Talk is cheap. If we want change, we have to do something about it. Something substantive. Something that doesn’t co-opt the cause for our own benefit, even if it is unintentional. Something that doesn’t obscure the very reason why we fight but instead shines a light on the issues. Something that can be of help for those who need it the most. Here are some starting points…
Understand the problems at hand.
In order to address systematic racism and police brutality from a policy standpoint, one must first have a firm grasp on the complex, tangled laundry list of causes why black people are killed by the police at a higher rate than white people. While a lack of empathy is arguably the root cause, one needs to dismantle the structural forces created by this lack to reach the heart of the matter. Now, I’m not telling you to dive headfirst into some Frantz Fanon book—though if that’s your M.O., I wholeheartedly support your decisions. We all have other obligations beyond our causes, and sometimes, foundational text on postcolonial race relations can get a bit dense for reading on the side. Instead, I recommend beginning with this New York Times op-ed by Charles M. Blow that gives a thoughtful overview of the inherently racist society we have created for ourselves. This older, but still painfully relevant piece on Mother Jones explores the intersection of criminalization and city revenue, reminding us that crimes are, in fact, a social construct created by those who possess cultural hegemony. Historian Keri Leigh Merritt draws connections between slavery, black incarceration, and the history of the professional police force in this powerful article. And, if you’re more of a documentary person, The House I Live In does a thorough job in addressing systematic injustices and racial bias in the American carceral system.
With knowledge and facts, that is. Hats of to this post on Aida Manduley’s site, which offers a blow-by-blow response to detractors. If you are unsure about how to respond to inquiries (or hostile accusations) such as “Why do black people take this so personally?” feel free to quote one of the extensive and pointed responses.
Stay tuned on pending legislation.
The Center for Popular Democracy and PolicyLink maintain an incredibly informative site to demand for justice in policing. The resource section in particular provides ample reading material regarding statutes, policies, and practices about various aspects of policing and criminalized acts.
Contact your officials and ask for change, particularly when legislation comes up for a vote.
Don’t know where to start? The U.S. Senate website provides both physical addresses and email links to contact your senators. The House website has a search function to find your representative by zip code, and this links to said representative’s website. Also, remember that police in America are governed on a local level, so make sure you contact your respective city councilmember; if you live in a larger city, it may be easier to get a hold of their field representative instead.
Not everyone has the luxury of spare time. If you want to help but really and truly don’t have the time, I suggest donating to fund the work of career social justice fighters instead. Besides the organizations mentioned above, I recommend giving to the American Civil Liberties Union or to NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (which allows you to designate your contribution to particular issues such as voting rights or police reform).
Don’t lose sight of what you’re fighting for.
Through all this, however, I implore you to do everything that you can to remember that behind all the theories and statistics and numbers are real people. Never forget this.