Black Lives Matter Part 1: A year of Anger, Activism and Action

by Melanie Davis
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News Report, Starla Muhammad, Charlene Muhammad for El Hispanic News in collaboration with New America Media
After a year of young people leading angry street protests in response to disturbing deaths of Blacks in police custody and mistreatment of Blacks by law enforcement and the courts, 2016 will likely bring more resistance as activists vow to continue battling social and economic injustice and racism. If 2015 is any indication, more direct action is coming as the country heads into a new year and the last term of its first Black president, analysts said. In unemployment, housing, education, wealth and health, Blacks continued languishing behind Whites. Increased racial tension and White backlash manifested itself through targeted opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, roadblocks to voter registration, discrimination on college campuses and violence, including the slaughter of nine Black parishioners at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. by a White gunman. Dylann Storm Roof, the suspected gunman, ascribed to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist ideals and was charged with murder for the June 17 massacre. His trial on nine murder counts among other charges is slated for July 2016. He was also charged with federal hate crimes. Seemingly every week videos of police killing or abusing Black men and women made headlines. Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Mario Woods and Freddie Gray joined almost countless others who died at the hands of police or while in police custody. Their deaths not only brought to light the abuse and injustices by law enforcement that Black communities have cried out about for decades, but these cases fueled activists who demanded justice for victims of what many labeled “state-sanctioned violence.†“Black people were more likely to be killed by America’s largest city police departments: Police departments disproportionately killed Black people, who were 41 percent of victims despite being only 20 percent of the population living in these cities. Forty-one of the 60 police departments disproportionately killed Black people relative to the population of Black people in their jurisdiction. Fourteen police departments killed Black people exclusively in 2015, 100 percent of the people they killed were Black. For only five police departments were 100 percent of those killed White,†according to a Mapping Police Violence report on police killings in 2015. Police killed at least 1,152 people in the United States from January 1-December 15, 2015, said the report. “Nearly one in four of these people was killed by one of America’s largest 60 city police departments. Fifty-nine of the nation’s largest 60 city police departments killed civilians in 2015. Some killed at much higher rates than others: Bakersfield, Oklahoma City, Oakland, Indianapolis Metropolitan, Long Beach, New Orleans, St. Louis Metropolitan, and San Francisco Police Departments killed people at the highest rates in 2015.†“While some have blamed violent crime for being responsible for police violence in some communities, data shows that high levels of violent crime in cities did not appear to make it anymore or less likely for police departments to kill people,†the report found. “Rather than being determined by crime rates, police violence reflects a lack of accountability in the culture, policies, and practices of the institutions of policing, as investigations into some of the most violent police departments in America have shown.†Resistance, rebellion and results “With state-sanctioned violence, a few things are going on. In many ways, I think it’s connected to the inter-communal violence. I think we left open three critical areas to really start planting seeds,†said Davey D, a hip-hop journalist, historian, talk show host and activist. First there’s the problem of media, which affects the community inside and out, he continued. “We give too much of the past to too many people who have used our dehumanization for profit†and that dehumanization comes in many forms, he said. Some is overt, he said, but much is very subtle. Some celebrated the successes of Black women in key law enforcement positions, from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, he said. But people have to ask, where is the accountability for those in public office? Davey D continued. “Like we did with Obama, we didn’t demand a certain amount of standards that needed to be put forth because our endorsement of their success was really dependent upon the expectation that they would humanize us and they didn’t in the long run. So that fielded a compromise in a big way and the end result was and the end result has been we are not empowered,†he said. But this year, youth, particularly Black and Brown youth, refused to remain silent and sit on the sidelines in the face of oppression. Nationwide demonstrations and protests against police brutality and White Supremacy culminated in October when according to some estimates 800,000 to 1.5 million people gathered in Washington, D.C. for Justice Or Else! A commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. The Oct. 10 gathering, convened by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, gave a platform to Black, Indigenous and Brown communities and other aggrieved groups who presented their cases and demands before the world in a continued fight for true