They don’t. That’s the message that plays on a loop against a seemingly never-ending backdrop of killings of unarmed minorities at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect society. That’s the message that’s forced a movement around the idea that #BlackLivesMatter. That’s the message that made me wake up in a sweat early this morning.
The only light came from the eerie glow of the crescent moon as I stood in the middle of a wheat field. It was slightly windy, and there was a dilapidated farmhouse about 100 yards in front of me. Around the field and the house were dark, uninviting woods. For no reason, I noticed I was wearing a white t-shirt and black pants. As I walked towards the house, I suddenly realized there were figures approaching me on either side from out of the wooded areas. They were just black silhouettes lit against this breezy field, but I could tell they were wondering what I was doing there, and I, of course, would have no explanation. I picked up my pace walking to the house as the wind swirled hard against my face and bare arms. I could hear the silhouettes picking up speed as they began running towards me. Gunfire sliced through the air and black lives don’t matter echoed out all around me. I woke up.
All I have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that’s it. There’s no waking up.
Of course every life matters, regardless of the color of one’s skin. But it is naïve and even dangerous to think that minorities aren’t treated differently in our society. I’ve been the subject of racial profiling many times throughout my life, and can certainly attest to the disparate treatment. We’ve talked about these issues on this blog here, here and here.
There is so much to unpack in all of the recent events, but I’ll focus on the fact that we might not be talking about some of these stories if not for one person’s cell phone recording. Alas, not everyone thinks it’s a good idea that people record police officers. For example, while Colorado’s legislature has introduced a bill that would prevent law enforcement officers from interfering with citizens who are photographing or recording police activity, the Texas legislature has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for private citizens to record police within a 25-foot radius.
There’s hope that police body cameras would help ensure that, like the amateur cell phone recorder, those who abuse power will be held responsible, and instances involving abuse of power and excessive force would be less likely to occur. Charles Blow of the New York Times recently argued that “the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but [of police] culture,” and that although “[police body] cameras would have an impact on policy and culture. . .a change in culture must be bigger than both.”
A change in culture is incomplete if it doesn’t involve a breakdown of the “us vs. them” mentality. NPR’s This American Life had a brilliant two-part episode a couple of months ago about how police officers view issues around these recent events, and how that view varies depending on what kind of community (e.g. affluent, poor, urban, rural, etc.) is being discussed. Both police and the communities they protect have to change their attitudes, hostilities and preconceived notions in order to ensure that we truly live in communities where #AllLivesMatter.
I’m a 3L at BC Law and I’m working at an externship in downtown Boston this semester through the school’s Semester in Practice: Public Interest program. I’ll be blogging about externship opportunities and life in the BC Law community. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments here or at email@example.com.