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Black activists hope killings prompt more action from whites

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Glory Yount, 17, left, marches with others along Minnesota Avenue after a gathering in response to recent shootings across the county in Sioux Falls, S.D. Earlier in the week, videos showed two black men killed by police, and five police officers were slain at a march in Dallas protesting the killings.

NEW YORK >> Since the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement three years ago, many white Americans have wrestled with how to respond. Some chose racist-tinged ridicule. Others, by word or deed, sought to show solidarity as blacks protested the deaths of fellow blacks in encounters with police. Still others, untouched personally, watched from a distance in silence.

This past week, as graphic videos portrayed two more such deaths and five police officers were slain at a march in Dallas protesting the killings, whites have joined blacks in forceful calls for unity that cut across color lines. Some see hope of a turning point from these tragedies, that this might be the eyes-wide-open moment that moves white America from apathy or remorse to action in pursuit of racial reconciliation.

“I definitely think there’s a change in the atmosphere,” said Johnetta Elzie, a black activist from St. Louis who believes the events have galvanized more white people to confront issues that afflict blacks. “I hate the fact that it is this way, but with every police violence victim story that goes national, more and more people wake up.”

The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, inspired to a large degree by the killing the previous year of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. It soon grew into both a national battle cry and phenomenon after a series of killings of blacks and other minorities by police.

Over the course of the campaign, black activists have had mixed feelings about the response from whites — commending those who have supported the effort yet decrying what they perceive as disinterest or hostility from a majority of whites.

“Yes, White people are standing with us in response to these killings and we value that, but we need more Whites to tackle the systemic racism and discrimination that Blacks are subjected to,” San Francisco activist Javarre Wilson said in an email response to questions. “White people don’t have to worry whether their child will be at the receiving end of a cop’s baton or handgun. White people don’t have to worry about whether they will be pulled over in their cars and aggressively harassed by racist cops.”

To be sure, whites, Latinos, Asians and others have joined black Americans in decrying the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, made all the more palpable because videos capturing the incidents were widely shared for all to see on social media and across the Internet. The officers involved were placed on leave and investigations continue.

“My heart is in a million pieces,” Rachel Hockett, a white theater director in Ithaca, New York, wrote in a Facebook post. “I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to be African-American in this country. But I certainly care, to my toes, and I know how I would feel if my son or daughter were gunned down in this way.”

“All #blacklivesmatter. Unconditionally,” Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, declared on her Facebook page.

But words are not enough, in the view of many black activists. They argue that most whites have been too slow to speak out when injustices occur and that, once they do, such expressions rarely equate to meaningful change.

“It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives,” Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times after the deaths of Sterling and Castile. He addressed his piece to “white America.”

“You will never understand the helplessness we feel in watching these events unfold, violently, time and again, as shaky images tell a story more sobering than your eyes are willing to believe: that black life can mean so little,” Dyson wrote. “You do not know that after we get angry with you, we get even angrier with ourselves, because we don’t know how to make you stop, or how to make you care enough to stop those who pull the triggers.”

Matthew Shaw, a black law and public policy analyst at the American Bar Foundation, said too many white Americans lack empathy with blacks, and need to find ways to develop that.

“If you see someone being shot while sitting in a car with his family, and you don’t have some empathy, you’ve got some work to do,” he said in reference to Castile’s death. “Work on your friends, your family, people in your neighborhood.”

He urged whites to get active in campaigns to improve police practices and promote racial justice.

“Violence is the worst response,” he said. “Throwing your hands in the air and saying nothing can be done is a close second.”

Some whites have indeed taken steps to build support for the Black Lives Matter movement among their fellow whites, and they say they are making progress.

Dara Silverman is the national coordinator of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a network launched a year and a half ago. She said it has grown from a dozen local groups to more than 150, expanding the base of whites committed to fighting racial inequality.

The network encourages white activists to hold house parties and conduct door-to-door canvassing in an effort to attract more supporters. A statement issued after the deaths of Sterling and Castile also urged direct protest action.

“Join us in the streets,” it said. “Now is the time for white people to be visible, courageous and relentless in our public opposition to racism and the state-sanctioned murder of Black people.”

Many white politicians, including top Democratic and Republican leaders, appealed for tolerance and unity in the aftermath of the deadly incidents. Hillary Clinton, in an interview with CNN, called on white people “to put ourselves in the shoes of those African-American families who fear every time their children go somewhere.” House Speaker Paul Ryan implored Americans to “not lose sight of the values that unite us, our common humanity.”

There were harsh comments as well. Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman, tweeted in response to the slayings of the officers in Dallas by a black Army veteran: “This is now war” and “Watch out black lives matter punks.” The perpetrator, who was killed during an ensuing standoff with authorities, told officials he was upset about the police killings of Sterling and Castile and wanted to exterminate whites. He said he acted alone and not in concert with any groups.

Diana Bass, an author who specializes in American religion and culture, urged white people to speak out against racism — even if seen in those closest to them.

