“Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go!” “No justice, no peace!” “I can’t breathe!” And so went the chants from around 150 Cornell students and faculty as a ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration, sponsored by Cornell’s Black Students United, marched through the Arts Quad and onto Ho Plaza Friday afternoon. The event took place just days after controversial police-involved shootings of black suspects in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The rally began with the reading of names of black people who died in police confrontations. Next came a reading of the seemingly-innocent actions of these people that lead to their fatalities: “reaching for a wallet, sleeping in a car, walking home, playing loud music, playing with a toy gun…these words represent some of the actions that took place before the senseless and unjust murders of innocent black people at the hands of law enforcement in America.” The demands of the BLM movement were then recited, with the most prominent objective being to “end the war on black people in America.”
The march then proceeded down Thurston Avenue and onto the arts quad. Samari Gilbert ’17, President Emeritus of Black Students United, was briefly interviewed and stated that the purpose of the march was to protest and raise awareness about the variety of issues that blacks in America face, especially the “unacceptable murders” at the hands of police. Gilbert, in a very mature manner, also attempted to high-five Review reporters before the interview, calling them a profane name (see video of march).
The protest ended on Ho Plaza with a call to solidarity and victory: “It is our duty to win…we must love each other and support each other…we have nothing left to lose but our chains.”
While there is no problem with supporting interracial and intraracial solidarity, other aspects of the demonstration really leave questions to be answered. For instance, why was so much of this dedicated to an attack on American law enforcement? According to Washington Post statistics, half of fatal police shootings in 2015 involved white perpetrators, while only 26% involved blacks. Of the deaths of “unarmed” individuals, 32 suspects were white and 38 were black; this is not a significant difference, and certainly does not demonstrate a “war on black people” being fought by US police.
The same source also says of unarmed shootings:
The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black victims had reportedly tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer.
Even if several shootings were truly unjustified, the anti-police rhetoric spouted by these protestors only serves to paint them as hypocrites: they want American society to treat them fairly and equally, but refuse to treat fairly the millions of law enforcement personnel who risk their lives daily and do a flawless job of keeping communities safe. If they do not want society to stereotype them and rely on past racial prejudices, then maybe they should obey these principles, halt their own prejudice, and stop stereotyping figures such as law enforcement personnel.
Another sensible move would be to stop using Assata Shakur, a convicted cop-killing terrorist as their role model, as well as praising “protests” such as those in Charlotte (which the students did in their closing speech). The Charlotte riots have already claimed a civilian life and involved the burning and looting that are unfortunately characteristic of those sorts of demonstrations. Praising such violence only further invalidates their legitimacy.
In summary, there is no issue with students exercising their right to protest, and there is no denying that blacks in America certainly do face some unfortunate social injustices. But rather than focusing blame solely on incidents involving law enforcement and holding demonstrations that come off as aggressive and intimidating to bystanders, it would behoove Black Lives Matter activists to instead focus on a wider variety of causes of social disadvantage (to their credit, some of these, such as community investment and economic improvement, are mentioned in their list of demands). They must understand that only through civilized discourse and a shedding of extreme anti-police and anti-societal prejudice will true social progress be achieved.