“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
-German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
In attendance at a powerful conference about social impact for my professional development on Friday were both corporate and nonprofit folks. The rally cry was to improve the lives of others, to make community more safe and increase opportunity for ALL residents of Baltimore, MD. With subtle undertones about the American dream, I spent some of my time there in conflict. Other moments were full of lessons about organizational change, leadership and goal setting. Then there was a presentation by a wealthy white man and venture capitalist–about the “death of Freddie Gray.”
The slide was all black and the date of the riots were in white in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Initially, I thought that there would be a grandiose tie to the need for community, compassion and togetherness in order to combat the real structural changes that ought to happen in this country. What happened several minutes into his introduction; however, is a misunderstood and misdirected use of his privilege. He spoke to not understanding the riots.
But what happens when structural violence against black and brown bodies takes a turn with what I will go ahead and suggest is an example of modern lynching?
An epiphany moment that he shared was that, “most people” have ways to channel their frustration, but that doesn’t exist in “the hood” (his thoughts, not mine). What struck me is that this conference was taking place in Baltimore, and yet, a white man who took ownership of his fear of the riots entering “his neighborhood,” and found a way to make the death of Freddie Gray about him and his fear. I don’t discount his fear or anxieties. What I question is his understanding of the deaths of black and brown people in this country. Money, education and opportunity grant this man the privilege of not living in fear of violence, or guns, or assault. But for a moment, the riots made him feel those things and he didn’t like it. A problem being, that he can retreat to his home, or relocate his family. There is additional precautions he is privileged enough to have access to, like living in a gated community or advanced security systems to avoid thinking about community violence.
But what happens when structural violence against black and brown bodies takes a turn with what I will go ahead and suggest is an example of modern lynching? Will men and women simply turn their cheek and CONTINUE to say, well it ain’t my people? My Facebook newsfeed featured several links to The Roots article, Ferguson Activists Are Dying and It’s Time to Ask Questions. The article discusses the recent death of Edward Crawford, the death of Darren Seals in 2016 and the death of DeAndre Joshua in 2014. All three are Black activists who were found dead in eerily similar ways with gunshot wounds and torched cars. This begs the question, are these deaths homicides?
An even bigger question lingers as we sit with these deaths. In 1969, members of the Black Panther party were killed in their sleep at 4:45AM in Chicago by police, the FBI, and a tactical unit. In what ways is the death of three members of the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement similar? Black people died at the whim of the powerful white man.
White American terrorists and extremists killed black people by hanging their beaten and bruised bodies on trees in this country. America’s police force shoot, beat, strangle or murder countless black and brown bodies in this country. When Black Lives Matter is proclaimed in this country, the statement is diminished by racists, American terrorists and extremist KKK members. It is then, that the government gives a big fuck you by denouncing the BLM Movement as a terrorist organization without ever calling the Church Massacre in Charleston a terrorist attack.
And now this, as the trees die out because of the Co2 emissions of the cars we drive and the exploitation and use of resources that exclude the most vulnerable people whose ancestors this country lynched, enslaved and raped–what does this country do? It allows black men to be shot in their cars and light those cars on fire.
First they killed the slaves, then the Black Panthers and now they come for Black Lives Matter.