The Nobel Prize committee has the chance to signal a better future for a prize with a fraught past.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice — Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. "Letter From Birmingham Jail" 1963
Nominations have been announced for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
Among notable nominees are Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner, politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Depending on your political biases, you likely find at least one of those nominations offensive, though it should be noted that the list of nominees is long, and anyone can be nominated.
In this case, Black Lives Matter was nominated by Petter Eide, a member of Norway's parliament. As for Jared Kushner, he was nominated along with former Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz — the famed Harvard law professor, Trump sycophant, and defense attorney for O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein. Kushner and Berkowitz played central roles in brokering the Abraham Accords declaring, "Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations" between the US, Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE.
The Abraham Accords: The PR of the 'peace deals' | The Listening Post www.youtube.com
At face value many Americans would no doubt see the negotiation of a peace deal as more legitimate grounds for nomination than a protest movement that sparked violent confrontation with police and counter protesters around the country in 2020. And, if we look at the history of the Peace Prize, there is a sense in which they would be right — the prize has often been awarded for superficial diplomatic theater rather than the real and often messy work of addressing injustice.
The Fraught History of the Nobel Peace Prize
In 1928, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg received the prize for getting all the world's major powers to officially, meaninglessly renounce war...shortly before Hitler took power in Germany. Another Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was selected by the Nobel Committee for negotiating a cease fire with Vietnam in 1973 — the same year it was revealed that he had masterminded a secret carpet bombing campaign in Cambodia, which is credited with giving rise to the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
More recently, in 2009, Barack Obama was given the Peace Prize just for being elected president — in a move Obama acknowledged as premature. And in 2020, Donald Trump's son-in-law and his buddy Avi were nominated for the award for arranging "peace" between nations that were never at war — with a substantial arms deal thrown in for good measure.
To put it bluntly, it would make nearly as much sense for Jared Kushner to win the Nobel Peace Prize as it did for a number of other recipients with dubious claims to peace work. By contrast, in 1948 the Nobel committee chose not to award anyone — rather than acknowledge Mohandas Gandhi's work in pushing for Indian independence from Britain.
Historically the committee has often erred on the side of the powerful — rewarding hollow and hypocritical displays of diplomacy over the controversy that tends to arise around grassroots struggles. So while it may be unlikely that Kushner and Berkowitz will receive the peace prize, neither would it really be surprising.
But with Black History Month kicking off, it's worth articulating not just why their diplomacy is underwhelming, but why the Black Lives Matter movement deserves recognition for advancing the global fight against injustice.
No Justice, No Peace
While extensive efforts have been made to paint the Black Lives Matter movement as violent, anti-White, and at the political fringes, in reality it is the largest and most racially diverse protest movement in American history. And considering the thousands of demonstrations that have taken place, involving many millions of individuals, the relative lack of violence from the protesters is much more worthy of note than a handful of dramatic scenes.
Compared to the January 6th Trump rally, where a crowd of around 30,000 spawned a violent insurrection — which was handled with kid gloves by the police and led to five deaths — the 15 million plus who participated in BLM marches in 2020 were remarkably peaceful. The same cannot be said for far too many of police who patrolled those marches and gave proof to the brutality that inspired them.
A compilation of videos that captures how police officers incite violence. How are they responding to protests ag… https://t.co/7rBOh3OHMP— Simran Jeet Singh (@Simran Jeet Singh) 1590893613.0
And though regrettable incidents of arson and violence have undeniably taken place in connection with BLM demonstrations, the alternative was not "peace."
What is often overlooked in discussions of peace is the reality of social and political injustice as among the most prevalent forms of violence on Earth. When millions of people, targeted through no fault of their own, are systemically dehumanized — their lives and their contributions devalued and their opportunities for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness both deliberately and incidentally truncated for centuries — that is violence that destroys lives on another scale altogether.
For Black Americans that obviously means slavery and its aftermath, as well as segregation and the continued legacies of practices like redlining. But it also means a so-called "war on drugs" that treats addiction as a crime rather than an illness and disproportionately targets and locks up Black Americans, depriving too many children of their parents.
