This has been a week full of tragedy and grief. Two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, made headlines after they were shot dead by police, and in the middle of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas, Texas, an individual opened fire on police officers, killing five and injuring several more. Now is the time for non-black people, including non-black people of color such as myself, to show up and call for justice in real and tangible ways.
Sterling and Castile's deaths were widely talked about, but the death of Delrawn Small at the hands of an off-duty police officer in Brooklyn was not. Part of dismantling anti-blackness in our communities entails valuing all black lives. In doing this work — which is an ongoing responsibility, not just something that arises on social media after a tragedy — we must ask ourselves several important questions: Are we confronting anti-blackness in our communities whenever we see it, including and especially when it is ourselves, our families, or our friends perpetuating it? Are we working to dismantle structures of oppression and challenge state violence even when there isn't a triggering and traumatic video being circulated? Simply put, are we creating space for black folks and disrupting anti-black racism to the best of our abilities?
There are a number of ways for us to take action, and black individuals should not bear the responsibility of dismantling a system that has never served them. Keep this in mind, though: We all must remember to amplify and highlight the voices of black people who have been doing this work for a long time, and make sure that we are not taking up too much space or speaking over them. The list below is not comprehensive, but it is a place to start if you are looking for ways to actually fight for justice.
Research And Demand Police Accountability
The history of police forces can be traced back to slave patrols in the South that were meant to uphold a certain "economic order." The issue of racist police brutality is therefore inherently systemic, and must be treated as such. Ijeoma Oluo, an Editor at Large for The Establishment, recently sent out a series of tweets that concisely explain how you can demand police accountability in your city.
Oluo is right: People's lives depend on this, so take these steps now to educate yourself and your community and to call for increased accountability. Here are some other things to ask when you're doing this work (Mic's Zak Cheney Rice explains each of these questions more explicitly in the link provided):
- Who is being disproportionately criminalized by certain policies — such as those that pertain to drugs, sex work, and mental health — in your city and state?
- Do police in your city use military equipment?
- Is Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducting raids in your city? How can you keep undocumented members of your community safe?
- Are there community forums in your neighborhood where you can voice dissent?
Listen To And Understand People When They Seek Alternatives To Policing
Once we have acknowledged and accepted the systemically racist history of police, we must be open to the idea that there are alternatives to policing. This doesn't mean community policing or more efforts to build trust between communities and law enforcement — instead, it means looking inward, into our communities, to keep each other safe. When black folks, as well as other marginalized folks, say that they want to see an end to policing, don't react with statements like "not all cops are bad." Instead, think about why they might feel this way. What would it look for people who personally feel safe in the presence of police officers to challenge police violence, and to prioritize turning inward? Police forces were not designed to serve black people or many other marginalized populations, so even if you personally feel as though the police serve you, that doesn't mean you should defend the institution of policing.
The Audre Lorde Project's Safe OUTside the System Collective in Brooklyn is an example of an anti-violence program that encourages community members to turn to one another, rather than to the police, when confronted with crisis situations. Programs like this attempt to foster community wellness and create spaces that are kept safe by community members, rather than by police forces. These alternatives are real, not just idealistic concepts — when people try to explain that they are seeking alternatives to police, listen to them, and think about what you can do to contribute to these alternatives.
Confront Anti-Blackness In Your Communities
This particular point has numerous manifestations. Confronting anti-blackness in your community can look like calling people out when they use the n-word, because that is an act of violence that must not be condoned. It can also look like having tough conversations with your friends and family in ways that are accessible to them, especially if they have not been pushed to think about anti-blackness before. For example, if you hear someone in your community talking about a certain neighborhood using racially coded language like "safe," ask them why they are using that language and push them to question the assumptions they might hold.
This applies to non-black people of color, too — for those of us who come from immigrant communities, for example, we must be mindful about what vocabulary is accessible in these discussions, and think critically about how we can relate a U.S.-based example to what takes place in our home countries. A great example of this is a jargon-free letter that has been crowdsourcing from and circulating in Asian American spaces; it concisely explains why it's important for Asians and Asian Americans to support the #BlackLivesMatter network while remaining as accessible as possible to our families and communities. People can also sign up to serve as translators, to make the letter available in a number of different languages.
These are just a couple examples of what confronting anti-blackness in our communities might look like. An important aspect of this work is to remain self-critical: Even as we call out others for racist or otherwise problematic behavior, we must also unlearn these behaviors ourselves. We are socialized in very specific ways, and a system rooted in anti-blackness causes us to internalize a lot of racist sentiment. It is our responsibility to notice this in ourselves and in our communities, and to actively combat it — not just when a new, triggering video appears online, but on a daily basis.
Operating solely within the system will not yield justice, but it is one way to confront state violence and demand justice and accountability. There are several petitions out there that you can sign for Alton Sterling. There is also a petition on Change.org demanding justice for Philando Castile. These petitions are generally directed toward President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the U.S. Department of Justice. You can sign any or all of these, or start your own petition. It may not seem like much, but it is important to voice solidarity and push lawmakers to reform their policies.
Attend A Vigil Or Protest
A number of vigils and protests have been organized around the country in response to the deaths of Sterling and Castile. The physical occupation of space is a powerful tool when you're demanding justice, and attending one or more of these actions is a valuable way to demonstrate solidarity and make it clear that you will not accept state violence.
However, if you are a white person or non-black person of color, be conscious of how much space you are taking up at these actions. Don't go to a protest searching for ally cookies — it's important to show up and help physically take over a space, but it's still not about you. It can be especially useful for white people to put their bodies on the line to protect and support people of color — particularly during arrest actions — but don't try to take charge of an action or assume you know what's best.
Give Money If You Can
Not everyone has money that they can give, and that is OK. But if you want to do something and you have money that you can give, considering doing so. Here are some possibilities:
- You can donate to organizations that operate nationally to combat police violence and systemic racism.
- You can contribute to a GoFundMe that is raising scholarship money for Sterling's children.
- You can give money to help support Castile's family.
Be Conscious Of Your Social Media Use
It is important to be raising awareness of police violence on social media. However, do so cautiously. Sharing the videos of Sterling's and Castile's deaths, for example, can be extremely triggering for folks, and it also serves to consume black trauma. Considering adding trigger or content warnings to your content to alert people that you're posting something that is potentially triggering. You might also want to show people how to turn off auto-play on Facebook videos: There is an option under Account Settings to disable auto-play altogether. And of course, remember that posting to social media does not cut it if you're trying to create tangible change.
Say Their Names
As Avital Norman Nathman writes on Maximum Middle Age, one final way to actually be an ally and fight back right now is to say the names of the people who have been killed. Humanize them. Celebrate their lives as they would want to be remembered:
Post about them on Facebook or Twitter. Use their names. Use pictures that their family would like you to see, not necessarily the ones that the media is promoting. Remember them as people. As fathers or mothers. As somebody's child, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. As a human being. As a Black person worthy of dignity, respect, and their life that was taken from them far too soon.
That's what we can do.
Rest in power, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We have a responsibility to fight for you, to confront anti-blackness in our communities, and to demand justice and accountability from those who claim to serve us but never have.