Why do we protest?
As we watch protests march down streets from Kittery to Caribou, it’s fair to wonder what it all accomplishes. Especially in the time of coronavirus, wouldn’t it be better if everyone stayed home and contacted their representatives and town and city leadership?
I can tell you from personal experience: We protest because there’s no other option left to us. We get taken off in handcuffs by police because we must force society to see the courage of our convictions.
While I am saddened to be sidelined from this movement in the streets because I fear for my partner’s health, I feel a deep resonance with the young people who are leading the Black Lives Matter protests. I call on everyone to support them in whatever way that they are able.
They protest because they feel powerless. They protest because it is the option of last resort. They protest because it is our fundamental First Amendment right and that right is guaranteed for the times when we must physically gather to object to injustice.
And it is lethal injustice that black people face in the United States, especially with regard to policing and the justice system. How is it possible that 37 percent of all prisoners in America are black males? How is it possible that there were more than 1,000 Americans shot to death by police in 2019, and the rate at which black Americans are shot to death by police is triple that of white people?
The only explanation is a white supremacist system that is directly descended from slavery and segregation and which we have yet to truly address and unravel. Discrimination did not end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor did the Civil Rights Act upend the thousands of laws already in place, and put in place since then, that are built to uphold the white supremacist architecture of the United States legal system.
White supremacy is built into our laws and into our budgets. There are mass shortages of personal protective equipment, but no shortage of body armor. There is a mass shortage of nasal swabs, but no shortage of tear gas. We can’t produce enough COVID-19 tests, but we can produce plenty of batons and shields.
Our government has failed us. People are fed up with unaccountable policing that targets black men, women, and children, and deals out injury, death, humiliation, and destruction of lives without justice.
I am calling on Congress to immediately:
- Take up the matter of reparations to black Americans.
- End senseless programs that funnel military equipment to local police departments.
- Fund and convene a commission designed to radically reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States, which leads the world in mass incarceration.
- Increase funding to the Department of Justice for a mandate to root out white supremacist elements in our national police forces and prosecute excessive uses of force.
- Pass national legislation making it illegal to hire police officers who have been removed from their position for the excessive use of force or discriminatory practices.
- End “qualified immunity” so police officers are held civilly liable for abuses, and amend federal civil rights law to allow more effective prosecution of police misconduct by changing the standard from willfulness to recklessness.
Here in Maine, I am calling on the Legislature to invest in anti-racist education to be delivered remotely starting as soon as possible and to embed it in the Maine Learning Results. Further, I am calling on Gov. Janet Mills to include an indigenous (non-immigrant) black person – someone descended from African slaves kidnapped and brought to America – in every decision-making body in her administration.
The disproportionate number of black people who are arrested, tried, and incarcerated in Maine as compared with their presence in the population speaks for itself – the problem is here, it is us: systemic racism borne of white supremacy. Anyone paying attention has seen the legacy of Ku Klux Klan rallies in our streets, statements about “Shifty and D-Money” from our former governor, and, just this week, racial epithets being used by a widely known ice cream maker. The disproportionate rate of infection and death from the COVID-19 disease here in Maine is further evidence of a racist economy and a racist health-care system.
We must do everything in our power to fix these problems as soon as possible. Calling on our elected leadership has thus far proved ineffective. The United States will be great only when we finally overcome white supremacy and systemic racism. And we will protest to demand it.
Lisa Savage is a teacher, organizer, and grandmother from Solon and an independent candidate for election to the U.S. Senate.