February 18, 2014 1 Comment

All Lives Matter

8/14/14 Update: Sadly the list of names in this post has grown in the past week with the deaths of Eric Barnes and Mike Brown. In both cases it appears that aggressive policing of minor offenses escalated, resulting in deaths that did not need to happen. #blacklivesmatter 

I find the fact that we need a conversation called #BlackLivesMatter disturbing. But it’s a badly needed conversation and one that needs to catalyze effective action. It’s urgent that we create a context where it’s no longer “understandable” that someone could be afraid enough of an unarmed black person to justify killing him or her.

Just consider a few recent cases of unarmed black people being killed in the name of self defense—grounded in fears that I believe would not have arisen had the people in question been white.

November 2012, Jacksonville, Florida – Unarmed, Jordan Davis is killed by Michael Dunn. Dunn stands behind Stand Your Ground and is convicted of attempted murder but not the actual killing of the black teenager in an argument over loud music in a service station parking lot.

February 2012, Sanford, Florida – Unarmed, Trayvon Martin is killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman stands behind Stand Your Ground law and is acquitted on all charges in a case that started with a vigilante experiencing suspicion about the teen’s presence in Zimmerman’s neighborhood—which was also Martin’s father’s neighborhood.

September 2013, Charlotte North Carolina – Unarmed, Jonathan Ferrell is killed by police responding to a breaking and entering call. Ferrell had approached a home seeking help after a car accident and was presumed by the homeowner to be a threat. When officers arrived, he ran toward them, no doubt to seek their help. Officer Randall Kerrick was charged with involuntary manslaughter but a grand jury did not indict him.

November 2013, Dearborn Heights, Michigan – Unarmed, Renisha McBride is shot in the head by the homeowner she approached for help after a car accident. Theodore Wafer is facing second degree murder and manslaughter charges. He claims self defense.

Where do we go from here? The circumstances that drove the defendants in each situation to fear for their lives were bathed in unconscious bias so strong and so pervasive that shooting was deemed a reasonable response.

We all need to be outraged that we live in a country where some of us are taking our lives into our own hands every time we take a walk, play music or seek help when in distress.

We need to redouble our efforts as a nation to upend internalized racism. And, as Attorney General Eric Holder and many others have argued, we have to do all we can to change laws like, Stand Your Ground, that provide a legal justification for behavior that actually “undermines public safety.”

1 Comment

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