Black Lives Matter.
Anyone can and should protest when the state fails to defend its citizens from injustice.
This was never about politics. Never a matter of left versus right. It was never even black versus white, for that would undermine the overriding message. The Black Lives Matter movement is all about Right and Wrong, and it is not background but principle which determines the side an individual chooses to be on.
The death of George Floyd on May 25, like any death, was a tragedy. A family without a father, without a husband, without a son. Yet it was so much more than that, it was a signal, as clear as ever, of the institutionalised racism inbuilt into parts of society, that has poisoned the lives of so many.
Ex-officer Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder and is presently on suicide watch after having used what looked like excessive force, with Floyd repeatedly heard saying that he could ‘not breath’.
Still, the outcome points to entrenched inequality and institutional bias. The punishment for the arresting officer — only third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The punishment for Floyd, a black man charged with allegedly trying to pay with a counterfeit $20 bill (a non-violent crime) — death.
The response to Floyd’s death reflects a general sentiment that the majority of black Americans share; that of anger, sadness, and hopelessness. Their immense response can be translated as: ‘When will this stop?!’
When the President of the United States is more concerned about his Twitter account than the disproportionate reaction of the police towards one of the citizens, what does this say about our society? When the police, an institution founded on the principle of protecting and upholding the law, murder innocent people, what does that say about our society? And when the government’s response to predominantly peaceful protesting is an escalation of violence — what does this reveal about our society?
That change is needed.
To reiterate, this is not a fight between the left and right. In the words of liberal philosopher John Locke, even the most minimal state should exist to protect our ‘natural rights’ of ‘life, liberty, and property’. In the current circumstances, the state has not fulfilled at least two such condition. The state cannot protect life when its representatives kill citizens. The state cannot protect liberty when free speech and protest are suppressed. When the state can no longer protect the natural rights of its citizens, the people must protect themselves. They must stand together until the state listens. That is what must happen now.
That is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so crucial. It is a home for those who stand up to racism, a mouthpiece for the justice that ought to exist, and a platform for building a fairer society. To protest, to riot, is to practice freedom of speech. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. it is: ‘the language of the unheard’. Without being heard, change will not come, and without change, George Floyd will sadly become just a name in a never-ending list.
In these circumstances, protesting and rioting is the only viable option. It does not legitimise attacking the innocent, or destroying small, independent shops. But it does license ensuring that the message of anti-racism is heard loud and clear. If the state does not stand up for the people, the people will stand up for themselves — because it is the right thing to do.
I am not black, but that does not change how I see this situation. Having many privileges I am not disadvantaged in the same way or for the same reasons that people of colour are. But that does not blind me to making the distinction between what is right and what is wrong. The Black Lives Matter is a protest movement that I will always stand by.
Looking back 50 years, the heroic ideology of the Civil Rights movement is a source of pride and commands respect. Let’s hope that in another 50 years’ time, through the shared values of anti-racism and equality, we can look back on what has been achieved with that same spirit of communality and pride.
Black Lives Matter.
Let’s make that more than just a slogan.