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.
Police sergeant Jonathan Mattingly is suing Kenneth Walker for allegedly shooting him in the leg the night of Breonna Taylor's tragic death.
In the latest disturbing addition to the tragic killing of Breonna Taylor, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly of the Louisville Police filed suit this week against Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
Sergeant Mattingly's suit comes weeks after Kenneth Walker filed a lawsuit against the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department alleging assault, malicious prosecution, and negligence, among other charges related to the night police killed 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor.
Louisville police officer sues Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, for emotional distress www.youtube.com
The Killing of Breonna Taylor
It was mid-March, after midnight in Louisville Kentucky, when Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker heard a loud banging at her apartment door.
Walker reports that Taylor called out, "Who is it?" to no response, at which point Walker armed himself with his licensed 9mm handgun. An initial "no-knock" warrant—issued on the basis that Taylor's ex-boyfriend, alleged drug dealer Jamarcus Glover—had received a package there, had been revised to require officers to knock at the door and announce their presence.
But witnesses disagree about whether three white narcotics officers dressed in plain clothes announced themselves as police at all—most asserting that they heard no announcement at all. If officers did announce themselves, it seems it was only in passing.
The officers then took a battering ram to the apartment door, knocking it loose from its hinges, and prompting Kenneth Walker to fire a single warning shot at the unknown intruders. Again, there are conflicting reports about whether that warning shot struck Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh, or if his injury may have come from another weapon entirely. In either case, it was then that the officers opened fire.
No effort was made to communicate with the shooter or determine whether there were bystanders inside before officers sent 32 rounds into Breonna Taylor's apartment.
At least five of those bullets struck Taylor, mortally wounding her. Three others entered the home of a neighboring white family, and two went through the ceiling into the home of the Black family that lived above Taylor.
Kenneth Walker called 911 to report that people had broken into their apartment and shot his girlfriend. He was uninjured, and taken in on charges of attempted murder for the single shot he fired in a clear case of self defense. Those charges were later dropped amid public outcry.
When charges of wanton endangerment were finally brought against one of the officers—Detective Brett Hankison—it was for the three bullets that penetrated the white family's home. No charges were brought in connection with Taylor's death or the endangerment of her upstairs neighbors.
Two anonymous members of the grand jury tasked with assessing charges in the case have since come forward with reports that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron did not present the full evidence regarding homicide charges.
One grand juror claims that AG Cameron used them as a shield to avoid taking responsibility in a controversial case that has become a point of focus for the Black Lives Matter movement. As a result, Cameron has sought to prevent grand jurors from speaking publicly on the case.
Incompetence Without Malice?
As disturbing as those facts are on their own, they do not touch the full evil of the case. It's possible to interpret the events as related as a result of gross incompetence without malice, and an effort to protect officers and other state officials from the repercussions of their tragic negligence.
If that was the entirety of the injustice involved, it would be a strong argument for serious reform of both police practices—defunding and disarming could be a good start—and the systems that are supposedly intended to hold officers accountable.
It would further highlight the systemic lack of concern for Black Americans made to contend with a "justice" system that brutalizes them. But it would not necessarily point to any of the individuals involved as heartless or intentionally cruel.
Should police respond to a warning shot from an unseen source by firing recklessly through doors and windows into rooms they can't see? Obviously not. But natural fear, combined with insufficient training, are enough to explain that. Even Walker's arrest could be attributed to confusion and uncertainty of that night, before the evidence made it clear that he had only acted in self-defence.
As for the lack of accountability for those involved, cowardice and cronyism cover that. Detective Hankison—implicated in unrelated sexual assault allegations—was selected as the scape goat, and the others were protected.
The human failings involved are deeply depressing, but they can all exist without ill will or inhumanity. It's only with the addition of this latest civil suit from Sergeant Mattingly that any gray area is left behind.
Standards of Decency and Morality
The suit seems to be a clear response to Walker's case, which accuses the police department of gross misconduct and asserts that ballistic evidence points to another police weapon as the source of Mattingly's injury.
