“Thug” is the new “n-word.” Politicians anxious to sell more votes by appealing to the lowest common denominator, and the media, always willing to capitalize on division and an insatiable taste for blood, regularly throw this word around to describe victims, protesters and criminals alike.
Whether their lives have been taken unjustly or they are crying out for justice, all the African-American community is fair game. And the end result, in fact, the very motivation I would argue, for such a liberal use of the term thug is incitement. We are a culture addicted to the myth of the perpetual enemy. We long ago defined certain communities, already marginalized, which we consider outsiders and against whom we constantly perpetuate wars. It has always proven to be a very effective way to run an empire, whether cultural, financial, or political and it is the oldest trick in the book simply because it is so effective. There is no other reason except agitation for politicians or the media to identify peaceful protesters as thugs, thus rendering each one as a potential criminal. There is little discussion of the motivation behind such protests, there is even less critical analysis of the issues. There is only inflammatory rhetoric and continued justification for a war against already deeply marginalized communities.
In a similar vein, the problem with co-opting the term “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” from the Black Lives Matter movement, is that certain lives already matter much more than others in our country. This goes without saying. We have always placed much more value on certain lives over others, namely the white majority and its protectors in the entire criminal justice, social and political system. A look at the statistics will show a much greater value placed on white lives. All death is this so-called war is injustice, a gross violation of humanity. Whether in Dallas or in Minnesota or Florida, all is a human tragedy. But so is justifying one innocent death while vilifying an entire community over another. And so is connecting all those individuals crying out for an end to the loss of innocent young black lives to the heinous actions of one shooter in Dallas, Texas.
Where was the national outrage and days of mourning across the country when an equally deranged white killer sat in on a black church prayer meeting before deciding to kill his gracious hosts? Where is the sense of shame and horror when a young man is killed in his car after clearly identifying that he was carrying a legal firearm and was only going to reach carefully for his license. Where is the outrage? Didn’t those lives also hold equal value? Some identify the beginnings of this epidemic two years ago in Ferguson with the death of Michael Brown, but this has been going on for years, decades, some would argue centuries. Now suddenly, with the targeted killing of police officers, we are ready to call this a war.
The war on innocent lives started long before police officers were also targeted for the color of their skin. Each and every killing is a gross violation of the sanctity of human life. Yet, once again the police will continue to act with impunity and the media will capitalize on the hysteria on both sides. We will be told by numerous pundits, advocates and experts that each victim was either a hero or somehow deserving of their tragic deaths. When, really, they were all most likely regular, boring and deeply-loved individuals just like you and I, struggling to survive and make sense of this sometimes difficult life. With one major difference. Because of the color of their skin, they were singled out, identified as a threat and executed for that difference. Each and every one is a tragedy and should be cause enough for profound and immediate change, socially, politically, systemically.
We live in racist countries, there is no denying it. And those who continue to deny this reality are either purposefully ignoring the facts or are consciously or unconsciously invested in perpetuating the privilege and benefits of being white in this culture. Why is it that those who are the most marginalized in our communities are always the target of systemic violence? Whether in Canada or the USA, socially, politically and economically, our histories, our culture and our current policies benefit, primarily, a clearly defined white majority. While, at the same time, the most disadvantaged in our communities remain the constant targets of our fear, injustice and violence.
I am tired of reassuring friends who argue that “all lives matter”, trying to ease the pain of those who feel unduly impugned for their whiteness. Of course all life matters, but I never have to concern myself with being pulled over for driving while white and possibly ending up dead over any seemingly insignificant exchange with the police. If you want to talk about those who are profiled, tried and executed by association, then let’s have a very real discussion about historical prejudice. Or First Nations. Or Muslim. Or LGBTQ. These and many more are among the most marginalized individuals in our countries. Targeted by our own fear of difference, historical prejudices, a mass media culture dedicated to stoking fear, hatred and division to feed our insatiable desire for conflict. Targeted by policies and politicians paying their dues to their base support. Targeted by a criminal justice system inherited from decades or centuries of oppression in order to protect the wealth and privilege. While, at the same time, protecting those of us who benefit the most from this system, most often without ever recognizing the incredible privilege we have inherited that largely exempts us from facing certain barriers, challenges and dangers on a daily basis.
But what if that was your child? What if it was your own loved one, killed for driving down the street with a broken taillight? What if that was your own flesh and blood murdered, and justifiably so according to the criminal justice system, for wearing a hoodie while walking down the street. What if that was your own 12-year-old killed for looking older than he was? What if that was your own husband selling cds or cigarettes on the street just to buy food for your family? What if that was your own brother taken into the country in the frozen winter and left for dead, or your own sister, sexually assaulted outside town by the very people charged with protecting the public? What if it was your partner targeted for dedicating his or her life to protecting the public only to be executed in the war that we have been waging against certain communities for generations. What if hundreds of women were disappearing from your community and nothing was being done? When do we take action to ensure that all lives truly matter, not just the white majority?
How can I be so sure that this is systemic racism? If it were your own white flesh and blood, you would be outraged that such injustice was even possible. There would be an inquiry, a thorough and impartial investigation, and most likely, some sort of justice would be served. Your loved one would not be smeared throughout the media as a thug, as somehow deserving because he smoked pot in high school or had a minor run-in with the police in his younger days, or simply because he wore the wrong clothes or was too large for his age. The fact is that there are enough police, however small yet significant that percentage may be, who regularly harass, assault, violate the rights of and, in extreme cases, take the lives of unarmed people with disturbing regularity. Each time it happens, the president makes a weary plea, the police along with a significant portion of white America steady themselves to once again justify this abomination and the media capitalizes on whichever side is most popular, most often demonizing the victim while justifying another human tragedy.
What can we do as individuals, as communities and as committed non-violent but enraged politically active movements to ensure that all lives truly matter, not just those that retain the benefits and protection of the system? We should all be enraged by this horror, each and every time it happens because each individual matters, profoundly. Rest in peace our dear lost friends. You are precious and your loss remains a tragedy for us all. I pray that your senseless deaths will not be in vain and will, finally, bring about a profound transformation on all levels in how we value, support and protect each and every precious life.
Photo: Getty Images