It means racist police procedures like Stop and Frisk, as well as the implicit (and often explicit) racial biases of the officers themselves. It means making it nearly impossible for people convicted of felonies within this unjust, racist system to live within the bounds of the law, depriving them — as well as millions of Black Americans who haven't been convicted of anything — of the right to participate in democracy and change the system that treats them so cruelly.
And none of this even covers the immense wealth inequality that makes life harder for almost all Americans — though, again, the harm is leveled disproportionately against Black Americans. All of these ordinary and unacceptable aspects of American life are violence — "the negative peace which is the absence of tension."
They destabilize communities, families, and individual lives. And that violence came to a head in June, following the horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill.
While far from the only evidence of systemic racism in America, the murder of unarmed Black men, women, and children by police and by racist vigilantes who — more often than not — are allowed to walk free, is perhaps its most blatant and disgusting expression.
And the names of the slain — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, too many more to mention — have become rallying cries.
A Black Lives Matter protester carrying a counter protester to safety in London
With all the domestic resistance the protests met from people who insist on spitting "all lives matter!" (as if fighting for the value of Black lives implied otherwise) and "blue lives matter!" (as if the safety of police officers depends on their ability to shoot unarmed Black men, women, and children without consequence), it would be easy to lose sight of how much support the movement has received overseas. While the movement was started in America, the impact has been global.
"Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere"
The reality of living as a dehumanized minority in a bigoted society is sadly all too common in the world. And while not everywhere is as bad in this respect as America, the recognition sparked protests of solidarity and of common cause around the world.
Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Black Lives Matter has continued the fight for America to live up to its promise. Because right now "the land of the free" is home to a carceral state where more people are imprisoned than anywhere else on Earth, and citizens are killed by police at a higher rate than in any comparable nation.
Because the systems that were deliberately set up to keep newly freed Black citizens oppressed following the Civil War were never truly purged — have been covertly bolstered and supplemented ever since.
That is not peace. Only a stable form of violence.
A cartoon from the 1960s My father wasn’t beloved by America. In ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ he responded to 8… https://t.co/ygwaqnWoO9— Be A King (@Be A King) 1611017549.0
In 1964 the Nobel committee opted not to side with power. It was the same year the FBI sent a harassing letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to commit suicide.
He was considered by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — and many others in positions of power within the American government — to be an enemy of the state. There is even reason to believe that these forces were directly involved in his 1968 assassination.
His protest movement was disruptive to the normal order of American life that most white Americans were content to maintain. Many balked at the idea that it could be called peaceful. But the Nobel committee selected him for the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a serious signal that the world was watching how America handled peaceful dissent.
Did that make a difference in passing the voting rights act of 1965? Who can say? But the Nobel committee has a similar opportunity this year.
What Black Lives Matter has been fighting for in recent months is the "positive peace" King spoke of as "the presence of justice." With that in mind — and with some uncertainty remaining as to how a decentralized, leaderless movement of millions can receive an award — the Nobel committee should take seriously the option of selecting Black Lives Matter.
Martin Luther King Jr. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech www.youtube.com
There are no doubt many nominees whom the committee could select for the Peace Prize — including Jared Kushner. And some who would even be worthy — including Stacey Abrams.
But the significance of acknowledging a grassroots fight for justice that was centuries in the making (in a nation which — for all its flaws — continues to shape culture around the world) is too powerful to deny.
In February we celebrate Black History Month in America.
For the entire month, we commemorate the vast contributions from Black people who have impacted society here and abroad. After all, we are responsible for countless inventions and innovations in art, science, athletics, business, and activism, contributions that often get overlooked because of our country's pervasive legacy of racism.
Black History Month may also be the only annual instance that this country comes close to acknowledging its racist heritage. The brilliance that Blackness has provided modern-day society is, unfortunately, also rooted in hatred and exclusion.
Recognizing the creations shaped by the hands of Black people means examining the oppressive infrastructures that sparked their genius. One of those infrastructures is slavery.
The mention of slavery prompts various reactions amongst white people. Some declare it to be our country's greatest shame, while others act as if it never happened. If the latter admits to its existence, it's to admonish others for "living in the past."
The celebration of Black History Month and the acknowledgment of slavery go hand in hand. Although a vast majority of Black History itself isn't a direct result of slavery, its ramifications are certainly a factor.
