The Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma early Sunday evening was a lively and peaceful event that should remind everyone that it was desperately important because unfortunately racism still remains systemic here and elsewhere around the country.
The crowd was estimated at more than 2,000 people by the Oklahoma City Police Department, according to one media report, but I thought there were probably more people than that when you count those, like myself, who marched across the bridge on Walnut Avenue into Bricktown, along with those who were waiting near the pavilion across the street from the ballpark. Initially, one media report noted the police said only 500 people showed up. That’s sometimes how authority marginalizes protest by underestimating crowds they don’t necessarily like, but then the police changed the estimate for whatever reason. Was it an honest mistake or did helicopter video force the issue?
Black Lives Matter protests have been held across the country last week after Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile was killed by police in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Both were black men.These shootings were followed by the sniper attack on police in Dallas. Five police officers lost their lives there in what was supposed to be a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, but one rogue and mentally ill person changed that equation. It was another bloody week in America.
But the deaths of Sterling and Castile and the shooting of police officers in Dallas were not the beginning the problem. The beginning of the problem is, as it has always been, racism. It doesn’t help that our gun laws are terribly lax and unregulated because of the country’s weapons industry and the National Rifle Association, but racism is the festering sore that has yet to heal.
— Grant Hermes News 9 (@GrantHermesKWTV) July 10, 2016
As a white man and college professor, I can understand my privilege in a conscious and intellectual sense, and I will never feel the fear or anxiety deep in the crevices of my bones like an African American, who, say, gets pulled over in a car by the police. What I do know above all else, though, is that white people need to stand up and speak out against racism and, very specifically, against the rampant police brutality faced by African Americans and other minority people on a daily basis in this country.
We hear the qualification “all lives matter,” and that, too, can be viewed as racist in a certain context. It’s a deflection. It ignores the problem. All lives matter, of course, but we’re talking about systemic racism and police brutality against black people in the United States. We’re talking about fixing that, not about white people, who have privilege and protection.
As Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the local American Civil Liberties Union affiliation, put it in his remarks at the rally, this racism has been called different things through the decades: Slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation and now the war on drugs. But, in the end, it’s just racism and hate however it gets named.
Another speaker at the rally, former state Senator Connie Johnson reminded the crowd that it was important to show up at the polls and vote. That’s how real change happens in this country, she said. Other speakers at the rally echoed her call. Their point was to urge people to get involved with the political system, which seems innocuous, sure, yet so true. Politics can be boring and frustrating, I know this all too well, but the failure to participate results in inequality and bad policies and, well, the continuation of systemic, institutionalized racism.
What we know throughout history is that violence begets violence. It’s not just a saying or a maxim. It’s the truth. The carnage continues, but Black Lives Matter is an answer to it, not a threat. Sunday’s rally in Oklahoma City proved that.
This is what’s going on in Baton Rouge, LA:
— greg (@n9viv) July 11, 2016