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some lives matter more…

June 26, 2020

Two internet Facebook memes keep popping up from my well-intentioned friends and family members regarding the current race protests happening in major cities around North America.

The first is that “All Lives Matter.”

The second runs along the lines of “rather than defunding the police, stop doing crime.”

Of course “all lives matter!”

No one is saying they don’t.

What the “Black Lives Matter” movement is trying to get people to understand is that Black lives matter too. Just as much as white lives matter! Not more than other peoples’ lives; definitely not less.

In Chicago, where I currently call home, a study found that over the past ten years banks gave Black and Brown people twelve cents in home mortgages for every 88 cents they gave white people.

One middle class white neighborhood got more mortgage money than all of the Black and Brown communities combined.

In the early 1900’s Chicago city officials infamously drew a red line on a map of Chicago – Black people would not be allowed to live north of the red line.

“Redlining” subsequently made Chicago a deeply divided city with the majority of Black and Brown people living in the south and southwest districts of the city. The city invested eight cents in Black community infrastructure for every dollar it invested in white communities.

Redlining was made illegal in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. But it has never gone away.

I was amazed to discover that entire neighborhoods in southend Chicago still have no street lights! Still get their water through leaded pipes. And to add insult to injury, these neighborhoods pay 25% more in water fees than wealthier northern communities.

The official reason for this is that the water pipes are in such disrepair in these neighborhoods the city is losing about 1/3 of the water to leakage.

Rather than repair the pipes, the city simply passes the loss on to the Black consumers.

A Black co-worker of mine in Toronto in the early 2000’s kept a record of the times the police stopped him for so-called minor infractions. He received all the classic “driving-while-Black” harassments: an illegal right turn, the broken license plate light, suspicion of driving impaired. Or, and most insultingly, the officer would say they were looking for a suspect who fit his description.

It didn’t matter that he was a university educated, non-drinking, church-going, good father, community-involved kind of man. Or, that he drove a new car.

The stops averaged twice a month. Every month. All year long.

Driving while being a Black man.

In Black neighborhood schools in Toronto I had boys in grade four tell me about police cars drifting by, while the boys walked home for lunch. A police officer would have his gun pointed at these 10-year-olds, smiling, telling them that “they had their eye on them.”

I’ve had ten-year-old boys tell me these, and similar stories – tears streaming down their faces.

Imagine your ten-year-old coming home from school and telling you that a cop pointed a gun at them and laughed while doing it! What exactly would you do?

Then tell me, what would you do when the city ignored your complaints?

Social media is filled with endless examples of police harassing Black families having picnics in a park; of harassing Black people moving into a new apartment or house in a white neighborhood; of Black men being shot while out for a jog; of the police being called on Black bird watchers.

Five Black men have been publicly lynched in America since George Floyd died.

Think about that fact – in 2020 – for five seconds!

For eight minutes and forty-six seconds a police officer drove his knee into the throat of George Floyd. All the while he tells the cop he can’t breathe, before finally asking for his dead mother.

As the actor Will Smith noted, racism has not increased. It is now simple being filmed.

My white friends assume – based on their own experience – that the police have no issue with you if you are not doing a crime.

I have never been stopped by the police – in Toronto, or Chicago – for anything. A police officer has never once told me that I looked like a criminal they were looking for.

I even inadvertently drifted through a stop sign while riding my bicycle in Chicago, right in front of a police cruiser. The police officers didn’t even blink at me.

Yet, I can also tell you that a Chicago study found that 65% of bicycle fines occur in the Black neighborhoods. As do fines for not shoveling your sidewalk fast enough after a snowstorm.

When the Nazis designed the Jewish ghettos in the years leading up to WWII, they made conditions so unbearable – no food, no water, no clothing, no sanitation – that the inhabitants were ravaged by disease and starvation.

The government then organized “tours” of the ghettos to show “common Germans” just how animalistic the Jews lived their lives.

In the 1950’s, the City of Toronto built walls around all of its downtown Black social housing communities – Regent Park, Alexandra Park – to keep Black people separated from the rest of white Toronto.

In Halifax, the city bulldozed their Black community in the 1960’s and forcibly relocated the Black community outside of city limits. Even today, the community of North Preston, the largest Black community in Canada, gets one public transit bus an hour to take residents into the city.

At the heart of racism is the notion that the “person of color” is inherently less worthy.

The dominant white power structures – political, economic – create obstacles and realities for people of color that would be unacceptable to middle-class white people.

Then we – us of the white community – can say, “look, they are all animals and criminals!”

We do the same thing to Indigenous peoples.

Visit a reservation. Learn its history. Discover who designed that reservation, and for what purpose? Ask, why do the people have no drinking water?

Then ask yourself, if indigenous people only make up 3% of Canada’s population, why do they make up 30% of our prison inmates?

To say “all lives matter” as a response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement is to assume that Black people are looking for a privilege they do not deserve. That they are somehow special.

Black people are simply asking for what all white people assume as their inherent rights in a democracy: that everyone gets the same city resources, have access to the same opportunities, are treated with the same respect the white middle-class get.

 

 

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