For instance, Martin Luther King Jr'.s vaunted legacy hinges upon his fight against racism and segregation. His peaceful marches and resounding speeches became the introduction to Black History and the Civil Rights Movement for most children in elementary schools across the country.
King is a lauded American hero for his fortitude. But his battle with a racist system is often romanticized. His reimagining sees him as a man standing up for his beliefs instead of a victim of a hateful construct who was forced to rise up against his oppressors.
The irony resides in Black people being labeled as world-changers and trailblazers in the eyes of history but only being allowed to access a small portion of it in order to apply their craft.
Similarly, Black people becoming a dominant force in sports and entertainment hasn't been without their share of obstacles. Unlike today where they have access to a worldwide audience to entertain, Black musicians and athletes' sole audiences used to be people who looked like them.
Sports pioneer Jackie Robinson made history as the first Black man to play professional baseball. His breaking of the color barrier instituted a new day in American sports, but the country's prejudicial temperament remained the same. Robison received death threats from angry white fans, players, and even owners.
Furthermore, musicians like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, who are pioneers of Rock and Roll, are credited with inspiring The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. But during the '50s, their sound was classified as "race music." Conversely, that same "race music" was acceptable when taken and repurposed by white artists.
They and others like them persevered in the face of adversity to open doors for Black people today. Their struggles are reminders of the resiliency of Black people that changed the world and the unnecessary roadblocks they had to overcome to do so.
Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry
The observance of Black History Month in today's racial climate in America feels insincere. When entities are dedicated to oppression the other 11 months of the year, it's hard to believe their calls for racial unity in February
We voice our grievances about the government and law enforcement's wanton negligence daily, only to hear how stuck in the past we are as a race. Yet, that same past is responsible for the evolution of civilization as we know it today. Without Black people, America would not be the culturally rich place it is today.
Still, many feel sentiments like "Black Lives Matter" are radical movements, when in actuality they are an ever-present reminder of the conditions Black people had to navigate to pull off these incredible feats.
America cannot sincerely immerse itself in the celebration of Black History Month until it confronts its history. Racism is the beating heart beneath the floorboards of privilege. But as the beating grows louder, our country continues to disregard its pulse.
So much of Angela Davis's work is still relevant and urgent now
When you think of the Black Panther Party or Black women revolutionaries, one of the images that likely comes to mind is of Angela Davis and her giant, unapologetic afro, fist raised to the sky.
One of the foremost activists and revolutionaries of the time, Angela Davis is a blueprint for race theory and radical politics. Long before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality," Angela Davis was living it.
An activist during the concurrent Civil Rights Movement and the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and '70s, Davis made no compromises in her rhetoric for gender or racial equality. Her ideologies were also informed by Marxist analysis and fervent belief in the interlinked oppression of race, gender, and class as a product of capitalism.
Almost 60 years later, the same fight remains and Davis is still at the forefront. Her work, from her speeches to her books, are similarly potent sources of theory and inspiration. It's safe to say that Angela Davis should be required reading — not just as a resource for anti racism work, but just as a model of how to live.
Since so much of her work is still relevant and urgent now, here are some of the most resonant quotes for our current age and why they still matter today.
After four years of reversing Obama-era policies, empowering white supremacy, and allowing the coronavirus to kill more than 200,000 Americans—a disproportionate amount of them Black—Trump is finally attempting to reach out to Black voters weeks before the election.
Ice Cube and Lil Wayne's ability to ignore all of the damage the Trump administration has done is a sharp reminder of not only class solidarity among the super-wealthy, but also the power disparity between white and Black people.
During the last few weeks of the 2020 election, the Trump campaign spent over $20 million on a last-minute grasp for Black voters. Part of this effort involved reaching out to Black celebrities like Ice Cube and Lil Wayne and unveiling what the administration called "The Platinum Plan," a part of Trump's second term strategy that would empower Black Americans by increasing "access to capital in black communities by almost $500 billion."
The plan also lists "Access to better education and job training opportunities" and "Safe Urban Neighborhoods with Highest Policing Standards," both of which implies some acknowledgment of the issues Black Americans face every day. But given Trump's stance on the Black Lives Matter movement, these promises ring hollow.