In a statement on his suit against the LMPD, Walker said, "The charges brought against me were meant to silence me and cover up Breonna's murder." As if attempting to prove his point for him, Mattingly is now suing Walker for "severe trauma, mental anguish, and emotional distress," allegedly caused by Walker shooting him in the leg.
Worse still, the lawsuit insists that Walker's use of a legally-owned firearm against unknown individuals forcing entry into his home is "outrageous, intolerable, and offends all accepted standards of decency and morality."
Even if Mattingly fully believes—against the evidence—that Kenneth Walker knew he was firing on police officers, the idea of characterizing himself as the aggrieved party is horrifying.
What we need to understand here is that while Breonna Taylor was murdered, and Kenneth Walker watched the love of h… https://t.co/jvK3wq7xMB— Tyrese Haliburton (@Tyrese Haliburton) 1604078604.0
It was Kenneth Walker who was made to sit there while his girlfriend was shot and slowly died. It was Kenneth Walker who was then arrested and had his life hang in limbo over a bogus charge of attempted murder tied to a single shot—compared to 32 flying in the other direction.
Jonathan Mattingly, by contrast, was shot in the leg while bursting through a stranger's front door, had his wound treated, was defended from prosecution by the state's attorney general, and has even kept his job.
Institutional Harassment or Virulent Racism
There are only two conceivable ways for a person in Mattingly's situation to conclude that he should sue Kenneth Walker. It's either, as Walker's attorney recently framed it, part of a deliberate effort to "further victimize and harass Kenny"—so that Walker will be cowed into dropping his own suit thus saving the LMPD a lot of money—or it's the result of Mattingly completely dehumanizing both Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor.
If Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly does not see Black people as fully human, maybe it's easy for him to ignore their perspectives.
He doesn't have to consider the fear for himself and his loved ones that motivated Kenneth Walker to shoot at intruders. He doesn't have to imagine the tragedy of being unable to save your girlfriend's life after she's shot by men from whom you tried to defend her, or the terror of being held for months in fear of losing your freedom.
Breonna Taylor's boyfriend Kenneth Walker details the night of her death in an exclusive interview www.youtube.com
He doesn't have to hear the hurt in Walker's voice saying, "That was my best friend. The most important person pretty much to me on the Earth. And they took her."
If Jonathan Mattingly sees Black people as a subhuman underclass to be controlled through fear and violence, then of course Kenneth Walker should be punished for injuring a white man.
So which is it? Is there a systemic effort to suppress all criticism of institutional violence through campaigns of harassment and intimidation, or are American police forces so welcoming to virulent racists that Jonathan Mattingly gets to keep his job despite an open willingness to dehumanize Black people? Maybe it's both.
In any case, it "offends all accepted standards of decency and morality," and we're faced with a horrifying indictment of the American "justice" system's capacity for evil. Even if this lawsuit is justly thrown out, we should not ignore the disturbing message it has sent.
Change doesn't happen solely through massive, revolutionary actions. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
Sometimes the amount of change that the world needs feels totally overwhelming, and it can be impossible to know where to begin.
But the truth is that change doesn't happen through massive, revolutionary action. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
This roundup is by no means meant to be all-encompassing. Instead, these are six steps to take if you don't know where to start on your journey towards fighting for true justice. These are jumping-off points you're frustrated by the world's ills and you want to fight, but are searching for a place to start.
1. Fight for Breonna Taylor
This week, many Black Lives Matter organizers are concentrating their efforts on accountability for cops who killed Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor’s family renewed their pleas for justice, 5 months after her killing by the police. “At this point i… https://t.co/teTm4pwadf— The New York Times (@The New York Times) 1597334407.0
Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police in her own home 5 months ago today. All of the officers have walked free… https://t.co/dNNM0aiogE— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1597341473.0
If you'd like to help, there are many ways to do so. Here's an easy way to help from home: Reach out to www.powertous.org (email [email protected]) if you're interested in writing postcards to Mayor Greg Fisher demanding justice for Breonna. Plus, this is a great excuse to buy some stamps and support the postal service.
