Black Lives Matter, Alton Sterling Matters: Today’s Recommended Reading

Many across America are grieving at the news of Alton Sterling’s murder by a police officer — and at the repetition of news like it — captured on video and gone viral this morning. It seems inappropriate to direct you to any links other than those either created by black writers or supporting black communities (also check out coverage by black media), so that’s what we’ve got for you today in our Recommended Reading: insightful Twitter essays, fighting the “body cameras will fix this” myth, a piece about who Alton Sterling was, a tepid history of police brutality reform, changing the conversation about African American mental health, and some next steps for activists and allies.

First, some great Twitter essays we’ve seen: Zoe Samudzi on the KKK’s entwined history with America’s police forces, Anil Dash on Silicon Valley’s responsibility to victims of police brutality and the unbalanced politics of disruption, Ijeoma Oluo on “walk[ing] around with these wounds, with the shadows of these dreams I used to have of a world that doesn’t exist for us” and calling out Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and finally Jenn Baker, on how “activist” allies need to shape up (i.e. you need to do more than just read these links below).

Next, the basics of reform: we know the body cameras don’t work. Politicians, Congress, whoever: if you’re reading this, body cameras will not save black lives. If we’re going to have any meaningful political action, please read this article on why body cameras don’t work, from Fusion:

The federal government, for instance, is very supportive of body cameras. In 2015, the Justice Department rolled out a $23 million pilot program to get more police departments to use them. The effort was part of a package of policy shifts that President Obama announced in the wake of the unrest that shook Ferguson, Mo. after unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot and killed by an officer there…One of the biggest issues is that officers are often in charge of pressing the record button on the camera, allowing them to decide what gets filmed. In many use of force cases, officers wearing body cameras simply don’t have them turned on.

Not that it changes anything if he weren’t, but Sterling appeared to have been a sweet, caring husband and father of five (sound familiar?). Get to know about the man, not just the statistic, via Huffington Post:

Alton Sterling was a son, a brother and a father of five adorable children. “The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis,” Quinyetta McMillan, the mother of one of Sterling’s children, told reporters on Wednesday….Sterling had stood outside of the convenience store selling CDs for years, the store owner Abdullah Muflahi told The Advocate. Sterling had even adopted the nickname “CD man.”

Though it seems like the answer is “basically nothing,” this analyis of “What Has Changed About Police Brutality In America, From Rodney King To Michael Brown” at  Think Progress is a pretty decent overview of police brutality over the last twenty years. There’s a small hope for future reform at the end, but sadly this is two years old, similar to this other good Baltimore-specific overview from The Atlantic, which is a year old. This issue is so frustratingly old:

And even in communities that have seen dramatic change, there are as many holes left to be filled as there have been reforms. One is the intransigent, incredible challenge of holding police accountable. Police unions exercise strong influence over many local boards that decide whether cops get to keep their jobs. Juries tend to side with police. And the law overwhelming favors the police. UC Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerensky, who has long followed this issue, wrote after Brown’s death that “the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court” due to doctrines from the Supreme Court down that weigh against holding officers accountable.

Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg snapped back at a police officer who called into the show (with a very succinct analysis at Jezebel). I mean, this was clearly going to turn into an “I Wanna Hear My Own Voice” speech on the part of the caller, but Rosenberg thankfully stops it and challenges him to hold his colleagues accountable:

“I have to say this. This is the problem I have with police officers—and no disrespect to you. Y’all don’t ever wanna point to someone else and say you can’t do your job well!” he says. “And that’s the reason the public thinks all of you are bad, because you won’t ever call someone out and say they murdered someone in cold blood. It happened again.”…it’s the familiarity of his rhetoric, the things we’ve heard too many times before, that makes it so intense.

When you can’t go outside, on the internet, to any newsstand, etc. without feeling like the world just sucks, it’s not just demoralizing and exhausting — it can be extremely traumatizing. Take time to self-care, and really pay attention to your mental health when these things happen. And as of yesterday, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans has some excellent resources, via its Twitter conference, “Supporting and Strengthening African American Mental Health.” Dozens of experts weighed in, providing important analysis and testimony. Every great bit of it has been compiled on Storify:

Oh, and if none of the above links correlate with how you want to grieve, that’s also okay. Though originally a response to Black Lives Matters’ response to the Pulse tragedy, Ashleigh Shackelford of Wear Your Voice writes with prescient knowledge on why “Grieving For Black Lives Is Not One-Dimensional”:

We are not meant to have cookie cutter response systems to tragedy when we are the people being killed. We are looking in mirrors at funerals, echoing our pain when we speak the words of our stolen people and hearing audio feedback on every mic we put our lips to because it’s always too close to home.

We are not a monolith. Our pain, our grief, and our healing is not a monolith. Some of us may fall ill because we are in traumatic shock of the violence we constantly experience.

Some of us may disappear in our pain. Some of us might be destructive in our pain. Some of us may cry our eyes out and still manage to support everyone around us like it’s nothing. Some of us just want to demand our humanity be seen through protests, through twerking, through beats, through community power. Sometimes our magic and our resilience shows up in ways that conflict with one another or don’t make sense to one another.

Now about that “doing more than just reading these links.” Here’s some first steps:

  1. Donate to the Sterling family, created by Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl:
  2. Join a coalition or community group dedicated to ending police brutality.
  3. If there are none near you and you’d like to start one, read the ACLU’s “Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual.”