Ice Cube and Lil Wayne's willingness to associate with the Trump Administration is admirable if you consider their efforts attempts to insulate their communities against the possibility of a Trump victory in the 2020 election, but the promises Trump is making them are vague at best and hypocritical at worst.
After four years of reversing Obama-era policies, empowering white supremacy, and allowing the Coronavirus to kill more than 200,000 Americans—a disproportionate amount of them Black—Trump is finally attempting to reach out to Black voters weeks before the election. The amount of ignorance required to ignore all of that, when it's written on the page, is astronomical.
Ice Cube and Lil Wayne may have their own reasons for supporting Trump, but their ability to be independent comes from their wealth. They are allowed to choose sides because they are rich and are insulated from the consequences of the political world, while their Blackness gives them ties to communities that they have the ability to leave because they are rich.
In 2016, Ice Cube said during an interview with Bloomberg, "Do I think he's gonna do anything to help poor people or people that's struggling? No, because he's a rich white guy. He's always been rich, being rich don't make you bad, I ain't saying that. But I'm just saying, how can he relate?"
Uh oh. I have a sneaky suspicion that Donald Trump might win the demographic of wealthy Black male rappers who don'… https://t.co/e2QTZ3i9KX— Keith Boykin (@Keith Boykin) 1604012122.0
This sentiment isn't too far from the mark. It's worth remembering that Ice Cube is a millionaire himself—a millionaire who is allowed to posture as a community leader due to his fame. The Blackness and wealth that these celebrities possess make them indispensable assets for people in positions of white power.
In American politics, Black people have been offered a choice between voting for a party that allies itself with their oppression and a party that promises to oppress them less. Reasonably, many have just opted to not participate.
But Ice Cube's alignment with Trump will not persuade people to vote. In fact, it may just persuade more people not to vote, as they see a rich Black man whose wealth and fame has given him the opportunity to stand side by side with white power be won over by some hollow words on a sheet of paper.
The thing that uniquely places all Black Americans into a community is that they are pinned under the same thumb. They have fewer opportunities for upward movement, and the opportunities at the bottom of the ladder don't pay enough to move up that ladder. They are killed disproportionately by their supposed protectors. Lil Wayne and Ice Cube are insulated from, not immune to, these facts because of their exorbitant wealth.
Ice cube is Black to everyone, a fact that overwrites his wealth. He, Lil Wayne and anyone else who falls under this umbrella can always have their wealth disregarded by whiteness, so in order to be validated in their accomplishments, they often associate with whiteness.
Still, their very real wealth fundamentally separates them from the middle and lower class Black people that they seek to represent.
A lot of energy being spent on telling me to stay in my lane. Zero energy spent on telling Biden/Harris they need t… https://t.co/ObBkGOUFNd— Ice Cube (@Ice Cube) 1602949504.0
Every side is the Darkside for us here in America. They’re all the same until something changes for us. They all li… https://t.co/aa2hg4iT6N— Ice Cube (@Ice Cube) 1602709073.0
Join the fight for change.
From climate change to the prison industrial complex to the fact that billionaires exist while other people starve, the world's problems can feel overwhelming.
But the truth is that change starts with one small step, and you don't have to quit your day job in order to maximize your impact in the realm of social change. The truth is, if everyone dedicated some time each day to working on social change, the world would probably be a very different place. Here are seven ways you can help the world this week.
In a year marked by multiple consecutive crises, climate change remains more relevant than you may think.
2020 is a cursed year.
Unless you live under a rock, or you're Jeff Bezos, you're probably suffering from crisis overload. COVID-19 has killed over 160,000 Americans to date, and millions are still without jobs. The nationwide protests against police brutality have brought into sharp relief the racism endemic in our policing and in our society at large. We're worried about our safety and the safety of our families, about job security, or about how we're going to pay rent this month. With the election just months away, we're worried about the state of our democracy and whether it will withstand forces that threaten to dismantle it.
Remember climate change? If it's recently taken up less of your emotional real estate than it did in, say, February, I don't blame you. There's only so much crisis a person can take at one time. But unfortunately, despite whatever else is going on in the world, climate change continues its steady march toward the point of no return, which scientists say is about 15 years out.
