This opinion column originally appeared in The Washington Post on August 18th, 2015.
My morning rituals are typical. I wake up yearning for a few extra moments of rest. I express gratitude to a higher power for the breath in my body and the blessings in my life. I shower. I dress. I eat breakfast. I exchange laughter and words with my beloveds, embracing each other as we say our daily goodbyes. As I stand at the threshold of my home, the liminal space between warmth and safety and the chaos of the outside world, my experience becomes explicitly Black. Everyday before I leave my house, I ask myself, will today be the day I am murdered by the police?
#BlackLivesMatter was created in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime, and dead 17-year-old Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder. Black Lives Matter is both a network and a movement. The network has 26 chapters and affiliate organizations globally. The movement is made up of Black folks and allies who are not necessarily a part of the network. We are decentralized — meaning we focus on local leadership and help build the capacity of those most impacted to fight and win victories for their communities. We understand the local is the national and we must utilize our resources as such. We support both international and local action and policy changes that empower the Black community.
On Aug. 8, 2015, as the Black community prepared to collectively mourn the anniversary of the murder of Mike Brown by Ferguson police, members of Black Lives Matter disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. In the week since that disruption, at least nine Black people have been killed by state-sanctioned violence. Do we know the names of the nine people who faced a trial by fire? Do we know how the loss of their lives has impacted their families and communities? Or are we so collectively focused on the feelings of white presidential candidates that we have missed the essential purpose of the disruption? We as a movement will continue to disrupt the current political process until Black Lives Matter.
Agitating a perceived political ally to the Black community is strategic. For far too long, the Democratic Party has milked the Black vote while creating policies that completely decimate Black communities. Once upon a time, Bill Clinton was widely perceived as an ally and advocate for the needs of Black people. However, it is the Clinton administration’s Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act that set the stage for the massive racial injustice we struggle with in law enforcement today.
Let us recall: Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill provisions included $10.8 billion in federal matching funds to local governments to hire 100,000 new police officers over a period of six years, $9.7 billion allocated for the construction of new federal prisons, creation of 60 new death penalty offenses, mandatory minimums for crack cocaine possession and the decision to allow children as young as 13 to be tried as adults. The Clinton administration gave birth to the very era of mass incarceration that current Democrats are renouncing with great emotion and fervor. But these are ardent words with no concrete agenda.
Bill Clinton’s legacy is not amicable to the needs of our community. On the contrary, the Democratic-led war on drugs and crime was a thinly veiled war on the Black community as a whole. Today, over a million Black people are imprisoned, stark casualties of war.
As a Black millennial, I remember with horrid detail how Democratic policies ravaged my community and destroyed my family. My father was in and out of jail and prison on drug charges my whole life, dying in a homeless shelter not long after his last release in 2009. While in jail awaiting trial, my brother was inhumanely brutalized by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department within inches of his life. My personal history, along with the history of many Black people in this country, is rife with trauma born out of anti-Black policies aided and facilitated by presidents and their administrations.
The anti-Black policies in this country are inspired by the atrocities of American chattel slavery. Too often, we speak about racial disparity and injustice in this country without putting it in its historical context. The relationship between white and Black America began with 245 years of enslavement. Although some founding fathers acknowledged slavery as a violation to their essential value of sovereignty, their commitment to preserving private property rights was paramount.
Our relationship to this country as Black folks has been playing the role of currency, property and resource. The three-fifths compromise during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention was a political debate focused squarely on determining the worth of our humanity for the purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The intrinsic belief that we were property was not up for discussion, rather how much we as property were worth to white men. Our worth has always been in question in this country. No presidential candidate has ever centered their agenda around the worth of Black lives. We are committed to redefining our worth as Black people and holding our country’s representatives accountable.
The goal of Black Lives Matter is to transform America’s systemic hatred against Black people. Yes, we will fight for policy reform, but we know that every gain in this area can be retracted if we do not change the anti-Black culture in this country. Our role in the current election cycle is accountability. We know by centering conversations on the most disenfranchised among us, we ensure true liberty and justice for all. We will disrupt presidential candidates and all elected officials, we will move towards bold and creative action to deliver the ideals of democracy for ALL people inside of this country.
Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of all Black people. We declare that the lives of Black queer and trans-folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum matter. We are not asking for our humanity or worth to be given back to us. We are not begging for the rights promised to us in the U.S. Constitution and Emancipation Proclamation. We are demanding that the breath in our bodies guarantees our right to life, our right to freedom, our right to love, dignity and respect.