either because it would be a financial liability to do otherwise, or because they benefit from the racist norms that police work to enforce, are rarely swayed by the details of Black or Brown death. The words “well, that person shouldn’t have…” will always find their way into some justification of yet another police killing, and the statistics will pile on.
I am not interested in speaking as to whether or not the video should be released. Some members of the Black community feel strongly that it should, while others feel it would only further the constantly replayed spectacle of Black death, which has arguably done little to slow the pace of police violence. McDonald’s mother, for her part, has stated that she does not want the video released, citing the unrest she believes it could incite in her community. The city’s uncharacteristic approach of offering the family a multi-million dollar settlement in advance of any lawsuit being filed seems to suggest that local officials harbor similar fears, and would like to see the matter dissolved quietly.
Local reporter John Kass, of the Chicago Tribune, has weighed in, suggesting that the video’s release could “rip Chicago apart,” but arguing that the public should see it anyway, because “the people deserve to see what happened.” My first thought, upon reading those words was that in an era of shuttered schools, slashed public services, rampant police brutality and a nationally known murder rate, some already experience Chicago as a city torn apart – although we might disagree with Kass about the reasons why, and what the remedies might be. But my second thought, as someone who has been deeply involved with movements against police violence, is a question I would pose to Kass and those who agree with him.
Have “the people” not already seen what police terror looks like?
The last year has been one of protest and awareness-raising around the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Videos of Sandra Bland’s violent arrest and the brutal deaths of so many others have flooded the popular consciousness. At this point, I honestly find it impossible that the public simply doesn’t understand what’s happening in Black and Brown communities.
At this point, white ignorance on the subject is downright willful.
It is the same willfulness that turns a blind eye to the emergence of the dungeon economies that replaced factory jobs as de-industrialization took hold, creating millions of human commodities for a whole web-work of industries, nonprofits and on-site employees.
It is the ignorance that allows people to believe that over two million of their countrymen are so dangerous and depraved that public safety demands they be kept in cages.
It is the ignorance that cries out against crimes of poverty while supporting politicians who starve communities of vital resources.
It is also the ignorance that willfully ignores Native death – the ongoing genocide of my people – in its totality, or at best, regards it as a matter of distant history.
Indigenous people, of course, are statistically more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group in the United States. The reason you don’t know the names of our dead isn’t simply that there are fewer of us left to cry out for justice, even though that is a factor. The larger issue, as I discussed with a prominent Black organizer recently, is how white supremacy functions with regard to our specific oppressions. Native death, in the United States, has always been about erasure. We were to be rooted out, destroyed, assimilated, murdered, de-legitimized or otherwise erased. This has always been the social intent of this country with regard to our existence.
Anti-Blackness, on the other hand, has always been a matter of exploitation. The function of Blackness within the construct of white supremacy is to be consumable, and to create an “other” that, once degraded, elevates what it means to be white. This requires visible exploitation and humiliation, and historically, has often involved the spectacle of Black death at the hands of white Americans.
Impunity is the proof that white Americans have always been offered, when seeking confirmation that they occupy a more elevated social position than Black Americans. From slavery onward, this reality has only been reshaped with time.
I recently had the opportunity to view the exhibition “Making Niggers: Demonizing and Distorting Blackness,” curated by Project NIA, in Chicago. The exhibit, which showcased racist postcards from decades past, and examples of the kind of anti-Black memes that currently litter the internet, was aimed at highlighting the creation and maintenance of stereotypes that depict Black people as untrustworthy, violent and hypersexual. Caricatures of chicken thieves, savage Black men, and promiscuous young black girls create presumed contexts for any harms that might be inflicted upon Black bodies, while also offering entertainment, by portraying the assigned characteristics of Blackness as chuckle-worthy
This consumption of anti-Blackness reached an even darker expression, albeit a wholly connected one, in the phenomenon of lynching postcards, during the last century. In towns where white crowds strung Black men, women and children from trees and bridges, it was not uncommon for those images to be replicated and sold at local businesses. One could pass through a local gas station and pick up a photographic memento of white supremacy’s most recent, public victim, and keep a souvenir to glance at later, as a reassurance of the true order of things.
Today, no such postcards are necessary. One can perform a Google search with the words “police shooting” or “police brutality” and find dozens of videos that reaffirm the order of things in the United States. In our viral video era of visual consumption, Black death doesn’t even command the cost of a postcard. It is at the fingertips of all who would pursue such imagery.
I’m not saying that there is no value in making what is unseen visible. As a Native person, I have to say that had Laquan McDonald been an Indigenous man, I would want that video seen, because our deaths are so very unseen, and our suffering so often erased, because of the very nature of our oppression – one grounded in annihilation and erasure. But I can understand how Black community members, whose oppression functions quite differently, might feel as many do – that the horror of anti-Black violence is seen, and known, and wholly accepted within the order of things in the United States. It is protested by those who care deeply, quickly forgotten by those who would prefer not to engage with it, and, at worst, relished by those who would continue to revel in the twisted hierarchy this country is grounded in.
