The Dallas police shootings have added a new twist to the #blacklivesmatter movement, with at least one black man firing back.
#blacklivesmatter was launched in 2012, following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager shot dead by white police officer George Zimmerman. The movement arose after decades of unarmed black men and women being harassed, beaten and shot by white police officers, coupled with those same officers facing no charges and being protected by their departments and district governments.
Now for the first time, a black man has shot back.
In the years since its inception #blacklivesmatter has grown from a domestic campaign to an international movement. Despite its success, its existence has not slowed the rate of unarmed black men, women (and children) being shot by white police officers. Last year (2015) recorded the highest number of American deaths at the hands of police with 1,134 dead, more than 3 per day. Currently, an African American person is 5 – 9 times more likely to be killed by the police than any other American citizen.
The mainstream attention afforded to the #blacklivesmatter campaign is intermittent. Until Dallas it has largely been a black story – a black response to a black problem. The mainstream coverage increases only when another unarmed black person is shot by a white police officer. What Dallas shows is that for people to really pay attention, a white life must be taken. It has taken the lives of 5 white police officers to really shake things up, for people to pay full attention and to talk about solutions. Only now, when one black man shoots back is America ‘a divided country,’ a country engaged in a ‘civil war.’ Before Dallas the headlines were not screaming these messages. Only now, because now it is a white problem too.
This argument extends far beyond the borders of America and the #blacklivesmatter campaign; it can be seen all around the world.
In the week before the Dallas shootings, Iraq suffered its worst terrorism attack since the US led invasion. Almost 300 people were killed by Islamic State bombs and the death toll rose hour by hour, day by day. Yet the global media seemed largely mute on the story. The Muslim community, celebrating their holy month of Ramadan, despaired at the lack of attention. Compare this to the Paris attacks in November 2015. With a death toll half of that of Baghdad, the story ran 24/7 for days. Paris was awash with bouquets, survival stories were broadcast across the globe, world leaders lined up to condemn the attacks and the French flag was superimposed across millions of Facebook profile pictures. There was none of this for the victims in Baghdad.
Other terrorist attacks, in Iraq (April 2016, 90 dead), Bangladesh (July 2016, 20 dead), Kenya (April 2015, 147 dead) and Lebanon (November 2015, 43 dead) were also provided little attention. Whereas when Belgium (March 2016, 35 dead), Paris (January 2015, 12 dead), Orlando (June 2016, 49 dead) and Istanbul (March 2016, 44 dead) were attacked the stories smothered all other news.
This is why the black community in America must scream and shout – and continue to scream and shout – that black lives matter. This is why #blacklivesmatter resonates through the world. When little or no attention is given to victims who are not white, it is why such a movement is necessary.
The attacks in Iraq, Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon and in many other countries were unprecedented and resulted in a greater numbers of casualties. The attacks shocked and devastated those nations as much as those in Europe and America. And the victims were just as innocent. So why was there such disproportionate coverage? It can only be that despite the number of people who die at the hands of terrorism in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, when Europeans or Americans are the victims it is more newsworthy, more important.
Now we look Down Under, to Australia, the lucky country. Lucky for some, lucky if you are white. Unlucky if you’re Aboriginal, unlucky if you were black and here first. Twenty five years after a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and the country has gone backwards. In 1992 one in seven prisoners was Aboriginal, in 2016 it is one in four and by 2020 it is predicted that half of Australia’s prisons could be filled with Aboriginal inmates. In fact, already half of the 10 – 17 year olds in the criminal justice are Aboriginal. The shocking and contrasting statistic is that Aboriginal people making up only 3% of Australia’s total population. #blacklivesmatter in Australia too.
In every other major developmental statistic – life expectancy, education, maternal health, domestic violence, access to housing and economic participation – Aboriginal people lag well behind the rest of Australia’s population. Decades of policy failure by successive governments prove little or no will to implement radical and lasting change. If Australian governments mustered half the energy, interest and dollars they do for ‘border protection’ then progress may be possible.
Keep looking all around the world – in Palestine stone throwing children are met with live ammunition; in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia civilians are frequently killed by US drones; the Mediterranean is fast becoming a mass grave of black lives; and in Myamnar, Rohingya Muslims continue to be persecuted while Nobel Peace laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi refuses to even speak their name. All these lives matter, yet which of them register and are reported on as equal to a white life?
It takes a white life for people to pay attention. If white men, women and children were being shot in record numbers by black police officers, America would have been engaged in ‘civil war’ long ago; if black and brown victims of terrorism were as humanised and mourned as white victims, the world would be a different place; and if indigenous people, not only in Australia but all around the world, were better reconciled with then they would not be so overrepresented in prison systems and underrepresented in mainstream culture. Black lives matter as much as white lives. It is correct that #alllivesmatter, but when black lives are taken at a greater rate, mourned to a lesser extent and institutionalised as less important than white lives, it is why we all need to be told over and over again that #blacklivesmatter.