Even though 15 years may as well be 15 centuries compared to the immediacy with which coronavirus has ravaged our country, there has never been a more urgent moment—nor a clearer opportunity—to fight for the radical climate reform necessary to combat it. But the window is small, and if we miss it, we may not get a better chance until it is too late.
Climate change in the 2020s: What impacts to expect youtu.be
For one, even though the past few months have shown a decrease in global carbon emissions, this is only a temporary effect of shuttered international borders and widespread economic shutdown. It's no victory, in other words.
In fact, this pandemic has given President Trump ample opportunity to ramp up the reversal of Obama-era environmental regulations in the name of restoring the economy. While we were distracted by his suggestion that injecting bleach could cure coronavirus, or that having his face carved in Mount Rushmore would be a "good idea," he was busy rolling back the crucial National Environmental Policy Act, which will accelerate federal approval for new power plants and pipelines. More recently, he lifted regulations on methane emissions.
His timing is as ironic as it is startling, given the fact that COVID is a respiratory disease. One study found that a person living in an area with high air pollution is 15 percent more likely to die from coronavirus than someone living in a less polluted area. It's well documented that Black Americans live disproportionately in high-polluted areas and also that they are more likely than whites to be essential workers. Taken together, these facts explain why Black individuals are about three times as likely to contract coronavirus as white people and about twice as likely to die from the infection.
Meanwhile, America's billionaires have profited over $600 billion since the start of the pandemic. Data shows that climate change follows the same trend, but on a global scale: The world's richest countries, the ones responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases, have become about 10 percent richer as a result of global warming, whereas the world's poorest—the ones that contribute to the problem the least yet are hit hardest by the results—have seen their wealth decrease by 17-31 percent.
Many people make the mistake of believing that climate change is a purely scientific problem, but it is a deeply social one too. This pandemic has pulled back the curtain not only on inequalities that fuel our economy and systemic disregard for Black lives, but also how vastly unprepared we are to deal with disaster—disaster of the sort that, if climate change progresses unchecked, promises to become increasingly frequent and increasingly destructive, especially for BIPOC and low-income communities.
This is why the best proposals for combatting climate change go further and deeper than simply regulating carbon emissions (though that is paramount). Climate change touches American lives in many complex ways and requires an accordingly complex solution. For example, The Green New Deal—a nonbinding resolution spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ed Markey of Massachusetts—tackles unemployment, systemic racism, and healthcare on top of a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
Past attempts at curbing carbon emissions have been largely unsuccessful due to lack of adequate public demand, a deep partisan divide that has pitted the health of humanity against the health of the economy (sound familiar?), and because of a few powerful oil companies with tentacles in Washington. But maybe, most crucially, these prior efforts to combat climate change have failed because we've never gotten the timing right.
The kinds of sweeping changes to our social and economic landscape that climate change requires don't happen when things are, ostensibly, going just fine. Our country's most radical policies were passed in the wake of devastation or of social unrest. Why should this moment be an exception?
While we're in the process of writing our new normal, we can't forget about climate change. The fight for climate justice is the fight for Black lives, is the fight for guaranteed healthcare, is the fight for a country that protects its citizens before it protects private industry. If the human toll of COVID-19 hasn't made clear why these things are necessary, I'm not sure anything will.
How do you fall back on your "Well they shouldn't commit crimes!" argument now?
It was recently announced that the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 while in police custody, will be reexamined by Colorado Officials.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis personally announced that his administration will reexamine the case. The governor wrote on Twitter, "a fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical." Polis added that he is having lawyers "examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps."
Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective p… https://t.co/vGdBthXcQc— Governor Jared Polis (@Governor Jared Polis) 1593032085.0
Undoubtedly, Gov. Polis was influenced by a petition, signed by over 2 million people, that urged him to reopen the case of Elijah McClain, who died after being put in a chokehold by police in a Denver suburb. McClain's case has been the subject of renewed outrage since the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others; which were instrumental in sparking wide-spread protests against racist police brutality.
The facts surrounding Elijah McClain's death
On August 24, 2019, McClain was on his way home from a convenience store. He was wearing a ski mask, something his sister later told ABC affiliate, Denver7 that he often did because he "had anemia and would sometimes get cold." He had gone to the convenience store to buy his brother an iced tea.
