Since Darren Wilson shot down Michael Brown, these words have been a rallying cry and a balm for our spirits. They rang out in Ferguson, then spread. After last week’s heartbreaking grand jury decision, “Black lives matter” was proclaimed from the streets of the west coast to New York City. Thanks to the actions of a courageous group of City Council members, they also rang out in our City Hall.
A dozen members of the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus chanted “Black lives matter” as we walked out of last Wednesday’s stated meeting. This was a demonstration of the importance of Black life to the functioning of our city and an expression of solidarity with the protestors who have kept police killings of Black people in the news and on our minds.
Our statement included the words: “There is no tradition more patriotic than protest.” The right to redress grievances is enshrined in this country’s Constitution, and the political power of communities of color in this city would not exist without the disruptive and effective protests of the past.
Saying “Black lives matter” is simple but revolutionary truth-telling. It’s needed because there is so much action to the contrary, both from racist individuals and from those who wield state power. When the two are combined, people in vulnerable groups experience real terror.
Consider the fact that Wilson saw Brown, a beloved, college-bound teenager, as a demon, growing stronger as he riddled his body with gunshots. Also consider how early articles about Eric Garner’s death harped on his size, insinuating that being big-bodied made him invincible, even after his vulnerable airway had been compromised and his body lay cold. And I have to ask, what beliefs about Black lives and communities would cause an officer to fire into the chest of a Black man minding his own business, preparing for Thanksgiving travel?
I can’t help but make multiple connections between the killing of Akai Gurley with those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. One connection is an identity I share. It’s Blackness. A second connection is something I struggle to shield my children from and, at the same time, must repeatedly address when it intrudes on their lives. It’s that racist beliefs about Black people are still prevalent and too often acted upon to deadly effect.
I recognize that other communities suffer injustice. But naturally and necessarily, my politics center on the realities of Black life. I will proudly stand with anyone who seeks to protect and better our lives and stand with them in their fights as well. And when Black lives are threatened, I will always raise my voice.
In politics, much is negotiable. My Blackness and my advocacy are not. Black lives matter.