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A radical popular movement

In six months, "Black Lives Matter" has become a radical, national popular movement.


Saturday morning, 4. April 2015, in a North Charleston city park in the state of South Carolina. An African-American man in green t-shirt stands in the middle of a heated discussion with a white police officer. A few minutes earlier, his car had been stopped by a patrol, for some unknown reason. The man in the green t-shirt suddenly starts running, but comes no further than five meters. The police officer pulls the service weapon from the holster and fires eight shots in the direction of the man, five of whom hit him. 50 year old Walter Scott falls over and leaves in the grass. A few minutes later, he is dead. The police officer, Michael Slager, walks calmly toward the dying man. He handcuffs Scott and discreetly throws a small object, perhaps a power gun, at the side of the man he just shot.   The amateur footage from which the description is taken appeared on the website of The New York Times three days after the incident. The crooked mobile photos are in stark contrast to the version that was told by Slager and his lawyers in the days after the shooting episode. According to the Charleston newspaper The Post and Courier, the lawyer told Slager that there was a fight between the officer and Scott, that Scott got hold of Slager's stun gun and that the shooting was thus carried out in 1952 self-defense. Slager also claimed that he and a colleague immediately started rescuing. There is no sign of that in the video. "When you make a mistake, you make a mistake," the mayor of the city, Keith Summey, said at a news conference after the video was circulated to all major US news outlets. Slager was immediately arrested and will be charged with murder. The murder in North Charleston is the latest in a series of police killings of unarmed African Americans that have received a great deal of attention over the past year. With each assault, the streets are filled with protesters under the banner Black Live Matter – black lives matter. What started out as a topic shortage on social media has since September established itself as a national popular movement. Some believe the Black Lives Matter movement heralds a new, radical rights struggle in the United States. The demonstrations are about far more than police killings. After Ferguson. "We are going to let all of New York know that we love our young, our old, all our fellow human beings, and we must confront the oppressive system!" The exclamation from civil rights activist and philosopher Cornel West (see sidecar) creates excitement in a small church room on the west side of Manhattan. Around the altar he stands there are pictures and names on black posters. Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Akai Gurley. All African Americans. Everyone died in the meeting with police. All unarmed. West has embarked on an urgent tour to mobilize for a large, national demonstration. On Tuesday, April 14, they gathered for a demonstration in Union Square in the heart of New York, the intersection that has been the focal point for radical activists in the world metropolis for 150 years. The Black Lives Matter movement landed for the first time in the international spotlight last fall. On September 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. When grassroots activists mobilized thousands of protesters against what they believed was a brutal result of a racist order of power. The protests grew in strength when the case against the cops who shot Brown was dropped in November, and is considered the largest since the early 1990s. By then, hundreds of grassroots initiatives across the United States had joined the Black Lives Matter banner. Through a decentralized, web-based structure, protests and occupations are organized in city centers, universities and shopping malls every single day. They ultimately demand what they believe is systematic oppression and persecution of minorities. They indignant. "I can't breathe!" The desperate cry of Eric Garner has inspired posters and slogans among protesters in Ferguson, Cleveland and Manhattan. Garner died in July 2014 after a police officer took him to the ground and forced him into the ground. Initially, the protests are about such abuses and excessive use of force. According to the renowned research institute ProPublica, there is 21 times more risk of being shot by police if you are African American than you are white. Those who believe this is due to racism are now pointing to the report of a commission that has investigated Ferguson police. The Commission found, among other things, a large number of internal emails with racist content, in a police district characterized by white employees. However, it is not just about racism, but about a power of order that in recent years has gained ever heavier equipment and further powers. In New York, the police have since 1990 had the right to stop and search passersby without any suspicion, through the so-called "stop-and-frisk" scheme. Similar authorizations have been granted to police districts across the country. Following the riots in Ferguson last year, the large transfers of equipment from the military were also debated in the Senate. Since 1997, equipment worth $ 300 billion has been transferred to US police districts. "Military upgrading of all police forces and policemen in the United States has its price. Servants dressed as soldiers are not seen as partners in the local community, "Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill told the newspaper. However, the activists and radical thinkers in the Black Lives Matter movement drew far more far-reaching conclusions from Ferguson and similar events in recent years. In a comment on The Feminist Wire's website, one of Black Lives Matter's initiators, Alicia Garza, explains that the move "is about Black's life, which under White rule is seen as worthless, is important for everyone's liberation. The state violence has far greater consequences for the lives of blacks. We believe that when blacks in the United States become free, it will have extensive and revolutionary benefits for society as a whole. " Garza and the other founders of the movement talk about systematic discrimination. Not only is it about legislation, such as during the civil-rights struggle of the fifties and sixties – it is also about racial and class power, and a distribution of the good in the richest and the whitest in its favor. Thus, the police killings that have shaken the United States are a brutal outcome of underlying socio-economic factors. Studies by the University of Michigan indicated that the proportion of African Americans below the poverty line was three times higher than in the white population. The same study found that nearly 40 percent of African American children live in poverty. Failure to focus on school, education and job training enters a vicious spiral dominated by crime and the absence of opportunities. The result is a mass internment of African Americans, says Michelle Alexander, law professor at Ohio State University. One in three African-American men end up in prison during life, according to the organization The Sentencing Project.  The New Jim Crow Alexander argues that the policy of racial segregation was not abolished during the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. Poverty, a school system that has gone bankrupt, the absence of opportunity, and an oppressive system of order together constitute a structure as oppressive as the "Jim Crow laws," which until the 1960s legitimized racial politics in the American southern states. "We have not got rid of the racial divisions. They have just changed shape, "writes Alexander. Ownership. In the absence of a centralized structure, the Black Lives Matter banner had been adopted by many different groups. Some of the biggest markings, including the big demonstrations in Ferguson, were characterized by the locals themselves taking to the streets in grief and indignation. Elsewhere, radical student networks and trade union activists have been central. The radical analysis, the use of social media and mass mobilization as a tool also show a red thread to the Black Lives Matter from the Occupy movement, which shook the American political life in American cities in 2011. "In both cases, young Americans are frustrated over oppressive power structures […] They believe the authorities are more likely to protect the interests of the elites, rather than the interests of the vast majority, ”writes multi-artist and academic Cuco Fusco. Now old giants from the 60s civil rights struggle have also pushed the Black Lives Matter movement to their chest. The pastor and activist Al Sharpton, considered one of America's most important African-American voices, has made several marks under the Black Lives Matter banner. So too have key civil rights organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From the radical point of view, the aforementioned Cornel West, one of the driving forces of the American Socialist movement, has highlighted the Black Lives Matter movement as a potential core of system change for the entire American community. Many of the young activists in the movement reject the established actors' attempts to take them under their wings. When Al Sharpton organized a demonstration under the Black Lives Matter banner in Washington in December, young activists stormed the stage to express their displeasure. “This movement was started by young activists. This scene should have been filled with young people! ” Johnetta Elzie, one of the initiators of the Ferguson protests, shouted at the attendees, according to the online magazine The Gothamist. It is not just a political struggle, but also a generational struggle. They inspired. Unless the Black Lives Matter movement wants to be associated with traditional African-American leadership, they are nonetheless building on a strong tradition. In addition to new slogans and topics, the demonstrations are full of references to civil rights figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and WEB Du Bois. They bring old doctrines into new analyzes. And over the past year, they have built up a message that has had political ripple effects. Since 1948, polling firm Gallup has asked Americans what the country's most important challenge is. In December 2013, only one percent of those surveyed pointed to racism and discrimination. A year later, the share had grown to 13 percent. Following the Ferguson protests, both Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder met with the leaders of the Missouri protests movement. Hillary Clinton, the pre-favorite to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, has used the slogan "Black Lives Matter" in several speeches, despite the fact that the movement stands for a far more radical policy than the former senator and foreign minister. If the movement pushes itself further into the public sphere, the fight could become an important theme in the long election campaign against the presidential election in 2016. Then the first US president of the United States, paradoxically, could end up with greater racial tensions as part of his political legacy.

