At this writing, the future of the national movement in response to police shootings of unarmed black men is unclear. It could fizzle much like the Occupy movement did (see earlier posts here and here), or it could be more lasting.
Protests here in Berkeley and the greater Bay Area have gotten a lot of attention, not because shootings are common– although Oscar Grant was killed about six years ago – but because a strong cadre of largely non-black anarchists (ironically, one set is called the Black Bloc) repeatedly hijack all sorts of protests and climax them by smashing stores, lighting fires, and blocking highways. Needless to say, terrifying store clerks and keeping people from getting to work on time are not likely to engender sympathy for a cause. Indeed, any left movement that alienates Berkeley citizens is not going to find many allies.
Recently, black community efforts have changed the dynamic some. In Berkeley, for example, a black church and its allies held a brief, peaceful “die-in” on a major street. They succeeded by alerting the police but keeping the planning secret from the anarchists. We are also seeing a few, modest concessions by police departments here and there. Still, the tactical struggle over who represents this protest and who will lead it continues. More broadly, its strategic goals and strategies remain to be defined.
Ends and Means
Protestor’s chants, demanding that “black lives matter,” or simply to stop police shootings, are understandable. But they are not policies. To the extent that some protests have policy proposals, like body cameras, they are modest. Black lives are more widely endangered than just by police shootings. One black minister complained, “I am waiting for someone to say all black lives matter, whether they are being killed by police officers or other young black men.” Unfortunately, the latter account for far more. The yet broader issue is that black lives are being shortened, stymied, and stultified by the economic and social conditions of black ghettos. These deeper needs call for bigger proposals addressing long-term inequality. Yet, in the current political climate, which is shifting rightward at the federal and state levels, new interventions, whether bold or modest, are increasingly unlikely.
Street protests of the Occupy and Ferguson kind rarely yield much in America – or may even backfire – unless accompanied by serious political strategies and organization. Here, note New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s recent worrying that the idealistic youth who are concerned about Ferguson are not concerned enough, or perhaps not historically aware enough, to vote. Rage does not suffice. The last several years brought another raging movement, but the Tea Party channeled its rage into electing several senators and many congressmen, moving policy in their direction. Maybe there is a lesson there.