Soon, McClain was stopped by three white officers because a 911 caller described a "suspicious person" in a face covering "waving their arms around." According to McClain's family, it was likely he was dancing to the music in his headphones, something he often did.
According to CNN, the police report said that McClain resisted officer contact and a struggle ensued. The audio from one of the officer's body cams depicts McClain clearly pleading with the officers, saying, "I'm an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking." He goes on to say that he was trying to stop his music to listen to them, and they promptly start to arrest him. One officer is heard telling another, "He just grabbed your gun, dude."
The full audio of McClain's arrest and subsequent murder can be listened to below. The transcript is as follows:
"I can't breathe. I have my ID right here... My name is Elijah McClain. That's my house. I was just going home. I'm an introvert. I'm just different. That's all. I'm so sorry. I have no gun. I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don't even kill flies. I don't eat meat. But I don't judge people, I don't judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better... I will do it... I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I'll do it. I'll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I'm a mood Gemini. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work."
In the video, McClain can be heard sobbing, vomiting, and then saying: "Oh, I'm sorry I wasn't trying to do that. I just can't breathe correctly." You can also hear one of the officers threaten to bring a police dog over to him and bite him for "messing around."
Later in the footage, one officer can also be heard admitting McClain had done nothing illegal.
Body Worn Camera Regarding the In-Custody Death of Elijah McClain youtu.be
As McClain sobbed, one of the officers put him in a carotid hold, or chokehold, and he briefly lost consciousness, according to an overview of the incident provided by police. Soon, paramedics arrived and administered ketamine to sedate McClain, according to the report. McClain then suffered a heart attack while in the ambulance and was taken off life support three days later. His family said at the time that he was covered in bruises.
The officers involved were cleared of all wrongdoing
After McClain's death, the Adams County district attorney, Dave Young, declined to file criminal charges against the officers involved, though they were placed on administrative leave briefly before being reinstated. In February 2020, a police review board declared, "[t]he force applied during the altercation to include the carotid control hold and the force applied during the altercation was within policy and consistent with training."
Additionally, in a coroner's report Forensic Pathology Consultant Dr. Stephen Cina was unable to definitively explain McClain's cause of death. Cina said that "the manner of death may be accident if it was an idiosyncratic drug reaction. It may be natural if [McClain] had an undiagnosed mental illness that led to excited delirium, if his intense physical exertion combined with a narrow coronary artery led to an arrhythmia, if he had an asthma attack, or if he aspirated vomit while restrained."
He continued, writing that Mcclain's death, "may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death (e.g. carotid control hold led to stimulation of the carotid sinus resulting in an arrhythmia)."
When CNN asked DA Young about the recent tidal wave of support for the reopening of McClain's case, Young said, "we've got to have the evidence ... so the petitions, the emails, the voicemails and Facebook attacks to me, my family, everyone else expressing their opinions ... is not evidence." Young added that he doesn't "condone the actions of the officers. I think they could've done things differently."
Who was Elijah McClain?
Since his death, Elijah has been described by family and friends alike as an "angel." He worked as a massage therapist, and seemed to be universally beloved by his coworkers and clients.
According to CBSN Denver, his mother, Sheneen McClain, described her son as life-giving. "I thank God that he was my son because just him being born brought life into my world, you know what I mean?" she said. "I know he was giving life to other people too.
According to the Sentinel, Eric Behrens, a friend of McClain's, said, "I don't even think he would set a mouse trap if there was a rodent problem."
A former client and friend of McClain, Marna Arnett, reportedly said he, "Was the sweetest, purest person I have ever met," She added, "He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness." Arnett also mentioned McClain's social anxiety to reporters, attributing his frequent mask wearing to both his anemia and a desire to create a separation from the world. "He would hide behind that mask," Arnett said. "It was protection for him, too. It made him more comfortable being in the outside world."
One of the most frequent anecdotes mentioned on social media about McClain is the fact that he often used his lunch breaks to play the violin for the dogs and cats in a nearby animal shelter, believing the music helped to calm them.
Elijah McClain playing the violin for cats
The more you read about McClain, the more obvious it becomes that he was a gentle young man, often anxious, but eager to love and be loved. The more you read about McClain, the more heart-wrenching his death becomes. Why? Because he didn't deserve it. Because he was a good guy who didn't commit a crime.
