Though our nation has come a long way with its treatment of African American citizens, there is still much work to be done. The same can be said for Belmont Hill. As a student of color at this school, I have been subjected to countless microaggressions that have criminalized my blackness. From a teacher insinuating that I, a twelve-year-old student, was involved in a gang, to having my employment at a prestigious institution questioned: “They let you work there?” Though these moments were intended to be humorous rather than harmful, they stemmed from a negative unconscious association of my skin to crime and lawlessness. This dangerous bias is what resulted in the deaths of Trayvon Martin and countless others. This thinking enables officers to shoot first and ask questions later.
Unlearning these biases does not happen overnight. It is an active process of recognizing when we hold these biases and holding ourselves accountable for them. Although we can’t solve our nation’s problems single-handedly, we can tackle the ones that permeate our community. Mapping Police Violence, which tracks statistics and police shootings in America, reports that, in 2017, police officers killed 1,129 people. Of that number, 64% of victims killed were suspects in nonviolent crimes, such as traffic or auto violations. or had not even committed a crime. 13% of victims were unarmed and of this amount, 37% were black. Despite making up just 13% of the U.S. population, black people comprised 37% of unarmed police killings! Most disheartening is that, of the officers who committed these murders, just 1% were charged with a crime. These statistics represent only one year and continue to rise with each year. Each year, we have more Sandra Blands, more Philando Castiles, and more Michael Browns. Our society, including myself, has become so desensitized to this violence that these lives and deaths have been minimized to hashtags and numbers.
However, others have chosen a different path. Others have chosen action.
The devastating school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students last February has reignited the ongoing debate about gun control and gun violence in America. As we engage in this conversation, it is important to remind ourselves of who is being affected by this issue. It is disappointing to see the urgency with which our nation has approached this conversation when an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood, like Parkland is the victim. The fact is communities of color, especially black communities have been suffering from gun violence for plenty of years, so why aren’t neighborhoods of color given the same response? The Journal of Pediatrics recently collected data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, showing that African Americans have the highest rates of firearm mortality and that black children are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns.
My goal is not to pit these two issues against each other or have one co-opt the other, but rather to show how they’re exactly the same. As Belmont Hill grapples with how or whether we participate in student activism, I encourage all to look at this issue with a lens of intersectionality and include all communities on which gun violence has had an impact.
About two weeks ago, I attended a rally against police brutality outside of the Boston Police headquarters in Roxbury Crossing. I had just gotten off work at the MFA, and as the protest was on the way to my home in Roxbury, I decided to stop and listen. The modestly sized crowd, equipped with picket signs and posters, gathered in a semi-circle around a man with a microphone. He led the chants and the audience repeated: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Their voices commanded that street corner. Stuck at red lights, drivers peered out of their cars, curious about the commotion.
A few minutes later, a car stopped next to the other gatherers and me. Stepping out of the car was Hope Coleman, mother of 31-year-old Terrence Coleman. Gingerly making her way through the crowd, she was greeted by an encouraging round of applause from the demonstrators but when she was handed the microphone, the atmosphere grew silent awaiting Hope’s remarks. Holding back tears, Hope Coleman recounted the series of events that resulted in the murder of her son at the hands of Boston Police officer Garrett Boyle. Hope’s son, Terrence, suffered from schizophrenic paranoia; she described that he would have “good days and bad days.” October 30th, 2016 was one of his bad days. Hope called for an ambulance to take her son to the hospital to get him help after noticing him exhibiting signs of strange behavior. Two EMT responders and a few police officers reported to the scene, attempting to subdue the agitated Terrence. An altercation ensued, and Coleman ended up dead. According to the police report, Terrence Coleman threatened the officers with a knife; however, his mother rightfully insisted that her son was unarmed and deadly force was not necessary. She said that all she wanted was to get help for her son, instead, it ended in his death.
In 2012, following the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, the Black Lives Matter movement was formed. The movement is an all-inclusive organization committed to, “building local power and intervening in violence on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” The movement has been criticized for its tactics when advocating against police brutality, often accused of resorting to violence and dividing our country further. Many have adopted another slogan, All Lives Matter, which aims to include those it claims Black Lives Matter has overlooked. A common misconception about Black Lives Matter is that it implies that black lives matter more. However, Black Lives Matter is not a declaration of racial superiority. It is a reminder. The statistics presented earlier show that Black lives are being lost to police brutality at an alarming rate. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. We all can agree that the life of every American, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. matters, but this ideal is not reflected in how law enforcement officials actions of our law enforcement. All Lives Matter is a blatant display of a lack of understanding of the purpose of Black Lives Matter. It does not acknowledge the 99% of officers who don’t face charges for their crimes. It does not acknowledge the black parents who sit their young boys down to discuss how to make themselves appear less threatening in order to survive an interaction with law enforcement. All Lives Matter does not acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. I invite everyone to make an effort towards positive change by engaging in discussion and exploring a variety of lived experiences.