On Tuesday, Americans throughout the country bore witness to yet another incident of lethal violence on the part of a police officer. And this time, like so many before, it was fatal — 37-year-old Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was shot and killed by members of his local police department as, according to Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, "Sterling was armed, and the altercation ensued that resulted in the loss of his life." But some shocking and upsetting bystander video of the incident has spurred immense public outcry, showing Sterling killed by gunshot at virtually point-blank range. In short, if you're looking for a way to help Alton Sterling's family in this horrible moment, here's one that anybody can do, regardless of their financial situation: Don't stop talking about his death, or those of others killed by the police.
If you're passionate and driven by issues of police violence, institutional racism, and the state of black life in America, one of the most valuable things you can do at a time like this is to firmly insist on bringing this issue up — to your friends, your family, and your loved ones (especially if they're white, since the racial divide on these issues, depressingly, continues to be miles wide).
Because it's not just about Alton Sterling — it's about him, and so many other names that came before, like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Kajieme Powell, Miriam Carey, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, and Yvette Smith. And while protest and advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter have endeavored to keep the national focus on such incidents, it's still painfully easy — whether by fatigue, distraction, or genuine bad-faith — for the nation to neglect all this suffering.
It's obvious that there's a desire on the part of many white Americans to avoid or ignore the intersecting factors of white supremacy, police supremacy, and the incredibly lax laws and legal precedents surrounding lethal use of force. In fact, as Fusion noted on Tuesday, recent Pew polling found that a third of white Americans believe racism has become worse during (and perhaps because of) the Obama presidency, which gives a pretty crystal-clear indication of just how far we have to go. Another case in point: The petitions that have circulated since the BET Awards last week, calling for actor Jesse Williams to be fired from Grey's Anatomy for his unapologetic, morally forceful statements on police violence against black people.
Simply put, in this particular civil rights struggle, awareness and constancy is hugely important — if you give people the choice to look away from incidents of racist police violence and go back to their lives, especially if they're so privileged that they'll never have to encounter it personally, they probably will.
That absolutely doesn't mean you should be splashing videos of black Americans being killed on your Twitter and Facebook feeds all willy-nilly, to be clear — that can be a traumatic and desensitizing experience for people who have or could be victimized in such a way, and it turns what should be moments of tragedy, anger, protest and political action into a sort of grisly public ritual.
But you should do this: Learn the names, the facts, and the history, and if you hear somebody say something ignorant, evasive, or bad-faith — maybe the old black-on-black crime canard, or some other racially inflammatory derailing tactic — don't let it slide. Call it out. Especially if you're white, and thus possess all the privilege that comes with it. It may not always be comfortable, but ultimately, the country and the world will be a little bit better for it.
Image: Bustle/Caroline Wurtzel