Not a week seems to pass without social media carrying yet another video of police officers brutalizing and too frequently killing unarmed citizens, with a significantly disproportionate number of those citizens being black. Many of those black citizens will tell you that these incidents of police violence that have come to dominate the news are, in fact, anything but news to the black community. If Chuck D of Public Enemy was correct, back in the 1980s, when he characterized rap music as black people’s CNN, Ice Cube of NWA was one of its most powerful correspondents:
Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Back in the pre-internet years of the 1980s, the power of privilege might have allowed many of our fellow white citizens to question, doubt, or even deny verbal reports from rappers and others of the institutionalized patterns of racial profiling, harassment, and violence directed against black citizens by law enforcement officers. The power of that privilege might have also allowed them to deny the injustice of a justice system that demonstrates an on-going but historic pattern of failure in indicting, prosecuting, and convicting police officers for their own racially motivated crimes. But the advent of near ubiquitous cell phones with video and audio recording technologies, along with the internet and social media have eroded the privilege of not witnessing (let alone experiencing) the horrors of a law enforcement and criminal justice system that would appear to be directed against black citizens. These new technologies, however, as powerful as they are in bringing us the sounds and sights of the police killing of unarmed black men, women, and children, those sounds and sights alone do not tell the complete story of what is happening.
Part of that story, as told so brilliantly by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, entails a recognition that the violence directed by police and condoned (both actively and passively) by the larger criminal justice system against black citizens is, in part, racially motivated. Not only is it inspired by racism, it also remains largely tolerated and persists due to 1) the remnants of racism still found among the broader population, coupled with the privilege of ignorance that, in turn, affords the privilege of denial that anything is wrong, and 2) the degree to which the state, along with the dominant interests it follows, continue to find utility in racism precisely for policing (in a Foucauldian sense) the larger population as a whole (dividing it, segregating it into disparate groups, isolating them, and setting them against one another).
We might view George Zimmerman as symptomatic of the ties between law enforcement, the courts, and the residual racism from slave-state and apartheid America. Do they not function to maintain certain levels of tension between groups? Zimmerman, of course, was the vigilante gunman who racially profiled, harassed, and eventually killed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in February of 2012. Though local law enforcement there in Sanford, Florida initially released Zimmerman from custody due to the state's “stand your ground” gun laws, he was eventually charged with 2nd degree murder. After months of legal and political turmoil that both outraged and divided the nation, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges in July of 2013. As required by law, audio tapes of the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman, including Zimmerman’s phone calls to Sanford police and a 911 operator in the minutes leading up to that altercation, were released to the public and spread widely across the internet, where the hashtag #blacklivesmatter was born. FoxNews and the ham-handed Republican politicians who helped spawn the Tea Party sided with Zimmerman.
Shortly after Martin’s death, but before Zimmerman’s indictment on 2nd degree murder charges – which didn’t happen until April, Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at a justice rally at a church in Eatonville, Florida. During that speech, Jackson went beyond acknowledging the significance of Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s subsequent release from custody as a moment in the trajectory of race relations in America. He challenged the crowd gathered "How do we go from a moment to a movement that creates fundamental change?" Jackson asked the crowd. "If it's a moment, we go home. If it's a movement, we go to war. Movements are made of serious substance. ... There is power in the blood of the innocent.”
Just over a year after Zimmerman’s acquittal, Michael Brown – another unarmed, black teenager was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, then Eric Garner dies at the hands of police in New York, followed by the killing of Tamir Rice by Cleveland police. Even at the time of writing this call, Korryn Gaines and Paul O’Neal were shot dead by police in Baltimore and Chicago. In light of the massive responses to these killings from its members and their allies across the country, the question of whether Black Lives Matter would become a movement or remain a moment has clearly been decided. Not only have BLM chapters sprung up in communities throughout the United States, the phenomenon has transcended US borders. BLM now has chapters in Canada, Europe, as well as Israel.
But what kind of movement has BLM become? Does the answer to that question differ across the various chapters? What kinds of strengths does BLM have? What kinds of weaknesses? What can be done to make it stronger in the sense of being more effectual in reaching its goals? What are its goals? What issues and challenges confront BLM as it decides those questions. Shouldn’t we all be engaged in that deliberation? Who and what must change to bring an end to racial injustice? In whose hands lies the power to change these things? Upon whom does it depend? How do we broaden the scope and strength of our understandings, network of alliances, and governance? Who will carry the burden of responsibility? Again, the sounds and sights of police killings alone do not tell the complete story of what is happening. We can’t ignore the complexity of the issues at play, which explains the purpose of this call.
We are soliciting articles written as contributions to the above referenced conversation that needs to take place within and around BLM as a movement, as a force driven by significant purpose, the desire to change what is currently happening.
Contributors should know that the editors of this" BLM Issue" of SOJO will solicit contributions from the leadership of Black Lives Matter and other related parties. In issuing this call, we want to advocate for intellectuals, community leaders, and others who make use of their knowledge to help themselves, as well as their audience, better understand the world around them in order for us all to give closer attention to what we are doing, both individually as collectively, as a species.
- Papers should not exceed 8k word limit without consulting with editors.
- APA citation, 12 pt, Times New Roman.
- Papers should be saved as “author last name-name of paper” and saved as doc, docx, or rtf. For example, Beverly-Hands up.docx
- Papers should be submitted to the following email with the name of the file (as above) in the subject heading.
- Completed papers should be emailed by February 1, 2017 to to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- All questions should be submitted to email@example.com.