Posted December 12, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Black Lives Matter

A Message to My Fellow White People

By Serena Imani Korn

Several weeks ago, a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. announced it would not indict officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, a black teenager. Protests erupted across the country and many solidarity protests were staged across the world. Not long after, a New York grand jury announced it would not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner, another black man, even though Garner’s death was ruled a homicide and a witness filmed the officer choking Garner while he said “I can’t breathe” repeatedly.

Two main protests took place in Olympia in solidarity and defense of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and all black lives. On Dec. 5, 200 people in Olympia marched through the streets and shut down several intersections.

But this protest was not just for Eric Garner or Michael Brown. The murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown represent a strong American tradition. One that asserts power of white supremacy over black people.

I am a white person. White people have privilege in this country, and across the world, because we are white. We directly benefit from the perpetuation of white supremacy. As white people, we benefit from a police force that murders black people at will. We benefit from the subordination of black people and other people of color and indigenous peoples. I write this article not to speak for black people or people of color. I write not to amplify my own voice over others. But I know that by writing, I draw attention to my white voice and away from black voices. What is more important than listening to my white voice is listening to black people, to people of color, and indigenous peoples. Us white people need to pay attention to voices of people of color, not process their experiences through white voices for us to better digest.

I write as a journalist and someone attempting to participate in solidarity. I write as someone who recognizes that the mainstream coverage of these protests is wildly misleading and helps to perpetuate white supremacy.

Black Lives Matter

The protests in Olympia represent a stand against the complete disregard for black lives. The phrase “black lives matter” serves to assert the importance of black life. The recent murders of black people (including children) at the hands of police sends a message that black lives do not matter to police. The defense of the police and the inability to hold these police accountable sends the message that black lives do not matter. This is part of all U.S. history and beyond that suggests black people are not deserving of life. The U.S. survived on a slave economy. The U.S. survived by the subordination of black people. This did not end when “slavery was abolished.” The modern U.S. prison system is one that survives on the continued subordination of black people. Recent and historical murders of black people by police are a continued way to subordinate black people by literally taking their lives. Public executions of black people send a message to other black folks that their lives don’t matter.

People quickly counter the idea that “black lives matter” with “all lives matter.” This is a dangerous counter idea. Yes, all life matters. No one disagrees. But the point of this current movement is to draw attention to the disregard for black lives. Black people are killed by police at a much higher rate than any other race. Black people are subject to police brutality at much higher rates than white people. We can all agree that police brutality is wrong. Hopefully we can all agree that killing someone as a means of subduing them is wrong. But these actions directly affect black people at a massively higher rate than white people. That is why we say “black lives matter.” Because the idea that black lives are worth the same as other lives is just not pervasive in the minds of Americans, particularly white people and police.

Tamir Rice was 12 years old, murdered by a police officer two seconds after the officer exited his vehicle. Rice was playing with a pellet gun. In a nation where white people are free to walk into a Target or walk down the street with a rifle strapped to their back, a 12-year-old black boy playing with a pellet gun was shot to death by a police officer.

There is much debate surrounding the events leading up to Michael Brown’s death. Many across the country, particularly fellow white folks, argue that Brown committed a crime and was resisting arrest. Others further argue that Wilson was afraid for his life and acted in self defense. Evidence and witness accounts show that Brown had his hands up and was unarmed. The details of whether or not Brown committed a crime are entirely irrelevant. A white police officer shot Brown six times. The only true threat was that Brown was black, and in the eyes of white people, black people are violent and threatening. This idea is perpetuated to ensure white supremacy. Because by creating the “other” and dehumanizing them as demonic, you rationalize killing the other. The U.S. rationalizes the killing of black lives. That is why we say “black lives matter.”

Rice’s and Garner’s murders were both recorded on video and will still see no justice. Even when murders are filmed, white people and police sympathizers will rationalize the murders.

“Fuck the Police” and Other Things White People Say to Derail the Movement

Leaders of the Olympia protest, who stressed the importance of amplifying black voices and following the lead of black folks, started a chant of “no justice, no peace, no racist police.” There were some white folks in the crowd who were instead chanting “no justice, no peace, fuck the police.” This was an act of white supremacy.

As a white person, I recognize that it is not my voice that needs to be amplified on this issue. It is not my teen son bleeding in the street for four and a half hours. As white people who wish to seek solidarity with people of color or to see an end to white supremacy and police brutality against black folks, we must step back.

By changing part of the chant from “no racist police” to “fuck the police,” we take the entire meaning and purpose away from the very reason we are there to protest. People took to the Olympia streets in defense of black lives. People took to the streets to show the rest of Olympia that black lives matter, that they will not stand for a racist, white supremacist police system that murders black people and tells white people to keep driving after hitting someone with their car (as I witnessed at the Olympia protest). By changing the chant, we take agency away from black people, away from black leaders and other leaders of color. If we are to end white supremacy, we must stop making our white voices supreme.

Further, when white people yell “fuck the police,” it has an entirely different meaning than when black people and other people of color say the same thing.  As white people, we still benefit from the police system. The police force exists in a manner that perpetuates white supremacy. The police force exists in a way that, overall, coddles white people’s existence. Black people do not benefit from the police system. Black people do not benefit from the prison-industrial complex. As white people in a white supremacist society, we will always benefit from the actions that exist to subordinate black people and other people of color. That is why “fuck the police” has different meaning for us than for people of color. In the context of a protest in defense of black lives, to say this without taking lead from black leaders, we show a disregard for those black voices. We take agency from black folk and we take meaning away from the reason we’re there.

It is the same for when white people raise their hands, echoing “hands up, don’t shoot.” This gesture is a very powerful message when used by black people. Michael Brown was shot with his hands raised. Black people take to the streets en masse with hands raised to send the message that their lives matter. White people don’t have to do that. If black people request white folks to raise their hands in solidarity, that can be a powerful message. But that is only when black people are given the agency to request what kind of solidarity they want from white people. In Olympia, if the only people putting their hands up are other white folks standing in front of cars, that just holds no meaning. It also holds no meaning for white people to start a chant of “I can’t breathe.” Black people chanting “I can’t breathe” is a powerful message. In this white supremacist society, black people cannot breathe. White supremacy literally and figuratively quashes their ability to breath. Eric Garner was choked to death. Even when he said he could not breathe, repeatedly, the officer did not release his neck. Eric Garner could not breathe. Black people cannot breathe. Us white folks can breathe just fine.

It is disrespectful and it perpetuates white supremacy to maintain white agency at a protest for black lives. Olympia is predominantly white. White folks should participate in protests in defense of black lives. But we must do it in a way that doesn’t take agency away from black people. We should do it in a way that does not adopt black messages for our own gain.

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Protesters shut down multiple intersections, and prevented cars from entering or exiting the freeway.