Baltimore, Ferguson, Staten Island, and the list goes on and on. Black men murdered with impunity and then reduced to “thug” status. Rather than looking at the crime of policemen killing people whose only crime was walking in the road or looking at a cop the wrong way, the victims become posthumously guilty of their own deaths. Communities come out to protest and it turns to violence. Is it unjustified? I don’t condone violence, but it seems violence gets attention the way a peaceful protest never can.
In the Baltimore case, the media has been gleefully present for the violence, but conspicuously silent about the crime.
Only days after the death of Freddie Gray whose spine was nearly split in two, there been no word from the police as to the crime for which he was arrested, and there has been no examination in the media of the system that is playing out in city after city.
According to Talking Points Memo:
Baltimore police initially said Gray was taken into custody after he made eye contact with multiple officers … and ran away from them.
These are no longer “isolated incidents.” They are a pattern of abuse that is crying out for a solution. And that solution needs to be system wide. Not town by town, but this country has to come to terms with racism and poverty and the militarism of our police forces that only exacerbates the feeling of us vs them. There is so much work to do that calls for a movement, that calls for a leader, that calls for a revolution.
I saw The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at Full Frame Documentary Festival last month. It is the heartbreaking history of the rise and fall of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. So much of it feels decidedly déjà vu. From its beginnings as a reaction to the police targeting black men for walking while black, and the larger system keeping their communities poor and undereducated, and as a part of the larger youth movement that brought revolutionary ideas to the streets, the Party became an amazingly powerful national organization for black empowerment. The film weaves together the history through archival footage and interviews with surviving Panthers, their supporters and some of their detractors. It shows just how scared the establishment was of this uprising and how far J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI CoIntelPro program went to infiltrate and undermine them, even when in those early days they were using their organizing efforts to feed and educate their communities. There is a quote from J. Edgar in the film that feels very apt for today’s law enforcement, “Justice is incidental to law and order.” The film doesn’t gloss over the Panthers’ radical and at times violent agenda, but it shows that in the context of the times, their talk of fighting for their lives wasn’t just rhetoric. It also points to problems many organizations face, the egos of their leaders. Perhaps the most charismatic and best strategist they had was Fred Hampton, who was assassinated in his bed by the police. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution chronicles the Panther’s story from its founding in Oakland in the 60s through its leadership infighting and eventual disintegration in the early 80s. More than anything I came away from it wishing that another organization with the energy and reach could bring together the black community today to finish the fight. It is a film well worth seeing and I truly hope when it has a wider showing, that a lot of people see it and are inspired to act, again.
At the end of the day, the question is how do we make it better? Does it come down to divergent narratives? We all know something is very wrong, but as long as the narrative from some is that “the poor” are that way because it is their own fault, how does it get better? Is it somehow better for those who think that way to let things continue as it is? Is there a way to change that situation and make it worth their while to create an inclusive community that thrives together? Is the world getting worse or is media just shining a light on the dark places more? So many questions and time is ticking away.