The system believes that when we die, we must have done something to deserve it. But our killers are out there, and they must be made to take responsibility
Last night, I stood in a jam-packed arena as a multiracial crowd chanted Black Lives Matter, following an on-stage appearance by Mothers of the Movement at the Democratic national convention. Irrespective of political affiliation, no one can deny the power of these women, all mothers to the fallen sons and daughters who founded this movement for black lives and human dignity. To witness tens of thousands, from across the country, chant a phrase that unequivocally declares our humanity is a sight I cant imagine having witnessed even a year ago.
And then, we awoke this morning to the news that another of those fallen sons, Freddie Gray, would receive no justice after losing his life in the back of a Baltimore police van. Following multiple acquittals, Baltimore prosecutors decided to drop all remaining charges against the officers.
There are many possible reasons why. Some have argued that there was no fault on their part at all. Others have asserted another officer is truly to blame. Still others point to a history of failure to convict and declare that not much has changed.
Im not here to argue any of those things. Im tired. Im tired of arguing all the details that obscure a critical and heartbreaking reality: Freddie Gray was a person, and someone is responsible.
And in the wake of acquittal after acquittal, the message continues to be clear: not only do black lives, hearts and spines not matter to a system that continually kills us, but the only people who seem to be guilty of our deaths are ourselves.
As the conjecture about this case continues, the only thing I can hear is the resounding cry that we, as black people, are nearly always responsible for our own demise. It cant possibly be the danger of black skin no. When we die, our homicides are ruled suicides. When we die, there must have been some act, some moment, some single bad decision that caused it. When we die, we must have done something to deserve it.
I see this sentiment everywhere. In the victim-blaming that often follows the killing of one of our own. In the demand to know what happened before and after the video starts and stops because there must have been some action to inspire the officers ire. In the otherwise reasonable people on our social media feeds, who refuse to believe what stories and statistics continue to show true. In the courts who rarely charge, convict or punish our killers when they are in uniform.
But unlike a police uniform, my blackness cannot be removed at days end. I did not choose my race like one chooses a profession. I do, however, choose to be proudly black. And with that pride comes an unyielding commitment to demand the recognition of our full humanity.
That will require that we continually take to the streets, engage in political conventions and intervene in decision-making conversations to require accountability for these and every other injustice that we face as marginalized people. As weve reported on thoroughly at Campaign Zero, police unions will play a central role in what has to come next. A former union member myself, I still recognize that the use of racially coded language to inflame traumatic situations is totally unacceptable. They must reverse the course that allowed them to use the important tool of collective bargaining to create a shadow justice system that too often relieves officers of their professional responsibilities and criminal liability.
There is much work to be done. Our humanity must be central to the path forward.