Our Silence Means More Violence: An Open Letter to Fellow White People
26 November 14
ear Fellow White People,
As White people who aren’t seething with racism, we have the duty to show solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision. We have the duty to listen, and not lecture. And we have the duty to speak out just as loudly against police brutality, even if we aren’t the ones who are the most directly affected.
Today, a White police officer kills a Black person every 28 hours. In Utah, police are responsible for more homicides than gangs, drug dealers, and child abusers combined. And the number of Black people killed by police has now outpaced the number of Black people who were lynched during the Jim Crow era (which never really ended, when you consider this statistic). FBI data shows that Black teenagers are three times more likely to be killed by police than White teenagers. In 2012, FBI statistics show police departments claimed “justifiable homicide” 426 times. To compare with another Western nation, police in Germany only fired a total of 85 shots over the course of 2011. Forty of those were warning shots, and only six were fatal. In Japan and the UK, there were zero police killings of civilians that year. The U.S. is far and away the leader in police acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Now, can you start to understand why the Ferguson community is so distraught by the loss of a teenager and the lack of even a show trial for the White police officer who killed him?
But the anger Black America is currently expressing is more than just anger over Michael Brown’s killer walking away unscathed. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was just recently killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed in Detroit by a police officer conducting a raid who accidentally discharged his weapon (the officer, Joseph Weekley, has escaped charges twice). And Black America isn’t just targeted by the police. In the last several years, Black youths were killed by racist vigilantes for playing loud music and wearing hoodies. Only one of those vigilantes was brought to justice, and that was after he was taken to trial for a second time. Darren Wilson’s non-indictment means he won’t even face a trial for firing 12 rounds at an unarmed teenager who was over 100 feet away from him at the time of his death.
As White people, the police treat us very differently. I stole candy from convenience stores as a kid and was never caught, let alone even suspected. But even if I had been caught any of those times, I have the privilege of knowing that because I have blond hair and blue eyes, at the very worst, I would have been required to pay a fine and do community service. I would even be given a second chance and the benefit of the doubt by future employers. And whenever I have encounters with the police and I’m not at a protest, I almost always get away with a warning, no matter how fast I was driving, what time of night it is, or what neighborhood I’m driving in. And if I refuse to consent to a search, the officer respects my assertion of my rights and backs down.
But even White people who commit heinous acts of mass murder were treated better than Michael Brown, who was, at worst, an alleged suspect of petty theft at a convenience store. James Holmes, who killed 12 people in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and wounded many others, surrendered after the act, was brought in peacefully, and got a trial. This is all despite the fact that Holmes had an AR-15 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and had booby-trapped his apartment with deadly explosives. Jared Lee Loughner, the man who killed six people in Arizona and almost killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was also taken alive by police despite his having shot a member of Congress in the head. Now, White people, can you start to understand why Black America is taking to the streets?
Sadly, a large portion of White America has been taken in by the corporate media’s over-hyping of the riots and looting following the grand jury announcement. A lot of you have said, “Why don’t they act more like Martin Luther King,” without taking into account that Martin Luther King was violently killed just the same, and that in 1999, a Memphis jury found local, state, and federal government agencies guilty of a conspiracy to kill Dr. King. Malcolm X was also killed for his beliefs, even as he grew more moderate over time. Medgar Evers was killed in the driveway of his own home, in front of his family, by a White man who wouldn’t face justice for 30 years. The list of slain Black leaders goes on.
Other well-intentioned White people are chastising those who have looted stores, saying corporate property destruction hurts the protesters’ cause, without taking into account that the Boston Tea Party, which led to the bloody revolution that created our Constitution, was, at its core, an act of corporate property destruction. Just as the Boston Tea Party participants did in their day, the people of Ferguson are simply expressing their rage in the only way they have left – by rioting – in the absence of accountable elected officials, a rigged justice system, and a militarized occupying force that terrorizes their neighborhoods and slaughters their children with impunity. White people who don’t understand this have the option of not having to understand this, which defines our privilege.
This week, White families all over America will celebrate a holiday that began with White genocide of Native Americans, and will do so with family members they love and assume they will see again the following year. But the families of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Ramarley Graham, Ezell Ford, and so many others won’t have that privilege. We as White people must acknowledge that the problem of police brutality isn’t just an issue for members of one particular ethnicity to deal with – it’s a human rights issue. The Americans who protested in solidarity with Palestinians who lost lives, families, and homes from the Israeli bombing of Gaza did so regardless of their nationality. And so, White people must protest this week in solidarity with the Black community regardless of our ethnicity. Martin Luther King was right when he said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at email@example.com, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.