freedom, justice, and equality. There was also a call for Black communities to stop the fratricidal violence that plagues many urban areas. “It’s hypocritical for us to say that we are ‘citizens’ and we are still trying to get civil rights while at the same time we are denied the human right of self-determination. I’m honored to be here in front of this great, great house that was built by Black slaves. So I don’t think I’m encroaching on any American by standing on the ground that was paid for with the sweat and the blood of our ancestors,†Min. Farrakhan told the massive crowd from a stage on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. “There can be no freedom, no justice, no equity without the willingness of some to sacrifice for the rest. What good is life if we are not free? What good is it to be alive and every day that you live you see your people suffering? What good is it to be—continue in life under tyranny? So there must come a time when we say, ‘Enough is enough.’ It must change—and I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring about that change,†said Min. Farrakhan. “America is under Divine Judgment as we speak. Elijah Muhammad taught us 50-60 years ago of what we’re going to face, and he said there would be Four Great Judgments: Rain, unusual rain, Snow, unusual snow, Earthquakes, Hail; and that [God] would use the forces of nature against America,†he continued. “When I leave you today, the calamities are going to get stronger, because God wants America to let us go. Not integrate us—let us go, and give us a good sendoff. Those of you who are scripturally sound: Moses was not an ‘integrationist,’ and neither are we. Let me be clear: America has no future for you or for me. She can’t make a future for herself, much less a future for us. The scripture says, ‘Come out of her, My people’—and we’re going to have to come out. God says he takes the kingdom from whom he pleases, and he gives it to whom he pleases,†said Min. Farrakhan. “It’s clear that this year was a year of rebellion and resistance as it relates to police brutality and misconduct and killing of Black men and women in American society,†said Dr. Ron Daniels, president of Institute of the Black World. In places like Ferguson, Mo., New York, Chicago and Baltimore, the outspokenness, and action of youth was evident, he explained. “The incredible response by young African American men and women on the street in resistance there and, of course, the explosive and positive growth of the Black Lives Matter movement which has become sort of the mantra of this new generation,†said Dr. Daniels. “What you saw is an incredible amount of resistance from Black people. Very strong, very creative, very innovative and I think intensifying and growing during the year.†Jonathan Butler, a student leader, and activist escalated that intensity when he stopped eating on Nov. 2 to force the resignation of Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri president, who failed to address students’ concerns about campus discrimination and take meaningful action. Black students had been complaining for years, to no avail. His hunger strike lasted seven days. After the university’s football team and coach backed the graduate student’s demand and refused to play until Mr. Wolfe vacated his post, he and school chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned. “I think it’s pushing us in the direction we need to go. Total dissatisfaction, total mistrust, no belief in this system,†said Faheem Muhammad, an activist and co-founder of Black Buycott. He said the system isn’t broken, but it’s rotten to the core and works perfectly as it was designed, which is to break Black people particularly and the oppressed of the world. Part of the problem is some Blacks have the notion that the Democratic Party or anyone else will help them, he explained. “It’s not that Obama didn’t want to do something for us or desire to do something for us, but this system is filthy. It’s wicked, and it’s corrupt, so he can’t do anything for us,†said Mr. Muhammad. Dissatisfaction with the status quo gave rise to action. In solidarity with demonstrators in Ferguson and nationwide protests in honor of Michael Brown, Jr., the Blackout Collective shut down the Bay Area Rapid Transit in West Oakland on “Blackout Black Friday.†In Chicago, thousands took to the streets the same day in response to the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in October last year. Video of the encounter was not made public until November 2015 and only after a judge ordered its release. Soon after the teens death, the city quickly paid a $5 million settlement to the family. Allegations of a conspiracy and cover-up quickly ignited protests in a city whose sordid police history is well documented. In response, demonstrators shut down the Magnificent Mile, on Black Friday, causing retailers to lose millions of dollars. Retailers, who count on November and December holiday sales to boost their financial coffers, took a hit in 2015 as sales spiraled downward. According to a mid-December article on Forbes.com, post-Thanksgiving days have been terrible for most retailers in 2015. According to the National Retail Federation, this year’s holiday sales are “slower than expected.†While some analysts attribute the decline to fewer dollars coming in due to lower prices, it’s clear that this year has been a relative bust for the collective retail establishment. “If our Black lives don’t matter, then neither should our Black dollars,†said Minister Farrakhan.