OK, so I have a serious question after today’s non-indictment of Eric Garner’s murder: how do we shut this system down and make it pay attention, for real?
We’ve been protesting, talking, writing all summer – and actually much longer, for those who have been working on issues of police brutality and our racist “criminal justice” system for years, if not decades. We’ve been raising awareness, sharing our feelings, being angry, calling meetings with leaders; many, many people have been far more active and it front on this than me. But I look at last week, and I look at this week, and I don’t even understand what you do in a world where one police officer can show up to a playground and shoot a 12-year-old less than a minute after he arrives, while another police officer can choke an unarmed man to death on camera and that doesn’t even seem to merit a trial. The people who take theses actions and the people who justify them afterwards are living in a world so completely removed from the lives of these victims and their communities that I don’t think the victims are even people to them any more.
And I just keep thinking: it has to stop. Not just these incidents of violence, but the whole system that lets them happen and lets them be ignored and brushed aside. This whole culture, this whole economy. No more going to work, no more going about our day, no more adjusting to each new lesson in oppression and moving forward.
I know we all have rent and mortgages and a whole bunch of other bills to pay. Many of us have families. And some of us are even working for “the good guys,” organizations that are really trying to do battle with these and other expressions of oppression. At the same time, I can’t help but think that this system relies on that rationale to keep us chained up; it relies on us being too busy and tired and sick and scared to just stop participating, to just say no.
But what would happen? What would happen if every person who was angry about Ferguson and New York and Cleveland and Oakland and Sanford and everywhere else this has occurred to men and women of color didn’t go in to work tomorrow, or the rest of the week, or the rest of the year? Not only black or brown men and women, but also every person who considers themselves an ally? What would happen to all of these political and economic and social systems if we just refused to play along anymore?
People shut down highways in cities all across the country last week. Demonstrators occupied public plazas for months just three years ago. Market Basket workers left their jobs for weeks this summer in order to press for change. These things are possible. The stumbling block I run into – besides my own inertia – is that I don’t know what the change is that we would ask for. Is there one legal change that would be big enough – pardons for all those serving time for the kind of minor drug offenses that have been used to eviscerate communities of color and remove millions of people from full participation in society? Reform of federal and local CORI restrictions that keep people from being able to vote, get jobs, find housing, or receive public assistance? The end to all of the “war on drugs” equipment programs and trainings and funding from asset seizures that have turned our protective forces into something that neither serves not protects us? Actually, I take it back; we have plenty of things that we can demand from this system, and no lack of clear, concrete goals that could be pursued.
So the real question, for me and I think for many of my friends and colleagues is this: are we ready to do what is necessary? We have the power to bring this system to a halt. Are we willing to?