White people, I’m begging you.
Before you respond to a #BlackLivesMatter hash tag with #AllLivesMatter. Before you type “Not All Cops” in response to someone’s anger toward our law enforcement. Before you explain what the victim “should have” done in order to protect their own life. White people, I implore you. Please just pause, and breathe.
Pause and think about what these statements make you feel. Does reading Black Lives Matter make you feel as though your own life does not? Does frustration over the actions of our police force call to mind other officers, whom you believe aren’t deserving of such judgment? Does the violence inflicted upon our Black citizens appear to be so senseless, so rampant, that you believe there simply must be a logical justification for it: the officer must have feared for their life or the victim must have somehow acted out of line?
White people, please first take a moment and know this: our lives matter—this is reinforced in our society every day. And no, being a cop does not inherently make a person bad or corrupt. And yes, the violence being inflicted upon people of color in our society may appear senseless, and it is occurring at rates that are appalling.
Knowing that, please also consider this.
Uplifting one group does not mean suppressing another. Uplifting Black Americans, does not mean suppressing White Americans. If we believe that All Lives Matter, then it is time for us to take diligent note of which lives are not being treated as such, and come to their defense. “Black Lives Matter” is not meant to imply that they matter more than other lives; it is meant to acknowledge that they matter, too.
It would be an oversimplification of a much larger system to label officers “good cops” and “bad cops”. Of course there are cops who do their best to protect and serve. There are also cops who are ineffectively trained; who operate on cultural assumptions of Black people being intrinsically more dangerous and then allow their fear to take hold; who treat suspects differently based on appearance and thus give different lives dissimilar value.
The violence we’re witnessing is atrocious. It is frequent, and it is horrifying. But it is not senseless. It has the foundation of centuries of oppression, much of which we’re allowed to be blissfully unaware of, because it has been understated if stated at all in our history books, and it is not something we have to personally experience in the present. We must actively educate ourselves on the experiences that are not our own. Just because it’s not happening to us, does not mean that it’s not happening.
Every time the media runs headlines suggesting that the deceased was responsible for their own death; every time the victim’s mugshot photo is circulated rather than their graduation photo; every time it is insinuated that the suspect was “no angel” but rather a dangerous criminal deserving of punishment or death; and every time we dehumanize a person in order to make their murder seem more acceptable: we, White people, are being tricked into supporting a murder. We are allowing ourselves to be deceived, and we are being encouraged to pit ourselves against one another.
This brutality is sickening, and it is horribly sad. Further dividing ourselves is not the way to end the violence; understanding, awareness and compassion are. If this is all baffling; if it seems unfathomable that race-related violence could still be occurring in this day and age; if we find it difficult to even understand another perspective because it is not our own—then it is our duty to educate ourselves, and to LISTEN to those whose world view is different from ours. It is our responsibility to open our eyes to what is happening, and it is within our power to help end it.