For the second time this year, a statue of George Floyd was vandalised in New York. A memorial statue of a man who lost his life to police brutality, to nine long minutes with a knee on his neck as he begged for breath and mercy over an alleged fake $20 bill, has been covered in blue paint by an unnamed vandal. And for what purpose? What is gained by defacing the image, the honour of a Black man who died at the hands of the state?
As much as I wish I could say this surprises me, it doesn’t. We live in a nation where George Zimmerman, the man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, auctioned off the weapon that he used for $250,000 after being acquitted in the case. We live in a nation that sought to blame Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her sleep by police, for her death. We live in a nation that had to replace the memorial sign of Emmett Till, a young Black boy who was lynched after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman in 1955, with a new, bulletproof version after it was defaced and replaced four times. This is just a continuation of a culture that doesn’t care about brutalised Black bodies resting in peace.
It’s almost ironic that conservatives claim to care about historic preservation of Confederate statues in places of honour, while destroying monuments dedicated to those who unjustly lost their lives to anti-Blackness and police brutality. Maybe, just maybe, it was never about cultural preservation or heritage. Maybe it was about white supremacy, racism, anti-Black bigotry, and bias … but who am I to say?
This disregard for Black bodies, even in death, has always been part of American culture. It is as American as beer and burgers. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to the forced sterilization of Black men, the school to prison pipeline, the bombing of Philadelphia’s predominantly black area in 1985, to Flint’s water crisis, this is the true version of American history, marred with violence and pain of its people. Take a good look and understand that this is the nation you pledge your allegiance to. God bless America, the land of white supremacy and fraternal nationalism disguised as patriotism. Love thy neighbour, but only if your neighbour is white.
Police brutality is just the latest extension of state power marginalizing and oppressing Black bodies, but is far from the only one. Police are the modern lynch mob, wielding guns and playing judge, jury, and executioner with Black bodies, deciding who lives and dies with the excuse of their victims being armed, violent, gang-affiliated, or scary… often, euphemisms for Blackness. In the last five years, 1,019 Black people died at the hands of the police while only representing 13 per cent of the American population.
Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be killed by police than whites, but it goes deeper into our culture than that. Black people are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be accused of shoplifting or followed around stores, despite shoplifting at a lower rate than their white counterparts, and experience housing discrimination. We see entire Black neighbourhoods destroyed, whether that be through violence like the Tulsa Race Massacre, or infrastructure like the Interstate Highways. The Tuskegee experiments extended into the 1970s, and people are still suffering from the after effects. There is an ongoing health crisis concerning the maternal death rate of Black birthing people. For white women, the maternal death rate sits at 17 per 100,000 live births – but is approximately 43 per 100,000 live births for Black birthers according to the CDC. More than double. Why is that? Perhaps because generations of medical school students were taught that Black people have a higher pain threshold for generations, a myth that persists to this day?
This is what we mean when we say Black Lives Matter, because clearly, on a systemic level, they don’t. Not to the state, not to the police who are supposed to protect and serve, not to the doctors who are supposed to save lives. So to whom do these lives? The statement itself, that Black Lives Matter, shouldn’t be a radical position. But, some perceive that means white lives may not when that’s the furthest thing from the truth. To say Black Lives Matter means all lives matter, but Black lives are being actively marginalized and deprioritised in the system we’ve currently constructed.
This shouldn’t be a partisan or political issue, but yet, it is. Racism, harassment, and police murder shouldn’t be politicised. Police corruption and brutality affects us all if we can’t trust our cops not to kill us in dangerous situations because they were afraid. To defend the disproportionate rates of bias and police violence against Black people on the basis of party lines shows that you’d sooner defend systemic racism and violence against your peers than stick up for moral justice. I can’t say I’m surprised.
Let me ask you this. If America believes in freedom and justice for all, and you believe in America, shouldn’t that extend to medical justice for Black women, freedom from racism, police bias and brutality, and state sanctioned violence and property theft? Do people not deserve the freedom to exist while black? If you believe in the principles of what America is supposed to be and represent, how can you support the harm Black Americans are currently enduring just because of the color of their skin? Or are we still only worth three-fifths of a white person?