When it comes to civil rights activism, the thing that confuses/angers me the most is that not everyone is on the same page. Namely, how non-Black and non-PoC individuals are content to drink in the nosebleeds or obstruct passively from the sidelines. And when the field is taken often times it is with a bout of “Whataboutism”.
Whataboutism (a term I heard previously and am not making up) is a tactic that, to me, says “I admit you’re angry, but what about what makes me angry?”, highlighting and elevating the importance of the latter. I have seen it for years and I feel it can be used well. For example, if someone says that the economy is booming and in opposition another were to point out that those with jobs need two or three to scrape by while there are still many out of work and actively seeking employment, that is a solid use. All Lives Matter, conversely, is the embodiment of poor use.
First and foremost, Whataboutism derails, dilutes, distracts, and can wholly undermine a discussion. Unfortunately, it is equally effective as it is lazy. And eventually all energy is removed from the original issue. And yet the funny thing is that often times if the points being discussed are remedied, it will solve all the “What about…” issues too. Present activism wants to see the end to police brutality and, for those that still use unbalanced force, see punishment meted out to the non-compliant. My stake in it may be not seeing any other black men dead, in large part because I’m a black man. But if successful? Police will be held accountable no matter the skin color of their victims. If that becomes a fact that could be trusted, then law enforcement could be trusted by me. But as it stands now, I just don’t.
I recently said publicly to not call the police unless you are willing to have a death on your conscience. I was asked who I would call if someone broke into my house and/or beat me with a baseball bat. And the honest answer is I would call no one. I do not see police as arbiters of law and justice, but only of vengeance. My inability to afford medical treatment is an issue for another time, but related.
On what grounds do I hold such distrust? Relating directly to the above, my childhood home was broken into multiple times. Each time it was a coin toss whether the police would show up or not. How can I trust they will serve me? In this neighborhood I grew up around gangs, wannabes, and other unsavory types. They would regard me, but wouldn’t hassle me. The police have multiple times. And I have seen other people in similar circumstances die. How can I trust that they will protect me?
I want to be clear that this is a matter of distrust, not anger. The police are ultimately not even where I place ultimate blame. I personally and want them to be lawfully held accountable for their actions. A lifetime of scary actions and apathetic inaction culminates into this assessment. I have been the benefactor of some police doing good. But these are anomalies. So I won’t say “all cops are bad”. But there is not enough good being done for me trust them. You never know who is going to deliver your food until they arrive. Likewise, there is no guarantee that I’ll get a “good cop” when I call them. And I won’t know until they arrive. And I would rather trust in me not dying before I even think of calling them. Likewise, addressing social ills is a fearful life when I could end up like Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton, and other Civil Rights activists.
Picture this. If you to family reunions and there is a relative who is a known kleptomaniac, are you going to give them a key and ask them to feed your animals while you’re on vacation, trusting all will be as you left it? Are you even going to mention to them that you’ll be away in the first place? This is how I view police.
Whataboutism In Action
‘George Floyd was killed by police, but what about Daniel Shaver? Where was the outrage for him?!’
Daniel Shaver, the man on his knees in the picture to the right, was killed in 2016 by (then) officer Philip Brailsford. This occurred at a La Quinta Inn in Mesa, Arizona. Law enforcement was called when someone outside saw a man a gun in a window. When the police arrived on the scene, Daniel and a fellow hotel guest were summoned out of his room. You can view the exchange in this video. (Content Warning – Death by Shooting, 4:26) After his death, police found a pellet gun in Daniel’s room. His trade was that of an exterminator, a job for which he traveled, and the gun was used in his line of work. Ultimately only Brailsford was deemed at all accountable. After a convoluted series of bureaucracy, Brailsford was medically discharged resulting him to retain a monthly pension of $2,500. (All information here is via Wikipedia and supported by my own research.)
This image is what got my dander up and has me writing this time. Personally, I did not recognize the picture because at the time I listened to news radio rather than watching any visual media. Even so, during my research for this writing I do remember hearing the name. And that memory did not make me less angry, but more. This is yet another example of police brutality and excessive force resulting in the death of someone who was compliant and wholly innocent of wrongdoing and any malicious intent. I have two problems with the above image.
First, when I see “Where’s the outrage for Victim Z?” I always want to jab back at the posters, re-posters, and people who make these images with “You tell me.” At present, there are international protests and observances for George Floyd (and others recently slain by police in fact), originally spurned on here in the United States by the closest affected community. Black Lives Matter has had the time and unfortunately ample opportunity to become experienced around organizing activism. But I don’t know of an All Lives Matter group. No formal structure, no aims at activism, just contrarian hashtags and soundbites from pundits.
Personally, the story of Daniel Shaver is not “my story”. When I see George Floyd and other black men killed, I see myself. I have been stopped by the police for no discernible reason while approached in a guarded fashion as though I am a proven and imminent threat. The only difference to my stories is that I came out alive, and that was not always certain. It is not hard to translate George Floyd’s story into my realm of experience. Because of this, rallying around a standard in his name is not a leap. It’s more direct. If you’ve ever watched a show and a given sight is overlayed with a characters’ traumatic experience, it’s like that. And if I saw a predominately white and non-PoC group spearheading denouncements of George Floyd’s death I’d be wondering what they’re up to. I do not want to pick up Daniel Shaver’s name and have people wondering what I’m really up to as it would detract from any point(s) I aim to make.
I do not need someone to speak for me regarding my outrage in regards to police brutality. I do not think I need to speak on anyone else’s outrage. I do need help from everyone to fix it. At some point in time, you have to be angry and act on it. The more people that are up in arms the more likely change is to come. But as many are still content to see no dog in the fight, beam in a holier than thou way, or laugh at the libtards then change is a long way off. I am focusing my rage as peaceably and as constructively as I can. This rage has accumulated through my own experiences and the deaths and cruel treatment others have experienced. It spurned me on to write on it even years ago. If Daniel Shaver’s death in 2016 has not inspired you to protest police brutality wherever you find it, what will? I have been told by someone I disagree with recently that we are not that different. And while all I am doing is writing, I am doing something. And in this arena, actions count. I am the outrage that I want to see in the world in response to needless killing.
My second quip is that there were protests in Mesa, Arizona. They did not stick in the national consciousness it would seem, nor did it light a powder keg nationwide. However, representatives of Black Lives Matter reached out to Shaver’s widow. They asked if she would welcome their assistance and, if so, asked how they could help. Thus Black Lives Matter supported organizers of what was dubbed “Rally for Justice”. (Source)
This is what working in alliance should be. We identify when we have the same goals. When concerted efforts will help reach those ends we band together no matter what our individual inciting incidents are. Just because people in the past branded me “black” and you “white” does not mean we’re on separate teams. You don’t need to be black to support Black Lives Matter. Just as I don’t need to be white to be wroth at Daniel Shaver’s death. I, as an American, and living in a climate of fear in this country. You can help change that so that I too can be proud to be an American. And we can do so together once we’ve fixed all the broken pieces of our foundation. Because there are many. It’s a tangled web, and a long fight. But we’ll be better for it.
Get out of the stands and onto the field. There’s room for you. We’ll only win this together.