His supposed resistance was likely just the result of the extreme anxiety that would likely overtake most of us in that situation—particularly a young Black man; particularly a person who clearly already struggled with anxiety. The case of Elijah McClain makes white people particularly uncomfortable, because they can't justify it.
Why "All Lives Matter" people aren't sure what to say about Elijah McClain
"George Floyd was using counterfeit money," they argue. "The police had to restrain him!"
"Well, sure, Breonna Taylor was sleeping, but her boyfriend pulled a gun! The cops had to shoot!"
These are common tactics conservative white people use to deny the pandemic of racist police violence in America. Arguments like "Well, he shouldn't have committed a crime, then!" have long followed in the wake of anger over the death of a Black person at the hands of the police.
Even more common, white people comfortable with the status quo tend to talk about all the past transgressions of the Black victim in question, or use language to conjure images of a threatening individual, as if that justifies the police's behavior.
This line of thinking has become so prominent, that doctors CalvinJohn Smiley and David Fukunle conducted a 2016 study on the topic entitled "From 'Brute' to 'Thug:' the Demonization and Criminalization of Unarmed Black Male Victims in America". The study sought to investigate, "The historical criminalization of Black males and its connection to contemporary unarmed victims of law enforcement. And "to interpret how Black male victims are portrayed by traditional mass media, particularly through the use of language, in ways that marginalize and de-victimize these individuals."
Smiley and Fakunle found ample evidence that Eric Garner, a Black man killed by police officers in 2014 for selling cigarettes, was (posthumously) routinely characterized in the media as physically imposing (Garner was 350 lbs), unhealthy (Garner had a history of asthma), and inherently criminal.
They write, "The prominent references related to Mr. Garner's physical attributes were micro-invalidations and micro-insults regarding his behavior at the time of his death, which involved Garner vehemently defending his role in breaking up an altercation. Additionally were the micro-invalidations related to his past actions and lifestyle. This included criminality and the perception of being a 'hustler' due to his propensity to sell single cigarettes, which is illegal yet not a felony in New York."
Essentially, white people who lean towards the "all lives matter" argument are quick to brush off the discomfort that racist police violence forces them to feel. They do so by justifying a Black victim's death. This is often done by finding a reason the victim "deserved" to die, or finding reasons to excuse the police officer's actions.
In the case of Elijah McClain, this kind of justification is almost impossible. McClain was gentle and physically small, had a good job, was possibly neurodivergent, had no criminal history, and was literally just walking home from the store. The audio of his last moments depict a person trying desperately not to offend anyone, even in that dire and unjust situation.
If your argument in the past has been, "Well he just should have complied with the police officers and shown them the respect they deserve," then how do you reckon with the fact that some of McClain's last words were, "All I was trying to do was become better... I will do it... I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I'll do it. I'll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me."
His fear is palpable in the audio recording, as is his aggressor's brutality. Elijah McClain's murder cannot be explained away as anything other than a moment of racist abuse of power with deadly consequences.
Guilty people don't deserve to die either
The discomfort and reckoning that Elijah McClain's case has brought up in white people (specifically those who have been trying desperately to pretend that the police are a necessary force for good) can only be productive. But that's not to say that there is anything acceptable about justifying a person's murder at the hands of the police because of past criminality or any other factor beyond a clear and imminent deadly threat.
If Elijah McClain HAD committed a crime, it still wouldn't be justifiable that he died at the hands of the police. We have a system in place for assigning punishment to those who commit crimes. It's a deeply flawed system, but it at least affords people the right to a trial before they are sentenced. It is not the role of the police to kill—not even the guilty.
If McClain's story is making you uncomfortable because he was so obviously "one of the good ones" or because you can't explain away the police officer's actions, perhaps now is a good time for you to question your view of justice. Why do you think past crimes justify someone's death? Why do you think a police officer who "feels in danger" has the right to murder someone?
For that matter, why do you think any crime justifies someone's death? Have you ever stolen something small from a store? Has your child or loved one? Do you think they would deserve to die for that crime?
