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Activist and author, Kimberly Latrice Jones, set the internet on fire back in June when a video of her speaking on the uprisings across the country following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd went viral. In her speech, Jones used the metaphor of a game of Monopoly to articulate America’s treatment of Black citizens over the course of its history. Towards the end, she made mention of a figurative social contract that America had broken with Black citizens, an analogy formerly used by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement.
But it was not merely the metaphoric language Jones used throughout the video that caused it to circulate among celebrities and high profile advocates, so much as it was the closing that doubled as a truth and a warning America had been ignoring all along.
“…Far as I’m concerned, they could burn this bitch to the ground, and it still wouldn’t be enough. And they are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge,” Jones concluded after over six minutes of a passionate and masterfully worded oration.
Jones’s assessment of Black America longing for equality as opposed to revenge struck a chord with Black folks everywhere. If the murder of George Floyd was the inflection point after years of demonstrations combatting police violence against Black citizens, then Jones tossed a Molotov cocktail of a premonition of what could happen should American law enforcement not begin to reverse course.
The year 2020 has once again brought into question the intent of the Black Lives Matter movement by conservative America, as other non-BLM associated factions have evoked violence in the name of advocating for Black lives. In what has been an incredibly burdensome year for Black Lives Matter activists who have had to contend with the omnipresence of the coronavirus pandemic coupled with state-sanctioned violence, the movement has consistently been under the watch of federal operatives who have falsely accused many of its organizers of orchestrating anarchy.
What history has shown us is that if Black advocates were in the streets enacting the revenge Jones referenced to the extent they are being blamed for, the bloodshed and body count would be astronomical. The counter-narrative being spun by right-wing talking heads and co-signed by the Republican Party is designed to stir up a frenzy in prospective voters.
It is a strategy that is not only disingenuous with respect to the majority of protests being organized around the country, it is also a dangerous one that puts social justice activists in the crosshairs of trigger-happy “patriots.”
Peace by the Numbers
On September 5, an article from Time magazine reported that 93 percent of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful, based on a report by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit that researches political violence and protests across the world. The organization analyzed over 7,750 demonstrations that took place in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in all 50 states between May 26 and August 22.
Per their data, more than 2,400 locations reported peaceful protests, while fewer than 220 reported “violent demonstrations.” Violent demonstrations were defined as “acts targeting other individuals, property, businesses, other rioting groups or armed actors.”
These numbers not only contradict propaganda conveyed by conservative media outlets but also “moderate” and “liberal” outlets who have presented inaccuracies about Black Lives Matter advocacy. There has been an intentional highlighting of extremists who have journeyed to protests with the intent of violent disruption and connecting the actions of the violent few to the overall mission of the movement for Black lives.
A False Equivalence
Back in July, a conservative women’s group filed a federal complaint against New York City mayor Bill de Blasio over a Black Lives Matter mural that was painted outside of Trump Plaza. The group, Women for America, stated that de Blasio was pandering to Black Lives Matter because it suited his “political ambitions to run for national or other elected office as a Democrat after the end of his final term as Mayor of New York City or to be appointed to a prominent position in an anticipated Biden administration.”
The group also desired to have a mural of equal visibility with the words “Engaging, Inspiring and Empowering Women to Make a Difference!” as a facade of inclusion, despite the tone of their website is an adapted version of “Make America Great Again,” ideology.
Since its origins, the Black Lives Matter movement and other peer organizations and movements have dealt with a false equivalence from primarily white and conservative groups like Women for America. The “Matter” in Black Lives Matter has consistently been a subject for debate for its opponents, prompting the insincere emergence of “All Lives Matter”.
The irony of these spin-off conservative-based advocacy groups who proclaim to value “all lives,” is that their “advocacy” primarily exists to shout down cries for racial justice. Their counter-demonstrations are most often attended by armed Americans attempting to bully Black advocates and their allies.
Their patriotism is never questioned while Black change agents are often arrested and under surveillance.
When in Doubt, Evoke Fear
The Black Lives Matter movement has become a rehashed fear campaign for the Republican Party ahead of the 2020 election. It is being pegged as a movement of “left-wing radicals” and a “mob” by heads of the Republican Party who are willing to implore “Birth of a Nation” style propaganda to maintain power. Regardless if they are aware of the overall peaceful nature of the movement, they recognize that their base is attracted to the philosophy of fear.
The suburbanization of white America was rooted in the idea of the criminality of Black and Brown folks in the inner city. The demonization of Black Lives Matter and its affiliates are anchored in the same principle of evoking a fear of lawless Black people terrorizing the land to get what they want.
It is a page out of a tried and true playbook authored by racial animus and a trampling of Black America’s civil liberties. If activists who are fighting for the preservation of Black lives amidst the backdrop of state-sanctioned violence can be vilified, it makes it that much easier for their advocacy to not only be undermined, but viewed as a threat to white American safety.
A Peaceful Movement is Not New. Neither is the Opposition to It.
The majority of modern-day freedom fighters take their cue of peaceful demonstration from the foremothers and forefathers of the liberation movement. Whether it was the work of the Freedom Riders fighting against the segregation of public transportation, the sit-in demonstrators at Woolworth lunch counters, or the marchers who crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday”, a blueprint for progress was mapped in the face of unspeakable danger.
What activists know now is the same as what activists knew back then, which is that America is too violent, racist and white-centered of a nation to battle an eye for an eye. This is not to suggest that Black resistance has never utilized violence as a means of acquiring liberation or justice, but to reiterate the point that if the present-day movement was as violent as it is purported to be, there would never be any time for progress as that time would be consumed by mass burials.
America in 2020 still activates the tear gas, police dogs, rubber bullets, billy clubs and military tanks to quell Black resistance the same as in the 1960s. Advocates are still being arrested, jailed and bludgeoned while upholding a mantle of peace and civil disobedience. The false framing of the actions of modern-day social justice warriors is no different from the past.
This country will still proclaim civil disobedience to be chaos if reframing it as such allows the state to get away with murder.
America Deserves a Language it Understands
If America were to truly get what it deserves for the unjust treatment, marginalization, slaughtering, and hyper criminalization of its Black citizens, the streets would run red with the blood of oppressors. As a capitalistic society that was founded at the behest of war and rebellion, the language of blood and/or money is the only language that is truly native to the powers-that-be.
There have been more than enough videos of state-sanctioned and vigilante violence, more than enough evidence of injustice, more than enough grieving families to justify the type of violent response that Black advocates are being accused of. Black folks have always held on to the principle of holding America to its highest ideals. We have always walked a higher ground no matter how many times this country has placed our loved ones six feet beneath us.
But as sister Kimberly Latrice Jones said, that is more attributed to America’s luck that we do not take a vengeful approach to justice. Because the alternative would be a language of warfare that no one really wants, despite how much they push the needle in that direction.
About the author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.