Why we stand with Black lives

Graphic by Sarah King and Rachel Lee.

If America’s violent summer should have reminded us of anything, it’s that the struggle for Black justice and dignity and fundamental fairness under the law is ongoing. This is not new.

This began long before George Zimmerman’s gunfire pierced Trayvon Martin’s being and it will continue long after Frank Ocean’s lyric honoring Martin’s life on his long-awaited album — “(he) look just like me” — is no longer the only thing “Complex” is talking about. The election of Barack Obama did not change the status of Black Americans. Bernie Sanders saying Sandra Bland’s name during a live debate did not bring her back.

Graphic by Sarah King and Rachel Lee.
Graphic by Sarah King and Rachel Lee.

The Black Lives Matter movement, the brain and soul-child of three Black female academics and activists after Martin’s death, has been labeled a myriad of things: modern civil rights movement, protest movement, social media phenomenon and even a hate group. At its core, however, the founders who instituted the term “Black Lives Matter” make clear they advocate only for dignity, justice, respect and equality — despite the plague of institutional racism this country has suffered since its inception.

In truth, the misunderstanding and confusion surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement is partly understandable. Like most modern movements for change, there is no face for Black Lives Matter, nor is there a political party lobbying for it in Washington. As a result, dissenters often cite a lacking concrete agenda or specific direction.

Social media and diverging, “radical,” ideologies have fragmented the cause. Although the many offshoots and branches of the broader movement aren’t always collaborative, the sentiments associated with them are clearly unified.

This month, a collective of more than 50 organizations and advocacy groups representing Black Americans from across the country came together to present an agenda on the behalf of the movement.

The demands:

1. An end to America’s “war on black people,” which includes the disproportionate criminalization, incarceration and killing of Black Americans.

2. Reparations for hundreds of years of oppression on Black Americans, which includes slavery, colonialism, food, and housing redlining.

3. Investment in the education, health and safety of black people and divestment from their criminalization

4. Economic justice to ensure that black people have a part in the ownership of the economy.

5. Community control to ensure that those most impacted by laws have a say in what those laws are.

6. Black political power to create a real democracy where black people can fully exercise their power.

Illustration by Kali Gregan
Illustration by Kali Gregan

These issues, as enumerated in the list of demands, belong to no political party, race, class or gender — these are issues that everyone can and should fully support.

At a time when even the utterance of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is seen as an adamantly political and outright controversial statement, the staff of the Commonwealth Times wants to clearly reiterate our unequivocal support for these ideas that essentially encompass the tenets of liberal democracy.

As a proud, independent news organization contingent upon ethical understanding and consideration for opposite points of view — an organization that has represented the VCU campus community since 1969 — we do not believe our unwavering alignment with this statement makes our news coverage tainted or biased.

This is not “radical,” “left-wing” or a function of the “liberal (college) media.” These demands — and our unified understanding, appreciation and support for them as a collective staff — should be the norm. This country only exists because of the vestiges of hundreds of years of ideals that are systemically oppressive against Blacks.

In August 2014, a Ferguson police officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Seven months later, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the police practices in his city.

Investigators determined Blacks were severely disproportionately affected in “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system.” How much does that matter, though, when Darren Wilson — the officer who murdered Brown — walked away from any form of an indictment?

But it did and does matter; for the hundreds of Black men, women, queer and trans individuals who have suffered violence or death at the hands of law enforcement — a state-sanctioned entity sworn to serve and protect their communities — Brown’s lifeless body left in the street for hours after he died only embodied a centuries-old truth.

At VCU the night of Wilson’s non-indictment, empowered Black women — students at this university — convened in the same room of the Student Media Center where this newspaper is brought to fruition each week. Those women then proudly led hundreds of students, chanting a plethora of phrases as they marched through campus that night:

“Black Lives Matter”

“Police, Police, KKK, How Many Blacks Will You Kill Today?”

Meanwhile, VCU Police dutifully ensured none of the protestors were harmed. The demonstration, just as the many that have ensued since, remained peaceful.

Even still, phrases such as the latter are often what ensnare or embolden dissenters opposed to the ideas behind “Black Lives Matter.” Not all police are bad, they say. It is irrational to draw a direct comparison to the KKK, they argue. And at first this seems legitimate — until one takes into consideration the larger message and the longer historical precedent where freedom fighters were often confronted by police with direct ties to organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Nobody is condoning violence against police who take seriously their oath to serve and protect. The recent attack on law enforcement in Dallas in the aftermath of demonstrations in Baton Rouge was undeniably tragic and unprecedented.

And to date, the men and women on this campus who have also taken such an oath to serve our community have only ever worked to ensure the safety of activists and protestors at VCU. There need not be a stark dichotomy leveling “Black Lives Matter” against “All Lives,” “Blue Lives,” or “Everyone Else.” Of course all lives matter, but right now we need to focus on the Black lives.

VCU is home to the largest in-state population of non-white students for a public university that is not a HBCU. The personal is very political here.

There have been countless demonstrations in the Compass. President Michael Rao’s office has been the hub for a similar list of demands from student group Black VCU Speaks. In the aftermath of protests at the University of Missouri — and concurring demonstrations at VCU — the administration promptly and expeditiously held a forum to discuss student demands.

The CT has reported the times VCU administration, Police Department and faculty have stated Black Lives Matter. Now, we are too.

Click here to meet the staff of the Commonwealth Times.

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