If we're going to put an end to America's decades-long history of police brutality, we're going to have to collectively rethink our culture of retributive justice. While Elijah McClain certainly didn't deserve to die, neither did the thousands of Black people—guilty of a crime or not—who have lost their lives to the brutality of the American justice system.
Elijah McClain's death should make you uncomfortable, but so should every other death at the hands of American policing.
Support the Movement for Black Lives.
On June 19, 1865, a Union edict announced that all slaves in Texas were free.
Now, June 19th is known as Juneteenth (or Jubilee Day or Freedom Day). It's an official celebration of the end of slavery. This year, Juneteenth is falling in the midst of a massive revolutionary Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted following the recent death of George Floyd but which is an extension of the Civil Rights movement and a reaction to 400 years of Black oppression in America.
"Juneteenth (June 19th) is a day that honors Black freedom and Black resistance, and centers Black people's unique contribution to the struggle for justice in the U.S.," writes the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). "This Juneteenth is a rare moment for our communities to proclaim in one voice that Black Lives Matter, and that we won't tolerate anything less than justice for all our people."
The movement, which is organizing many of the larger demands shared by the major Justice for George Floyd protests happening around the nation, is planning a massive mobilization on June 19th and the following weekend. They're offering many ways for people to get involved, whether in-person or behind the scenes.
Salau is one of multiple Black people killed following the murder of George Floyd.
In the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the list of lost demonstrators is growing.
This weekend, Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salau was found dead in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fl. at just 19 years old. This follows the recent loss of Black transgender man named Tony McDade, who was murdered by Tallahassee police. A suspect has been taken into custody surrounding the death, but friends of Salau say there's much more to the story.
Sources close to Salau say she was a victim of sex trafficking near Florida A&M University. The afternoon she went missing, she tweeted that a man assaulted her, having offered to take her to a church.
"He came disguised as a man of God and ended up picking me up from nearby Saxon Street," Salau tweeted, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. "I trusted the holy spirit to keep me safe."
Salau said she had also been sexually assaulted a few days before she'd gone missing and contacted police. Ashley Laurent, a friend of Salau's, said a police officer told them more evidence was needed to pursue an investigation. This has prompted people online to condemn the Tallahassee police for their mistreatment of both McDade and Salau.
Sign a petition to demand justice for Salau here.
RIP to 19 year old activist Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau. 🙏🏾 She was found dead after detailing a sexual assault and b… https://t.co/mA38X85nal— 247 Live Culture (@247 Live Culture) 1592199343.0
Three months later with no justice in sight, Beyoncé calls out the Kentucky authorities for their lack of action.
One of 2020's defining features as an alternate reality is that celebrities are leading the fight for social justice, from Kim Kardashian lobbying for prison reform to Britney Spears being a socialist hero.
On Sunday, Beyoncé posted an open letter to Kentucky's Attorney General Daniel Cameron imploring him to press criminal charges against three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
In the three months since Taylor's death, no actions have been taken. "LMPD's investigations have created more questions than answers," the singer writes. She demands that Cameron create more transparency in the investigation of the incident and prosecute the officers' misconduct, as well as the police force's "pervasive practices that result in the repeated deaths of unarmed Black citizens."
"Don't let this case fall into the pattern of no action after a terrible tragedy," she writes. "With every death of a Black person at the hands of the police there are two real tragedies: the death itself and the inaction and delays that follow it. This is your chance to end that pattern. Take swift and decisive action in charging the officers. The next months can not look like the last three."
Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her bed on March 13 when three armed police officers used a battering ram to enter her apartment to execute a "no-knock" warrant as part of a drug investigation. Taylor was shot at least eight times. The details of the event are hotly disputed, with claims that the officers did not identify themselves and executed the raid despite already having the main suspect of their investigation in custody. Taylor's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit but continues to await justice.
The family publicly thanked Beyoncé in a statement issued by their attorney. "It has been more than three months since Breonna was murdered. Her killers are still in uniform. Meanwhile, Atlanta's mayor yesterday called for immediate termination of the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, and criminal charges have been filed against police in Minnesota and Georgia. Here, we cannot even see an investigative file," they wrote.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Attorney General's office has merely acknowledged the letter and refused to comment. In a Sunday night statement, they told CNN, "We are aware of the letter. As the letter makes requests related to the ongoing investigation involving the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor, we have no further comment."