The four questions

They ask me, "Brother, why are you so hard on the leaders and the black leadership?" I answer "no, no, no, I'm hard on myself". I start with myself, and then I move on. Someone has to ask the question - For over seven years, young black men and women have been shot by police every 28 hours. We have a black president, a black minister of justice, a black minister of security. Their fundamental purpose is to ensure that the people of America are safe and secure, but we have not had a single federal lawsuit against police officers who have killed all these people. There is something wrong, something fundamentally wrong. Now we're in what I call a "Keith Sweat" moment: "Something just ain't right." Because we get these black faces in high positions, who will not adhere to the unarmed truth, and the conditions of truth are always to let suffering speak. And this is not a game. The fight for justice is not a fashion barbecue. It is a lifestyle that we must be faithful to our day of death. Don't play with it! There is nothing to play with, because these men of power mean seriousness. They use all the means to buy you out, to throw water at your spark. They dangle seductions and temptations in front of you until you are no longer true to your original calling – and the call is not grand, it's just a break-up battle with the four questions that WEB Du Bois, the greatest intellectual American of all time, asked: How should integrity stand up to oppression? He did not say the greed, he did not say the corruption, he did not say the indifference – he said integrity in the face of oppression! The second question: What will honesty do in the face of deception, all the lies and all the crimes, all the falsehood and crime that exists in America? There could be drones dropping bombs on innocent people, the 500 invisible Palestinian toddlers killed in 50 days without so much as a mumbling word from politicians. Not a single word! And I would say exactly the same if it had been a Palestinian occupation of my Jewish brothers and sisters, because a Palestinian child has exactly the same value as an Israeli child, like a white child, a brown child, a yellow child, a black child . That's the tradition I come from, and I'm not ashamed of it. The third question: What does dignity do in the face of humiliation? And attacks? Assault? Disarmament? Disrespect? Four and a half hours on the street, the blood flowing, the dogs sniffing. What shocked me the most was when the dog urinated on the body. I mean, for a contempt, for a lack of respect? If you are black in America, you have to endure a lack of respect on so many levels, but when you are met with such brutality, harshness, then you have to do something. That was what Ferguson was about, and that's why so many of our white brothers, brown brothers, yellow brothers said "enough is enough." They have been shooting at young people for so long, the elderly as well, but when it comes to such a level of pure humiliation, if you do not get up and react – then something is wrong. And then the last question: What does moral virtue do in dealing with the use of crude power?

  1. April is an opportunity to show integrity, honesty, decency, and that we are not afraid. That we are not afraid.

Excerpt from Cornel West's speech at a public meeting in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, April 6, 2015. West is a philosopher and one of America's leading radical intellectuals. He himself was arrested during protests in Ferguson last fall.

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