Black lives matter.
It’s important to acknowledge that on this 189th day of 2016. To date this year, more than 500 people have been killed by police officers in this country. The exact figure could be 509. That’s how many such deaths The Washington Post has tracked in 2016. Or it might be 561, which is the total The Guardian reports killed at the hands of police in 2016.
America’s population totals around 322 million people — 62 percent are white and about 12 percent are black. Depending on which source you prefer, 123 or 136 of those killed this year were black, not the 67 people who would be killed if police killings were proportionally equal to the number of Americans who are black. That amounts to an African-American being killed by police every 33 hours. Since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, roughly 400 black people have been killed by police, many of them unarmed, a number of them women.
I’m doing the math in order to try to make sense of the senseless. We can’t be naive about the disproportionate rates of police violence and killings in communities that are perpetually subjected to bias. Racism and racial profiling are real and do irreparable harm to black and brown people.
Last year, I came across a quote in a story on Huffington Post that really struck me: “Race is a trigger for police brutality.” The speaker was Jack Glaser, an associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California-Berkeley. His point: Racial bias affects all officers, no matter their own skin color.
Within a 44-hour period between Tuesday morning and Wednesday night, two black men were shot and killed during encounters with police: Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five from Baton Rouge, La., who was fatally shot while selling CDs outside a convenience store, and Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor, who was mortally wounded during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Widely circulated cell phone videos captured Sterling’s death. Castile’s passenger live streamed the aftermath of his shooting on Facebook. As of Thursday morning, that video alone had been viewed more than 3.5 million times.
You can not unsee or avoid the pain and the anguish in those videos.
I belong to a movement of people who believe black lives matter. We want the long and growing list of mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and children who die during encounters with police to end with the names Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We want the lives of Black Americans to be valued. We want an end to the killing. As Jesse Williams, the actor who was recently awarded Black Entertainment Television’s Humanitarian Award, said: “What we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday.” We want to see police de-escalate, disarm and not kill black people.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton responded to Castile’s death with these words: “Would this have happened if the driver and the passengers had been white? I don’t think it would have. This kind of racism exists and it’s incumbent on all of us to vow that we’re going to do whatever we can to see that it doesn’t happen.”
Here’s something you can do if you’re exhausted by the litany of police deaths: Go see Hands Up. It is a series of monologues that lays bare African-American experiences of racial profiling by police. Hands Up is playing this Friday and Saturday at the Center for Self Enhancement Auditorium at SEI, 3920 N. Kerby Avenue in Portland. The Collins Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust partnered to sponsor a nine-show revival of this important production by the August Wilson Red Door Project to give Oregonians more chances to stand in the shoes of our black friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers. It is an unforgettable experience.
The shows are free, the words are healing, the post-performance discussions are true and transformative. What could be more urgent and timely? Get your tickets here.