“With the exception of my mother and her father, I knew no adult who ever said anything good about any black person,” she recalled of her childhood years in a Facebook post. “I disavow their beliefs. I utterly, completely reject their racism. They were wrong and used race to keep others down in order to try and protect their own fragile egos and privilege.”

The Rev. Russell Moore, a white evangelical who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency, wrote an essay on his personal website that put the latest incidents into historical perspective — making references to slavery and to the era of segregation in which his denomination resisted black civil rights.

“African-Americans have lived with trauma from the very beginning, the initial trauma being the kidnapping and forced enslavement of an entire people with no standing whatsoever before the law,” he wrote. “For the black community, these present situations often reverberate with a history of state-sanctioned violence, in a way that many white Americans – including white evangelicals – often don’t understand.”

Moore’s essay ended on a note of hope: “We can work for justice in the public arena as we learn to love one another in the personal arena, and vice versa.”

But there also were voices of despair.

“It’s overwhelming to see what we are up against, to live in a world where too many people have their fingers on the triggers of guns aimed directly at black people,” Peter Staley, a white AIDS/HIV activist in New York City, wrote on his Facebook page.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” he said. “I don’t know how to believe change is possible when there is so much evidence to the contrary.”

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    • No, the elephant in the room is for the black in the poor neighborhoods should elevate themselves and become the policy makers. Become politicians. Become the CEOs. Become policemen. Become teachers. Become businessmen. Don’t keep on being victims. Be the heros to yourselves and your children. By being victims, you are teaching your children that everyone but themselves determine their destiny.

        • Having. Said that black people need to help themselves, how does that solve the racial divide and the shooting of innocent black people or the killing of police in Dallas. Liberals are not to blame, most of the racism is occurring in the southern conservative bible thumping states, where blacks have low levels of education and are living in poverty

      • agree. There is no excuse for poorly trained police overreacting to threats of black criminal violence. But the reality is that blacks themselves need to face their own problems including high crime, black on black violence,broken families, lack of effort to improve, etc. Yes, whites, Asians and Mandans are guilty to a point but please skip the thought that blacks are innocent victims. They share the blame for violence. If the public fears going into black neighborhoods or police are nervous, why is that?

        • Get people to find the phrase, “Snitches get stiches,” as criminal, not heroic, and you’ll see a change.

      • It’s ridiculous for YOU to say that black people need to get more educated in order to stop being killed. If a white police officer shoots a black man during a routine traffic stop, the officer made a mistake, not the black person who may or may not have a college education.

        Based on your ignorance, you probably are not highly educated and (hopefully) do not hold an important position. Should it be okay for a cop to shoot you when you are taking a walk at night? Should nobody care what happens to your family because you were ignorant? Then YOU should smarten up. It’s not easy, but try.

      • If more Blacks would lead admirable crime-less lives, not drop out from up highschool, and put education firstthe situation would be different. The way it is now some cops just cannot take it anymore and are eaten by hatred of the race who has a higher crime rate than others.

      • Having. Said that black people need to help themselves, how does that solve the racial divide and the shooting of innocent black people or the killing of police in Dallas

      • The title of the article should be “Black on black crime is out of control and whites wait for blacks to take action for themselves”

        • People are not racists because they are imbecile as klastri writes, unless the majority of the population can be called imbecile. There are many reasons for racism and it is rooted in a real difference in the mentality and the behavior of races. You can say what you want, but the statistics of Blacks don’t look too good.

        • Fear by the majority . That is why we have “white flight” from the areas of citieswhere blacks have moved in.

    • Vector, life begins at conception, and we are all American’s if born or naturalized in the United States. Not enough people own guns and we should not own assault weapons. But, why do we have Americans with hate in their hearts? Hate is planted in a persons heart. We must stop planting hate in separating Americans along racial groups, as our Hawaii born President Obama has been doing for nearly 8 years. The hate must be removed as we are all Americans who live under the same Constitution and laws. There are no difference between Black and White and Asian and Hispanic, etc. We are all Americans. Somehow, President Obama has forgotten that we are all one under God.

  • Normally, each generation becomes better at tolerance, assimilation, and getting along than the previous one. This generation seems to have dropped the ball.

  • The problem with Black Lives Matter and similar mobs is that their reaction to alleged police brutality is always knee-jerk – immediate, unthinking and emotional. They react immediately and get the facts later which often times are contrary to initial reports such as in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, and Freddie Brown in Baltimore. By the time the investigations are competed and the truth is known, the damage caused by protestors already has been done. While BLM and other mobs may think they are advocating for justice, they do more harm than good.

    • Blame the victim and their supporters, not the perpetrator. That attitude will make the Black Lives Matter movement and protests grow larger and more frequent

      • The “victims” were all the starters of the problem not the cops. Michael Brown the worst of the three you mention. That punk was attacking the cop.

