Commentary | Black lives still matter

As police violence continues, the movement continues to fight back

CW: Racism, suicide, police brutality

Recently, my mother and I were stopped at Toronto Pearson International Airport customs and asked to wait in a room so that a security check could be performed on our baggage. As we nervously wheeled our trolleys in the direction we had been pointed, I realized that every single individual in the room was brown, just like us. People stood nervously before the members of the security who emptied their bags, scrutinizing all of their personal belongings as if it could explode in their hands at any given moment. One particularly keen guard was looking inside every shoe. That is when I realized that, on the spectrum of racial inequality, we were still privileged. In the hundreds of cases of police brutality that had occurred throughout the U.S. and Canada over the past years, Black people were treated with more force and violence by authorities than any other demographic of people. So as I wheeled my trolley towards the counter for the ‘random’ security check, I looked at my mother, swallowed my anger, and said, “it could be much worse.”

Reginald Thomas, father of eight children and with another baby on the way, was described as a loving man, deeply devoted to his family. He suffered from bipolar disorder, and it was during a manic episode on the night of September 30, that he called the police. The police knew he was a “5150” — an individual recorded in the system as needing psychiatric care. According to Shainie Lindsay, his partner, Thomas called the police on himself for his own protection, as well as to ensure the individuals surrounding him would be safe. Instead, when the police arrived, Thomas was tasered and brutally beaten by six policemen. His girlfriend believes, rightfully so, that the assault killed him: “They was wrestling with him, kicking him in the head and beating him with the baton stick. Then, after that, they was doing CPR and then he was dead.”

Reginald Thomas did not deserved the ending that was written for him that night. The brutal, sickening series of events is unfortunately only one of the countless reported and unreported instances of police brutality against Black people across North America. Other names include Amadou Diallo, Manuel Loggins Jr., Ronald Madison, Trayvon Martin, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Alfred Olango, Tyre King, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and many, many more.

These are not merely names written in the fine print of some news article to soothe the conscience of those who read it under the guise of being politically aware. These are the names of people, real Black people, whose lives were deemed unworthy by a system of white supremacy.

These are the names of people who became victims of a system that feels no remorse for intentionally killing Black people. It is unapologetic in its disproportionate incarceration of Black people, and for manufacturing and perpetuating the circumstances in which Black people are often forced to live in poverty, with inadequate access to housing, education, employment, and basic human rights.

These are the names of people who threw up their arms and cried, “Don’t shoot!”

These are the names of little boys who were shot dead for carrying a toy gun in a playground, of little girls who were sleeping in their living rooms, of men dropping off their kids at school, or women driving home from work.

These are the names of people who once had beating hearts and blood coursing through their veins. Why is it that, even as protesters across North America take to the streets to remind us that “Black Lives Matter,”, the people who wear uniforms and call themselves “law enforcement,” whose duty and mandate is to serve and protect, are still shooting and killing Black people? Why is it that, despite years of meticulous training to become a member of the police force, they somehow still skip out on the basic lessons of morality and justice?

‘Tolerance’ is what many say we should aim for but it is not the word to use here – there is so much more we can work towards. Instead of choosing only to tolerate the fact that the world, or specifically North America, is a diverse mix of individuals of different races, ethnicities, languages, cultures and identities, we should be embracing it.

There’s a word for people who believe that difference should be tolerated rather than embraced – racists.

There’s a place for people who commit such atrocities as murdering black people– prison.

But prisons are reserved for people of colour, who make up 60 per cent of the prison population, despite comprising only thirty % of the actual population of the United States of America. The situation in Canada is not much better. Black Canadians make up a mere three percent of the population, but comprise ten percent of the federal prison population. Meanwhile, the real murderers are the officers who are killing disproportionate numbers of people of colour and going home without facing prosecuion, washing the blood from their hands.

The notion of intersectionality becomes crucial here, as mentally ill Black individuals are even more disproportionately discriminated against, with 124 mentally ill individuals being killed by members of the American police in the year 2016.

Today, the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” remains perpetually relevant, a reminder of the brutality that is ongoing and the lives that have been extinguished and are now memories. This movement developed in July 2013 in protest of the killing of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin, and the movement grew when 18 year old Michael Brown became another victim of police brutality in August 2014. In addition to protesting the deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers, and the social contexts which perpetuate these killings, the Black Lives Matter movement also raises concerns about the militarisation of America’s police forces.

On October 17, Venida Browder died of what was described by her family as a “broken heart.” This had to do with the fact that her son, Kalief Browder was arrested at only sixteen years of age and held in prison for three years on a robbery charge. During his time there, he was beaten by fellow inmates, as well as authority figures, and was contained in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day. Upon his release, he excelled at Bronx Community College, but his academic career was interrupted by his paranoia and depression. In June 2015, he hung himself using bedsheets in his own home. Venida Browder, graceful and eloquent, then became a civil rights activist, singlehandedly fighting two lawsuits against the state. The stress of this, coupled with the enormous grief of losing her son, can be seen as contributing to the heart attack that tragically ended her life.

Black mothers have had to deal with their children being stolen from them by the clutches of white supremacy for centuries now. Despite some privileged sections of the populations choosing to believe that the U.S and Canada have achieved a post-racial society, there is a recognised pattern of violence against Black people which needs to end. Protestors should not have to spend every day reminding us of the validity and value of Black people. Mothers should not be grieving their children, nor children losing their parents so early – but this is what the system of white supremacy, upon which this entire continent is built, has brought us to. Protestors will continue to march and the words will continue to ring out: Black Lives Still Matter. They always have; they always will.