OP-ED: BLACK LIVES MATTER IS NOT A RADICAL CONCEPT
“All lives matter. Faavalevalea. Focus on our own issues FIRST. Why don’t they just protest our local government instead?” Such responses were among the most common seen on shared posts across social media or commented on local news coverage in response to media coverage of a “peaceful demonstration” in solidarity with the a movement that has quickly swept across the country and world in the past few weeks.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement rose to prominence amid the 2016 elections and recalls video clips of young black men and women disrupting campaign speeches — the likes of then candidates Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Forcefully demanding specific answers and policy reforms to issues surrounding systemic racism and the historical disenfranchisement of Black Americans, the #BLM movement gained both national attention & notoriety for its confrontational and no-nonsense approach to political activism.
Catalyzed by the brutal killing of George Floyd that was captured on video and watched by millions, black communities and non-black allies took to the streets to demand justice and repercussions for the Minneapolis cops involved in Floyd’s death. All 50 states and hundreds of cities big and small across the nation were seen donned in surgical masks as chants of “Black Lives Matter” quickly reverberated around the globe into what has become the largest social movement in US history.
The looting of businesses and burning of property also caught much media attention by a press still prone to sensationalism involving dystopian images that often make for great cable TV moments. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held an immediate press conference and subsequent op-ed urging looters and rioters in the city of Atlanta to “go home….” and that “we were better than this.” Herself a mother of two sons, Mayor Bottoms spoke out of a genuine concern and fear. A fear knowing that — even as the Atlanta Police Department reports to her — it was not safe for black boys especially to be in the public amid heightened racial and emotional tensions.
Despite the images of burning buildings and looting replaying across TV screens and being shared across social media platforms, the reality is that a majority of the protests across the nation were conducted peacefully and with civility.
A recent poll cited in Forbes and conducted by WaPo-Schar reports that a whopping 74% of Americans agree with the George Floyd protests. Further, the same poll reports that 69% of Americans say Floyd’s killing indicate an issue with law enforcement showing a 23% increase on a similar question following the 2014 protests for the killing of unarmed men in Ferguson, Missouri.
While polls are open to interpretation, they suggest a growth of consciousness among Americans and their changing views on racism as it relates to law enforcement. In an era of viral videos, extreme racial vitriol and the mistreatment of black people and communities of color have almost become the norm.
And while the Floyd murder may have been a surreal isolated event for some, it has been a buildup of pent up sorrow, frustration, and anger for many in the black community. Together with millions of Americans, the youth-led protests over the past few weeks were a clear exclamation that “enough is enough”.
How exactly this relates to the upcoming “peaceful demonstration” you might ask?
Racism — whether or not you personally acknowledge its existence — is undoubtedly etched in American history and has long been used a moral justification for America’s colonial past and human rights abuses. On a micro level, racist attitudes existed even as formal relationships were developed or imposed upon US territories by the United States:
At a Harvard Law School conference in the early 2000s centered on the “Insular Cases”, a panelist and Columbia Law professor, Christina Duffy Ponsa, in speaking on the US territories stated that “the imperialist debate were saturated with racist attitudes… with one side arguing that the people living in the territories could not govern themselves and needed help.” The Harvard Law Review’s “Insular Cases” also touches on the emerging academic thought in the late 1800s toward the US territories, where prominent thinkers of the time often referred to residents as “half-civilized” and “ignorant and lawless brigands.”
A more contemporary instance brings us to 1989, where 100 Los Angeles County Sheriffs in riot gear shut down a family bridal shower in response to a noise complaint and ultimately beat 30 plus people – many of which were Samoan-Americans – with batons and flashlights. The family and guests were awarded $25 million in what was one of the largest civil rights cases involving law enforcement.
Recently, family members posted throwback clips on social media from the 1980s of a Samoan Pastor and Attorney in the Carson community speaking on the racial stereotypes and perceptions by law enforcement against members of the Samoan community in California that resulted in protests. Another popular video that re-surfaced shows dated footage of the late Congressman Faleomavaega walking arm in arm with other prominent community members in solidarity with the Samoan protests in Los Angeles.
Racism is taught and prejudices have been so engrained into American history and perpetuated through so many forms of media. Coupled with a whitewashed history often told from the vantage point of those privileged to tell our history, it is crucial that we learn about the ugly history of racism to be able to recognize remnants of it in modern times.
More importantly, understanding how racist policies were intentionally implemented for the purpose of exclusion is critical to better grasping its ugly legacy and tendency to repeat itself. While changing minds or hearts overnight may seem farfetched, addressing existing systemic racism and associated barriers to those born without privileges is a start. Allies can acknowledge their privileges, recognize their implicit biases, and take actions by supporting disenfranchised communities through donations, signing petitions, and helping to educate others to assist in effecting change on a personal basis.
Systemic reforms are already beginning to take hold as protests have called for demands to dismantle and defund law enforcement agencies. Such demands have required a re-imagining of law enforcement by local leaders and considering re-allocating budgets toward community programs that might help make communities safer.
We wish to share these examples of the legacy of racism in our own US Territorial history and in modern America within the Samoan diaspora not to redirect the focus from “black lives matter” but to illustrate that their fight and demands for justice, for civil rights, for equity and the dignity of their lives should not be one left for them to resist alone.
More importantly, to argue that the relegation of a community as racially and intellectually inferior is neither a complex that is exclusive to their community nor one that we are immune to.
We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support: by the co-organizers that have helped with the planning, by the volunteers that have willingly offered their talents, and by the members both on and off-island that have added to the positive discussions by amplifying black voices and bringing light to cases receiving little national attention.
Similarly, we have been equally aware of the negative attention that coverage of the movement has received. These include insensitive and dismissive comments that have injected their political views into what truly is a non-partisan issue. One such narrative suggesting that the “peaceful demonstration” and larger movement is somehow “radical”.
We wish to allay the concerns of any concerned for the public’s safety by assuring all that there will be no rioting or looting of any sort. That has never been the position, objective, or intention of anyone involved in the organizing or among volunteers. However, and in closing — we would like to offer some examples of what we do find radical:
Racism in 2020 is RADICAL. Disparities in the administration of justice is RADICAL. Death by asphyxiation from a knee to your neck despite repeatedly saying “I cant breathe” and begging for mercy for 8 minutes and 46 seconds is RADICAL. The incessant shooting of unarmed black men, women, boys, and girls, at the hands of law enforcement is RADICAL. 99% of cops not being charged after killings is RADICAL. The mere fact that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” requires a movement in this day and age is RADICAL.
For all that wish to attend our peaceful demonstration for the “black lives matter” movement, please do not hesitate, join us for what we intend to be a peaceful, informative, and action-oriented event this Saturday June 13th at Suigaula Beach.