Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, 2012. Over a year later, Jamie Foxx appeared at the BET Awards in a red t-shirt with the slain teenager’s hooded face. I thought his silent statement was brilliant, so I ordered one and wore it around Jacksonville, hoping to raise awareness and concern about the case. Two weeks later, his murderer was found not guilty of any charges. I tucked my folded t-shirt away and deemed wearing it ineffectual.
Then, Mike Brown was killed by a police officer and left to rot in the street on August 9, 2014. #BlackLivesMatter was active and I’d begun using it, in addition to #MichaelBrown. But the grand jury decided not to indict the officer.
A little over a year passed and Tamir Rice was gunned down by a police officer in a Cleveland park. I created a social media posts and included #BlackLivesMatter and #TamirRice. Later, I found out that Laquan McDonald was killed by a Chicago police officer around the same time, but the video wasn’t released. More posts. More hashtags.
The murders and associated hashtags rolled out quicker than I could grieve: #SayHerName, #JusticeForSandraBland, #BaltimoreUprising, #FreddieGray, #JamarClark, #PhilandoCastile occurred faster than I could post. And I began to wonder if hashtagging was enough. I mean, unarmed black people continued to be murdered whether I tweeted my anger or not.
So, I stopped.
Last month, a video of two white Georgia men seemingly hunting down a black, male jogger surfaced three months after the incident. #AhmaudArbery became popular, and because his birthday was May 8th, supporters ran 2.23 miles and posted #IRunWithAhmaudArbery.
Similar to when I wore my red t-shirt to raise awareness about Trayvon Martin eight years ago, I scrolled and wondered if this was enough to effect change. *Wouldn’t it be just a matter of time before another defenseless black person was killed?
But, what more could I do?
Smith is an advocate of social media activism, but she agreed to provide additional ways that we can all be more active in our communities.
Vote, especially in local elections. Smith says voting is important. I mean we all saw what happened when African Americans rallied around one candidate for the 2008 and 2012 presidential election but voting for president isn’t the only office that’s imperative for our livelihood. Every aspect of American life is, in some way, shaped and governed by who represents us senatorially, congressionally, statewide, and locally. Who becomes sheriff and who is elected judge is important, especially when they are racist, anti-black, or represent racist ideals and can dictate how black citizens are policed.
Unify. Organize with likeminded individuals. Smith says, “Our greatest strength is our unity.” Organizations can be international, like Black Lives Matter, national, like the Players Coalition, or locally affiliated, such as the Color of Change in your city. Check the organization’s About page to see if it is aligned with your own core values. Organizations such as the ones listed are constantly and consistently supporting issues important for communities of black people. If this is where your interests lie, then there’s a place for you to help.
Support local activists. “You don’t have to be on the front line,” says Smith. “That ain’t everybody’s mission.” If you’re aware of an activist group in your area, then reach out to them online. Many times, their website lists ways that you can help. For example, Color of Change in my city is hosting an event to help “women returning to society from incarceration.” They are soliciting people who’d like to be a part of the host committee and all I have to do is complete a form. Perhaps, you don’t have time to devote in person. Smith says we should consider donating money or supplies or watching activists’ children. Connect with them and see what the activist needs.
While social media activism has its merits, such as garnering widespread awareness in a short amount of time, it is also important to be active in the in-between spaces. Voting, unifying, and supporting local activists are three ways to be involved before there’s an issue.
*I wrote this and planned to submit it to another platform a week before George Floyd was killed but held off and wrote Fire, instead. These days, I literally cannot write fast enough to inspire change.
In 1963, Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire (self-immolated) to protest religious oppression in Vietnam. Although the country was at least 70% Buddhist, landowners were Roman Catholic, and so was the president at the time. Subsequently, the president and others had created an environment biased in favor of Catholics, resulting in the oppression of Buddhists. So, Quảng Đức self-immolated (source).
Though, I’d seen photos, I could never imagine the image or smell. I could never imagine wanting justice so bad, that I’d set myself on fire to raise awareness and fight for a cause, yet he and other Buddhists did just that.
I read up on it recently. Apparently, Buddhist weren’t allowed to fly their flag for a religious holiday, while Roman Catholics had donned theirs just days prior. Catholics were being advanced in government and military positions, while Buddhist were not. Roman Catholics were forcing Buddhists to convert to their religion as a requirement for living in Vietnam and as a way to reap equitable benefits (source).
I now understand. Conditions were so deplorable and demeaning for Vietnam Buddhists that they resorted to extreme measures. To make a statement. To announce they weren’t taking the Roman Catholics’ shit anymore. They were over it.
Sounds familiar to me.
Though I would never set fire to anything, I understand. Constantly seeing police, representatives of the American government, murder Black people in the street, in broad daylight, on video, while simultaneously telling Black people when, where, and how to protest or not to protest evokes a sense of helplessness.
We’re told we’re American citizens, yet we don’t receive the benefits of a so-called just system. When cops kill Black people, we watch grand jury after grand jury after grand jury return with a decision to not indict. What’s left to do? To what and whom will the government listen?
Destruction of the system American capitalists hold so dear is what’s left. Burning buildings down, even if they’re in our own community and allegedly for own benefit is what’s left to do. It’s a clear manifestation of the suppressed anger and sadness we’re told to get over and stop harboring. It’s a demonstration of how we feel about being shown that our lives are dispensable.
I hear it clearly. Businesses are expendable. Buildings can be rebuilt. Police cars can be replaced. Similar to Quảng Đức’s self-immolation, protestors want to make a point.
However, there’s this part to consider. Vietnam Buddhists had a five-point plan they wanted enacted. After demonstrating, Buddhists were immediately prepared to ask for change from their government. Six days later, The Joint Communiqué was signed.
So, that’s my suggestion.
Black Americans, including born citizens, naturalized citizens, immigrants, Muslims, Christians, non-Christians, Israelites, and everyone in between need to have one unified voice of a multipoint plan, with oversight…for the entire nation, regardless of location.
Number one on the list should be STOP MURDERING US.
*24 hours after I wrote this, it was alleged that white nationalists infiltrated peaceful demonstrations, with looting and fires (source). Whether this is true or not, I maintain that radical action plus a unified plan has to occur to stop police from killing people who look like me; history has proven these two acts to be effective.