You can also visit this website and use their script to make calls and send emails to relevant people in charge of handling this case.
You can also use this resource from KDJA Hour of Action to call, email, and tweet your support for Breonna as well as Saraya Reed, a 14-year-old Black girl incarcerated after experiencing a mental health crisis, and Matthew Rushin, an autistic 18-year-old black man who received a 50-year sentence after a car accident.
Meet Saraya. This is part of her story. We are fighting for this story to end in victory! https://t.co/MjRLjqEdEE— Amber Patrice Riley (@Amber Patrice Riley) 1597084149.0
2. Help Support Beirut
Beirut suffered a horrible explosion this week, and hundreds of people's livelihoods have been destroyed. Residents affected by the crisis say that anyone who wants to help should only donate to the local Red Cross, as many other funds won't actually make it to the people in need. Donate here.
Operation Help Lebanon: Medical supplies: https://t.co/WJ8sv9eu94 Red Cross (no login required):… https://t.co/qkYks80oUA— Anonymous (@Anonymous) 1596577734.0
3. Join (or Start) a Local Mutual Aid Network
Mutual aid is a practice rooted in community exchange and the concept of "solidarity, not charity." If you live in NYC, your neighborhood almost certainly has a mutual aid network—and Mutual Aid NYC has a weekly Wednesday call if you want a place to start.
You can join one and spend time delivering groceries to neighbors in need (most are reimbursed!), compensating neighbors for their deliveries, or organizing mutual aid relief efforts. Hey, you might even get to know your neighbors for once.
Mutual aid networks have cropped up across the US and world during COVID-19, and it's quite possible that your neighborhood has one. If not, you could even gather some of your neighbors and start your own. Here's some advice on how to start a mutual aid network via Slack, via Bed-Stuy Strong, a massive mutual aid network born in early COVID-19 days in NYC.
4. Support the #fundexcludedworkers Movement
The Fund Excluded Workers movement is a push to tax billionaires in order to provide emergency income to New Yorkers unable to receive unemployment benefits. According to their website, 9 out of 10 Black and brown immigrant families surveyed reported job loss or loss of income—but only 5% reported that they received unemployment insurance.
5. Join a local organizing group
The best way to stay plugged into organizing efforts and to avoid feeling totally overwhelmed by all these different causes is to join a local organizing group. That way, you'll be able to build relationships and join teams that are already plugged into this work. Consider joining your local chapter of Sunrise Movement, DSA, the Movement for Black Lives, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), or another organization that appeals to you. Just start by signing up for their email lists and going to some of their trainings, and you'll find yourself with literally endless amounts of work to do. We are so much more powerful together than we are alone.
6. Keep Learning: Read About Black August, Black Women's Equal Pay, and More
This month is Black August, a month dedicated to commemorating the Black radical tradition. Check out Noname's reading list and get educated about what they didn't teach you during Black history month.
We are excited for our next Black Feminist Political Education event for #BlackAugust on “Radical African Feminist… https://t.co/G04m0J0dFq— Black Women Radicals (@Black Women Radicals) 1597252759.0
While you're at it, read, tweet, and speak out about the movement for Black women's equal pay.
Today is #BlackWomensEqualPay Day, when Black women’s pay catches up to what white men were paid in 2019. That's ne… https://t.co/GkbtrSPzHf— National Women's Law Center (@National Women's Law Center) 1597325416.0
And whenever you're able, attend online workshops and educate yourself however you can about the history and current work of activist movements. The inimitable AOC is offering a variety of organizing workshops in the coming months, so check those out and keep it up!
7. Redistribute the Wealth: Give Directly to Those In Need
If you have the means or come from generational wealth, it's always a great idea to give money directly to people in need. There are a variety of wealth redistribution groups on Facebook, such as Ask For Money & Help and GoFundMe -> Cash App -> PayPal Donations Platform. The page @blackwomxnexhale also shares requests directly from people, or you could literally just search "Venmo" or "cashapp" on Twitter. If you're looking to make a bigger commitment to wealth redistribution, check out Resource Generation.
