Originally posted in The Guardian on November 24th, 2014.
By Patrisse Cullors and Darnell L. Moore
Every death of a Black person at the hands of law enforcement is a tragedy. But each is an opportunity to be brutally honest about the unyielding patterns of violence inflicted against and upon Black bodies.
Now that the Ferguson grand jury has finally reached its decision, it is time to have a more candid conversation than ever about the acts of injustice that have been made legitimate by a legal system – that have ravished generations of Black lives.
The lives of Emmett Till and Rekia Boyd, of Aiyana Jones and Tamir Rice, of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride and Mike Brown – those lives mattered, but the United States has continued to deny responsibility for its devastating and pervasive anti-black racism. Clearly, the transformation required to end this history of state-perpetrated violence against black people remains our most important of unfinished business.
Martin Luther King Jr once said that America is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. Today, we know that America is still addicted to violence and racism, to violent racism.
So where do we go from here? The transformation underway in Ferguson is just beginning. “This isn’t just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America,” President Obama said on Monday night. “Communities of color aren’t just making these things up.”
We have been reminded that Black lives matter, that Black people and our allies in protest and reform are prepared to force this country into active recovery – from its ever-present struggle with integrity, from its propensity for violence, from anti-Black racism.
It is Day 108 of many more – we are calling for 2015 to be “the year of ungovernability”, and Mike Brown’s family is calling for healing, for silence before protest – but here are several steps that should be part of our collective recovery process, when we are ready:
1.Get out of denial.
There are not just a few bad apples who do terrible things to Black people. We live in a country shaped by racism generally and anti-Black racism specifically. We are born into a culture that values whiteness and deems Blackness valueless. Our laws, economy, education institutions and legal systems are infected by institutionalized racism. It is going to take complete transformation – at all branches of government – to change the fate of this country.
We cannot deny America’s inherent racism any longer. The first step to recovery, they say, is admitting you actually have a problem. The United States has long had a problem practicing the ideals it espouses, especially the “liberty and justice for all” part.
True liberty and justice have never been extended to black people in this country. Can we start anew by acknowledging that much?
2. Go beyond the indictment of one officer.
In St Louis, there is a popular protest chant we use:
Indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail / The whole damn system is guilty as hell.
It’s time to acknowledge that violence is entrenched in our society at every level – that systemic change isn’t limited to a single grand jury, or a single case. When demonstrators here in the Ferguson area say that the system is guilty, we are referring to a system that produces and protects vigilante-style police officers with little to no accountability.
We cannot pin the historical reality of anti-Black state violence on Darren Wilson. There are entire police departments that must be disbanded, and the Ferguson Police Department – poisonous as it is – may be one of them. But St Louis and jurisdictions across the United States will need to root out and dismantle disproportionate policing practices in Black and working class communities.
3. Divest in police budgets; reinvest in poor Black communities.
It’s time to ask ourselves: why does a police department in a predominantly black community of 21,000 people have enough resources to spend more than $175,000 on military-grade weapons to quell three months of protests?
Why is that happening when Black people in the US have the highest unemployment rates, the highest incarceration rates, and the highest eviction rates. That is economic disenfranchisement at work, and this country must actively work to curb the impact of poverty that so negatively impacts the well-being of Black people.
Ferguson can reinvest that kind of money back into housing, jobs and small businesses – so can the rest of the country.
4. Get local solutions to help curb cop killings.
Communities have been devastated. Generations of people have been traumatized. This is a national terror. And yet anti-Black violence by law enforcement persists.
Now, communities should work to host local and regional tribunals that can hold law enforcement authorities accountable, that can keep the government officials who oversee their work in line. Each tribunal can have its own set of demands, because the terror persists – but it’s still different everywhere.
5. Tear down that blue wall.
The code of silence is an insidious practice inside police departments – the so-called “blue wall” makes it systemically frowned-upon to stand up against abuses of power, even when they’re right in front of a cop’s face. It is a culture that reinforces a lack of accountability – and it needs to end.
Police departments essentially govern themselves, but we need new systems that are democratic, transparent, and focus primarily on problem-solving – not the obstruction of justice itself.
This community will need time to heal, but #FergusonNext starts now. We will not let business proceed as usual. Not one more day. As President Obama said: “We have work to do here.”