    • agree..it turned out, for example, that the total Ferguson story about Mike Brown surrendering, raising his hand and being shot in his back never happened. Thank God 8 black witnesses came forward to tell the truth to the jury. They were cursed by many black groups for telling the truth but many in the country have no idea that the originally hyped story was phony.

    • I agree. While the videos of these two latest incidents are very convicting of police misconduct, we must wait to get all the facts before deciding guilt of anyone. And if the full story is as represented in the videos, then those police officers should be tried for murder.

      But what we don’t hear in the hysteria is how common is this, really. During the past week, how many white men were shot by black police officers? How many people were shot by police officers? How many police officers were shot, were they black or white, and was the shooter black or white? The point I’m trying to make is that while these two shootings are tragedies, are they common occurrence, or are they rare but publicized out of proportion to the overall context?

      I don’t want the responsibility of being a police officer. And I appreciate those who are willing and who do the job well. To me, the standard of performance required of anyone who has the power to use deadly force is perfection. While maybe not attainable, that should be the standard and failing to meet that standard must result is severe consequences.

  • 40% of cops killed in the line of duty are killed by blacks who only make up 6% of the population. Any wonder why cops are ready to shoot when coming into contact w/blacks?

      • Six percent or 12 percent, the problem is the victim mentality of too many blacks. Instead of really trying to improve their lives, too many blacks look to blame someone for their problems instead of striving to better themselves. My black neighbor is a hard working middle class citizen in our condominium association who is a leader rather than a black who feels he should be given more because ahe is black. Cops who over-react to black situations like in Louisiana and Minnesota should be tried and punished if found guilty. The same should apply to shooters of first responders. I notice that in almost all cases, retaliators after black deaths are almost exclusively black. Of course, our wonderful President hasn’t helped race relations in almost eight years.

  • i always hear blacks saying ‘you cannot possibly know what it means to be black’. yeah, they are right. i wish i could be like Lebron James or Cam Newton or one of the other millionaire athletes that we see. every race has its problems, blacks maybe more than others. but they are not blameless. 70% of children born out of wedlock, a large percentage who grow up with no fathers, breakdown of the family unit. BLM said not to paint all of them as being like the black gunman that killed the five cops, yet isn’t that what they do when they say all cops are racist after a white cop shoots a black man? i’m not white, but i cannot stand to hear people blame things on white privilege or the fact that there were slaves two hundred years ago. there is still racism today, always will be, but nowhere like it was back even in the sixties and seventies. every race says bad things about the other races. so what. when it comes down to it, most of us can live with others no matter what color. it makes me laugh when i see white people marching with BLM. their guilt about slavery clearly showing. if they tried to go to a BLM meeting they would be kicked out because they are the wrong color. crazy white liberals. they probably hate being white.

    • Like usual, you have no clue what you’re writing about.

      There are lots of white people who attend BLM meetings – I’m one of them – and there is no racial animosity at all. None. Those abused folks are glad for whatever support they get.

  • Not all blacks feel this way. The great majority are educated enough to know the white cops are trying to get rid of the blacks who account for the murders of their own population like Chicago which exceeded last year’s count. It now stands at 2000. They are very dangerous and that makes the cops nervous. When they say to put your hands where they can see them, DO IT! They don’t want to get shot and make their children fatherless and their wives widows. They are on a very heightened state of alertness and dangerously trigger happy. They are also very tired of arresting the same kind of troublemakers over and over again. Some blacks are so untrainable. So let’s do these things. Grab these felons, prisoners, homoz and maricons, homeless, welfare bums, haters of America and ship them back to their original homelands. I hear there’s lots of vacancies in Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, and more so in Syria and Iraq.

    The majority of cops are good. Yes, got a few bad apples. What I hate is how the juries acquit them in the face of evidence. The videos do show the three cops were wrong to beat that fat black man over and over in his head and body even though he was on his knees. He was struggling because he was scared out of his wits. The cops were acquitted because he died of a heart attack. The other fat black was struggling to breathe because the cops were making their chokeholds too tight. The more he struggled for his life the more they strangled him. Fark you Goddamned kind of cops! That could have been me. Stop allowing these bad cops to go free just because they have rough jobs or they lost their cool in the heat of the moment. That black cops who broke a young arrestee’s neck by driving the van too rough had been known to do that all the time. He loves hurting people. He should NOT have been acquitted. Now do you understand why there’s so much black and white anger? When cops escape prosecution they will laugh and be encourage to continue their insane behavior. Giving them AR16 and armored personnel carriers makes them more dangerous.

    Both cops and blacks need to change. Don’t ask me how, You should know.

  • If BLM started protesting the slaughter of innocent kids who get caught in the crossfire of gang turf wars, they would get a lot more support from everyone. But as it is, they choose to make heroes out of punks who attack cops. The worst one being that guy who beat his girlfriend to a pulp and then got into it with the EMS who were trying to help her. Sorry, I find it hard to think that they would stand behind such an animal.

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