As I’ve said, it is not my place to say whether or not the video should be seen by the public. I will not watch it, upon its release, both out of respect for the wishes of McDonald’s mother, and because I know what state-sanctioned death looks like. And I have seen enough of it to last a lifetime.
But to those who would argue that this a matter of the people having a right to know, I would argue that Black death is known, and the better question is what people have a right to do about it. The city of Chicago, having doled out five million dollars to make this story go away, is still so entrenched in a culture of impunity that it has neither charged nor fired the man who riddled a seventeen-year-old with so many bullets that his body reportedly jumped and twitched on the pavement as the onslaught continued. Absent any recourse within this system, absent any level of awareness moving white society to alter the order of things, the question is not whether the people have a right to know – it’s whether or not they have a right to riot.
Personally, I don’t believe that the Black communities of Chicago will live up to the fears of city officials. I believe they will mobilize and march, and rally their people against the oppression they face, just as they have each time the media has attempted to pre-emptively sensationalize their actions. And when the video of McDonald’s death is finally splashed across the internet, I will stand in the streets with those who raise their voices in outrage, because standing with the oppressed in the face of their oppressors is the only real way forward, for all of us.
But I will also ask that those who fear unrest in Chicago in the coming days to ponder the real reasons that they harbor those fears, or in some cases, anxiously await such chaos. Because this video, however horrible, is not extraordinary. It is an aspect of American history that has been replayed more steadily than the most viral videos on the internet. Because it is the order of things. And nothing about that order will change until the public acknowledges what it already knows: that whiteness has never ceased to operate with impunity.
I’m saddened by some of the posts I’m seeing on social media, chastising those who are expressing love and solidarity in the wake of last week’s violence in France. Moments of great empathy are not a social failing. If anything, they are an opportunity to build better and expand our collective compassion. Posts that more or less amount to, “if you care about this, but didn’t post about [insert tragedy here], I’m judging you” help nothing and heal nothing. When people living in a desensitized society have opened their hearts to grieve the suffering of others, there is a potential for a widening dialogue that shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of social media angst.
This should certainly be a moment of greater realization. It should be a moment of understanding the connectivity of violence and certainly a moment to reflect on what society may have averted its eyes from over time – and of realizing that the recent attacks in Paris, and the violence of imperialism and colonialism, are really all part of the same tragedy. And while we should challenge one another to recognize the connectedness of international violence, and to extend our grief to encompass that which is less familiar, and often unseen within the scope of popular media, spite and vitriol will never build the bonds that will help reshape the course of history for the better.
As a Native woman, I understand the pain of erasure. I know it well. And when I am hurt by it, my anger and sadness are certainly valid. People should be paying attention to the police killings, rampant suicides and ongoing displacement of my people. It’s more than reasonable for people whose pain and loss are invisibilized to express grief and anger that their suffering goes unseen. But for those who would endeavor to lift up those issues in our names, or to speak on behalf of others whose struggles they have not experienced, I think it’s fair to expect a more thoughtful and nuanced approach than I have seen from many this past weekend.
The work of swaying those who don’t understand or agree with you is much more difficult than simply demanding an attitude adjustment. It’s a matter of social transformation, and the work of transformation must be nuanced and constructive. It can at times be fueled by anger. I feel that anger myself, but I do my best to not to allow those feelings to isolate me from people who I believe have the potential to understand and work with me. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed in holding back my anger, but for those who are not directly affected by these oppressions, the path of discourse is a much simpler one: broadening empathy.
We know that racism, uneven media coverage, and the seeming constancy of some violence play into a larger failure to react, in many instances, but all of this can be overcome, and it won’t be overcome by judgement or snark. It could, however, be overcome by mourning for those lost in Paris, not all of whom were white, as some posts seem to suggest, and opening our hearts a little further to mourn all that we may not have let in. It’s crucial that we see the connections between the violence in Iraq, Beirut, Paris and elsewhere, breathe in the feelings that come with it all, and then build forward in a way that holds us all accountable for what our media covers and what we do to interact with these tragedies.
If that’s the path that people take now, I don’t care about what they didn’t post on Facebook last week. I care about us all opening our eyes a little wider and doing better in the coming week.
You’re not wrong for grieving the harm done in Paris. The answer is more compassion, not less. And vigilance, because we know that this is how the cycle of violence continues, and if we don’t stand in the way of endless war and Islamophobia, there will be more moments of extraordinary violence the world over, and we will have had a hand in each of them, because our country drops the very bombs that radicalize those who would carry out attacks like those of last week.
So watch the backs of those who will be treated as scapegoats in the coming days, and make the connections people need to see about what’s happening, on a larger scale. Demand an end to our ongoing wars, and advocate for those harmed and displaced by those conflicts. And extend love, rather than judgment to those who are hurting, because their hearts are open right now, and that’s an opportunity for us all.
That’s the real work at hand, friends. So let’s handle ourselves accordingly.