*THIS IS A FINANCIAL SUPPORT THREAD FOR BLACK TRANS WOMEN ONLY* Drop ya pay links sistas! I'll be tagging cis and non-Black folx.— Nyla Sampson (she/her) (@Nyla Sampson (she/her)) 1558535007.0
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.
It's time for real allyship.
The protests being held in many American cities over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks have drawn a lot of support and solidarity not just in the U.S, but across the world in general.
There has never been a better time to use one's voice–no matter how small–to speak up against racial injustice than now.
Online protests have also flooded social media, and they have proven more than ever to be an important part of the cause. In the last few days, we've seen several brands and companies get called out on Twitter for failing to embrace diversity in business, as well as for their unfair treatment of Black employees.
A few editors from some of the biggest publications have been called to step down after receiving backlash for their prejudicial treatment of Black people and other people of color in the past. Many corporations have put out statements admitting to their complicity in acts of racial bias and discrimination, rounding off these statements with a promise to "do better in the future."
James Bennet, former New York Times Opinion Editor
But we have to ask: If these individuals, brands and companies claim to be allies, then why are they still failing to hire qualified Black people, or treat them just as equally as their white colleagues? Does there have to be constant backlash before Black people are given equal opportunities as their white counterparts? The cyclical pattern of showing support for Black people only when it's a trend, or when it's profitable to do so, is a dark side of allyship that has to end already.
Apart from the numerous instances of faux solidarity from self-proclaimed allies, there are certain aspects of online celebrity activism that have also been deemed counterproductive to the fight against racial injustice and inequality. From the blank dark squares of #BlackoutTuesday to the two-minute video of celebrities making firm vows to show their support against racism for the "I Take Responsibility" campaign, celebrities and public figures have been under fire for the obvious tone-deafness of their brand of activism.
We can agree that the criticism is rightfully deserved, considering the fact that a lot of celebrities have established their careers and made a fortune from incorporating Black culture into their work and selling their work to Black people. Yet, quite often, celebrities also fail to use their platform to speak up against racial injustice until it's socially beneficial to do so.
These are only a few out of the countless instances where the Black Lives Matter movement has been trivialized and reduced to a stream of hashtags that slowly fade away from our phone screens when the collective outrage subsides, along with the promises to encourage and promote racial equality that never materialize.
The first wave of Black Lives Matter protests that came up in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led to a similar show of allyship, where legislators in almost every state proposed far-reaching changes in the way the police interact with the public, and many corporations jumped in with commitments to help rebuild communities that face racial and economic inequality. It's been six years since, and we're still having the same conversations about these issues. What happened to all the support that was promised?
Several social media users are currently taking advantage of the attempts to keep the momentum of online protests going and have begun to use activism as a means of gaining engagement and followers.
One Twitter user with the handle @jhaunay made a thread about the new, abhorrent trend of people who claim to be allies sharing memes about justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor. These memes, which are made under the guise of raising awareness for the arrest of the cops who killed her, attract thousands of retweets from users who are under the assumption that they're showing support.
The practice of performative allyship comes from a place of privilege, and it's counterproductive because it trivializes the Black Lives Matter movement, giving it a false appearance as a quest for pity. Public sympathy for Black pain is of no use when there's no accompanying desire to end racial injustice and discrimination.
White people who have failed to recognize and check their privilege cannot begin to fathom that the Black Lives Matter movement was born for the sake of the Black lives that have been lost, the friends and families of victims that directly face the trauma of losing a loved one, and the collective pain felt by Black people for having to exist in a system of oppression, injustice and marginalization. It's an unchecked privilege that makes a white man even consider the outrageous idea of applying to trademark the terms 'Black Lives Matter' and 'I Can't Breathe.'
As an ally, always remember that Black Lives do matter, even when voicing and living it out puts you in an uncomfortable position.
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."
The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.