In the wake of renewed visibility, anger, and pain to the death of black people at the hands of armed law enforcement agents following viral video footage of the shooting and killing of 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minesota and 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rogue, Louisiana artists, celebrities, and politicians have been weighing in.
Sterling’s death draws parallels to that of Eric Garner who was killed by the NYPD while selling loose cigarettes without the approved tax stamp outside of a corner store in Staten Island. Daniel Pantaleo, choked Garner, killing him. Garner pleaded with Pantaleo, frantically expressing, over and over, eleven times in total, that he could not breath. Garner’s last words became a rallying call for Black Lives Matter protesters. Neither officer or EMT performed CPR. Garner died approximately one hour later at a hospital.
Both Garner and Sterling were operating outside of the legal economy. Sterling by selling CDs and Garner by selling cigarettes as street vendors. These killings speak also to the issue of black economic inequality as many are locked out of the traditional economy and thus financial stability for a variety of institutional and historical reasons. Their attempts at eking out a living are hyper criminalized and at times, on the fragile whim of law enforcement officers, result in death.
Beyoncé, who has as of late received praise and condemnation for focusing her artistry and using her fame to address the epidemic of police terror perpetrated upon black communities with the song Formation and Freedom from the visual album Lemonade, released a statement addressing the killings of Castile and Sterling. Beyoncé voices the indignation felt by many and calls for people to take a “stand.”Beyoncé’s page hyperlinks to the Minnesota and Louisiana state legislators, the states in which Castile and Sterling were shot and killed.
Beyoncé continues, “We all have the power to channel our anger and frustration into action. We must use our voices to contact the politicians and legislators in our districts and demand social and judicial changes.”
Although I and others emphatically commend Beyoncé for speaking on these killings and demanding an end to the 400 plus year wave of exploitation, terror, and theft of black people’s culture, ideas, families, and lives, will the tactics Beyoncé proposes reap results? Today I was reminded of a speech by Kwame Ture or Stokely Carmichael as he was formerly known that was featured in the insightful 2011 documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.
While the fringes of the right, racist conservatives, and Fascists applaud the deaths, liberal politicians are parroting a rhetoric heard many times before. This time around there are vague references to the systematic nature of racism but it is still accompanied by the usual: Not all cops are bad, civil rights investigations are underway, a report will be conducted, let’s wait until all the facts come in, let us remain peaceful, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have x,y,z. The public outcry might lead to a (light) conviction in the hopes of quelling the fire of rebellion but will the killing, the inequality, the institutional racism then resume?
What will it take for true liberation and an end to the one sided war against black people? What will it take to uproot the deeply entrenched racism, inequality, and white supremacist thought that is woven intricately within the very foundational institutions of the United States?
Fredrick Douglass once said:
Without a struggle, there can be no progress.
It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.
Here are some tweets from artists discussing the most recent wave of police violence:
— Questlove (@questlove) July 7, 2016
The stench of institutional racism is treat them the same ( likeSht) fight Em up-yet keep them worlds apart from really getting together USA
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) July 8, 2016
These guys murdered this man with his 4 year old daughter in the backseat? Is there any situation where police get arrested? Or convicted?
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) July 7, 2016
1) In the interest of time, would ye noble patriots please provide a list of infractions punishable by spontaneous public execution? Thanks!
— jesse Williams. (@iJesseWilliams) July 6, 2016
— Issa Rae (@IssaRae) July 6, 2016
Warning: The video Kanye West is linking to is graphic. It shows the shooting of Alton Sterling.
I take a flight and spend some time off of my phone to get away only to learn another black man has been shot and killed by the police.
— Trey Songz (@TreySongz) July 7, 2016
Less than 24 hours!! Another black man killed at the hands of a police officer. This shit is… https://t.co/FK7zvmjwCy
— Fabolous (@myfabolouslife) July 7, 2016
So many people work so hard to find a reason why executing a human being during a routine traffic stop is ok. IT'S NOT OK
— John Legend (@johnlegend) July 7, 2016
Smh! What is the world coming to! A child in the car to? Really! If u have a heart u gotta feel this😰 so many emotions!
— Missy Elliott (@MissyElliott) July 7, 2016
Below is the text of Beyoncé’s message in full:
We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities.
It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they “stop killing us.”
We don’t need sympathy. We need everyone to respect our lives.
We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished.
These robberies of lives make us feel helpless and hopeless but we have to believe that we are fighting for the rights of the next generation, for the next young men and women who believe in good.
This is a human fight. No matter your race, gender or sexual orientation. This is a fight for anyone who feels marginalized, who is struggling for freedom and human rights.
This is not a plea to all police officers but toward any human being who fails to value life. The war on people of color and all minorities needs to be over.
Fear is not an excuse. Hate will not win.
We all have the power to channel our anger and frustration into action. We must use our voices to contact the politicians and legislators in our districts and demand social and judicial changes.
While we pray for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, we will also pray for an end to this plague of injustice in our communities.