S. E. Williams | Voice Executive Editor
“It’s easier to be ignorant and say I don’t know about the problem. But once you know, once you’ve seen it in their eyes, then you have a responsibility to do something. There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable.”
- – Craig Kielburger
In the wake of the recent verdict in the George Floyd murder trial that arrived couched between new questionable police-use-of -force against Black men, it breathed a renewed sense of urgency for substantive action as forceful winds of a 21st-century abolition movement pushes for change.
The verdict highlighted how the long and winding road to abolition is not only littered with Black bodies but also with broken lives, dreams never to be fulfilled, and dreams deferred.
Though there is more to this modern-day movement, the death of Black men at the hands of police is certainly at the forefront. Yet, despite this stark reality I continue to read articles and listen to commentators pontificate on the usual, blame the victim’s scenario.
I say victims because those harmed by the police in these incidents are being judged, convicted, and rendered a violent sentence by the officers who violate them even though we have a criminal justice system that says a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; that he/she has the right to be judged by a jury of their peers–not by random police officers on the streets of America.
If only they
So, it troubles me when I read and hear commentary–from Black folks–who say, “If only they–the suspects in these cases– would not run.” “If only they would follow the orders given to them by police.” “If only they would cooperate.” “If only . . . they might still be alive or uninjured, or whatever.”
I expect this rationale from some in the White community who may not be fully informed and are sincerely trying to better understand why these interactions too often go so terribly wrong. I expect this from some officers who have certain biases toward Black and Brown people. And, I expect it from ignorant racists who are stuck in the mindset of White supremacy.
But, in all honesty, I am most deeply disturbed when I hear Black folks spouting such rationale and justifications. It is deeply frustrating to hear the oppressed using the language of their oppressor.
We have borne witness to officers giving multiple directions in rapid-fire succession. We’ve seen officers ask for identification and then shoot as the individual reaches for his wallet. We know officers are not supposed to shoot people in the back or when their hands are in the air and they do not have a gun. Yet, again and again, we witness Black and Brown men being shot in the back as they try to run away or when their hands are raised.
With all the technology police have at their disposal, stingrays, license plate readers, other cell phone tracking technology, etc. they can locate who they want, when and where they want to locate them so shooting a fleeing suspect in the back seems to me like a mere excuse to kill.
Modern Day Abolitionists
Such incidents of police use of force are egregious, but this is not the only area targeted by modern-day abolitionists. The issues are expansive, urgent, and impact all aspects of Black lives and the lives of other people of color.
The goal is to tear down and rebuild the systems and structures that perpetuate oppression as evidenced not only in policing, but also in the prison system. Through the 13th amendment and state constitutions like California’s, perpetuate involuntary servitude. We need to restructure a criminal justice system that– if a suspect survives their arrest– are left languishing in county jails because they cannot afford the bail and then ultimately take a questionable plea deal because their court-appointed attorney usually presents these deals as their best and only option to untold years in prison or often after sitting in county jails for months are eventually released and charges never filed against them though in the meantime they are not fingerprinted and a part of a national criminal database.
The need for abolition, however, does not end there. The nation needs to abolish poverty and low-wage jobs. There is the need to abolish institutional racism in the healthcare system and make healthcare a human right. There is the growing need for affordable, quality housing as well as a heightened need for environmental justice as poor and low-income communities fight against poor air quality, lead pipes, food, and healthcare deserts.
In the midst of all of this, I would be remiss if I did not include the urgent need to end human trafficking.
Is there something you can do?
The road to abolition is long and arduous and Blacks have walked it for more than 400 years. In truth however, we have never walked alone. In every era, the Black community has been joined in their journey by those with compassion and a deep sense of humanity. The nexus of George Floyd’s murder and the deadly price paid by Black and Brown people resulting from the pandemic has infused abolitionists with a renewed sense of urgency.
There is much to be done. As the threat of COVID begins to wind down, what kind of America will we re-enter? I recently heard a quote from an individual who said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
Are you a modern-day abolitionist? If so, join the movement by asking yourself, “What is the ‘something’ that I can do? And then, do it.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.