I want to share some thoughts with those who are genuinely curious about why some people are protesting, and why the protests are likely to continue. I met with a friend who happens to be a Trump supporter the other day who said very respectfully, “I wish people would understand that there are legitimate reasons why people vote for Trump.” By the same token, I want to explain to my white or otherwise privileged brothers and sisters that there are legitimate reasons for people to be upset.
The police brutality that has been widely known in minority and poor communities is only recently being recognized in the mainstream. That this is now an issue of national conversation is, in and of itself, a point of progress. However, there are still some people who don’t understand. The cops are a symbol in some ways. When people talk about “not all police…” they miss the point. Yes, not all cops are bad. Not every cop is a corrupt, trigger-happy bully. The point is, one has to recognize that there are whole segments of our population who have never had a reason to be scared of cops. Just as there are people who have never gone hungry before. There’s a level of empathy required to see through the eyes of people who are afraid of cops because of what they have actually experienced. The people of Ferguson did not just imagine that the police were disproportionately cracking down on people of color, or that the justice system was giving them 10-15% higher sentences for the same crimes. Police brutality is not an imagined problem. It is real.
There are clear lines by which people react to these protests. Basically those who see the world through the lens of oppressor and oppressed, and those who are oblivious to it. Those who are ignorant to the oppression that exists in the world counter the protests with arguments aimed at 1) patriotism and 2) respect for the symbols. To those who are not aware of oppression in our world, they see the symbols of a police uniform, the rule of law, the flag, the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and other tools of patriotism as being a single thing. They are a means to unity, an act of respect for or a reminder of our freedom, a symbolic act at a symbolic thing. To those who do are not free, or are otherwise significantly less free, those symbolic acts and symbolic things are only a facade. They are symbolic of something that only exists for a select few. The freedom that the flag represents is a subjective one, experienced by those who rule and those who benefit from the way things are.
There are no patriots among conquered people. One would have to intentionally ignore the political, social, cultural, and economic history of our nation to expect the conquered among us to salute and honor the symbol of our nation. We don’t do this when we peer into the socioeconomic strata of other nations. Imagine if our news media said, “Why are those Russians protesting Putin? They should be grateful for what they have” or some other such bullshit. Again, there are people who recognize the oppression at hand and those who don’t. If you view the world as a meritocracy, free of oppression, totally fair and free, then you will certainly confused by anyone protesting. I invite you to wake up. The world isn’t fair, we are all part of an incredibly oppressive system, and we don’t get by strictly on our merits – no where in the world has that ever been the case.
People protest because they want change. Those who don’t want change (the oppressors and those who benefit from the way the world is) are confused by protests just the same. “We don’t need change,” they say. Police brutality and related issues of oppression are trivial issues to those who aren’t aware of oppression. If you feel that way, I invite you to open your eyes to what your brothers and sisters see. After that hard first step (moving into empathy), please join us in calling for change.