Alton Sterling. Last week he was just a humble salesman from Baton Rouge. Now, he is a household name, resonating with thousands of people across both America and the world. Sterling marks the 114th black man killed by US police in the 186 days of 2016. His death raises questions of police brutality and the abuse of power, but most importantly, it fuels the fire of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and shows what it truly means to be black in America in 2016.
The BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement is by no means a recent phenomena. It originated in the Summer of 2013, following the death of 17 year old, Trayvon Martin. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter burst onto social media following the acquittal of his assailant – George Zimmerman. However, it was not until the deaths of Eric Garner, in New York City, and Michael Brown, in Ferguson, that the full front of the movement came to light. The latter resulted in riots that stretched from the 9th to the 25th of August 2014 in the town of Ferguson. The riots themselves marked a major turning point in the BLM movement. Shootings such as these were taking place in America for years, however, it was not until the untimely death of Mike Brown that the international community saw first-hand the type of unrelenting discrimination that was imposed by the US police department. For weeks on end, social media sites such as Twitter, and Instagram were flooded with pictures taken directly from Ferguson. It was the first major event in the 21st century where information was broadcasted directly from the source, through personal Twitter or Instagram accounts, rather than from news outlets. Personally, I can remember reading a collection of tweets posted on Tumblr from participants of the riots. The riots, in many ways, were a success, as the world finally began to see the importance of the BLM movement.
Regarding the shootings, the root of the cause is simple; institutionalized racism, and the abuse of power. There is one common factor in almost all of these shootings, the assailants were older white men in a position of power. The problem of racism in America is an age-old issue. Although the situation has improved over the past few decades, there are still some fatal flaws in the system. The police department is entrusted to keep law and order in your community. You are taught to respect them, and believe that you are safe under their watch. You are brought up to have faith that if you have any problem, then they can take care of it. But what happens when the police force become the problem? What happens when the one source of safety in your life becomes the primary source of danger? It is a scary thought, isn’t it? But for thousands of black Americans today, it is not just a thought, it is a nightmarish reality.
Wherever you hear that “Black Lives Matter”, there is always the counter argument that “All Lives Matter”, or even more idiotic, that “White Lives Matter”. What many people do not understand about the BLM movement is that it is one of inclusion, not exclusion. The movement is not trying to dismiss other human lives. It is trying to highlight the fact that while all human lives matter, not all human lives are at risk of the same dangers that black American’s are at risk of nowadays. The campaign is calling for the affirmation of the value of black lives. It is in no way implying hatred for white life. As an article featured on BlackLivesMatter.com put it;
It is about acknowledging that the system already treats white lives as if they have more value, as if they are more worthy of protection, safety, education, and a good quality of life than black lives are. This must change.
What really infuriates me is the argument that “White Lives Matter”. So, I ask you this; don’t they already? Is it not already implied that white lives matter? This argument is no more than a racist response to the one movement in American history that does not directly affect white Americans. Imagine you were an African American living in America right now. Would you feel safe? Would you allow your sons or daughters to freely walk the streets at night, knowing that unjust crimes such as these were going on? Now, imagine if you were a white American in the exact same position. Is there a difference? Would you feel safer? Would you trust the police force? I know that I would certainly feel more at ease.
I know what you may be thinking at this stage; “what does it matter to you, Kieran?”. I’m a 19 year old white Irish man living in Cork. This should have nothing to do with me. On one hand, you’re right that it doesn’t affect me directly, and it never will. I will never in my life go through something like that, and no one I know will have to live in fear of their lives due to the colour of their skin. But, on the other hand, it affects me in the most direct way possible. It affects my humanity. I am a human being on this planet, just like Alton Sterling, just like Mike Brown, just like Sandra Bland and just like the countless other victims of these shootings. When I hear on the news that people are being killed simply due to the colour of their skin, then that affects me. We live in the 21st century, a time where every single person on this planet is connected to one another. Either directly, or indirectly, we are all still connected. Why is this continuing to happen? Why have we still not abandoned the time in our history where we discriminated against one another due to our skin colour? It is absolutely disgusting that in this day and age, that crimes such as these are continuing to happen.
As I said previously, I know I’m just an Irish man, and I may not have any influence on what is happening in America right now. But I am a firm believer in the phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And by writing this, then hopefully I am being that change.
I’m going to leave you with a quote made by Martin Luther King in 1963;
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
53 years later, and what has changed?
Image courtesy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham: https://www.uab.edu/studentmedia/images/Kscope_Opinion/black_lives_matter.jpg