Photo from NPR: Patrisse Cullors
I was interested to hear an interview with a Black Lives Matter activist on NPR this morning. Patrisse Cullors was candid and articulate concerning her motivation for becoming an activist for civilized treatment of Black Americans by police. I think she is a person who really hopes to effect change in society for the better. I hope she succeeds.
However, I was troubled by her relating of some incidents which motivated her activism. She appears to lack a wider perspective on crime in Black neighborhoods. She sounded like she feels Black men engaged in crime are always victims, not adults who choose their paths. This perspective risks polluting her activism with a mentality of self-isolating victimhood. That chronic mentality, which has its roots in slavery, has slowed the progress of Black people in the U.S. for 150 years in my opinion.
Here are some of her words which led to this reaction in my mind:
By the time I was 23, my brother and my father that raised me had spent most of their life in prison or jail because of the war on drugs.
To not be able to feed your children is traumatic. To witness people being kidnapped from their community, put in cars and handcuffed, you know, at 12, 13-years-old is traumatic. To witness people receive life sentences in prison is traumatic.
Black Lives Matter has made it a point to not share the stage with law enforcement, in particular, because we think it's unethical for us to sit at tables as if it's going to be an even conversation... I will have conversations with them. I don't believe we don't sit down with law enforcement, or have conversations with them or lobby them; I just don't think its ethical to be on stage with them at this moment.
I understand why a child of felons would deny their culpability. I have trouble with her characterizing arrests by legitimate authority as "kidnapping". Black women have had ample government assistance in feeding their children for decades. A large segment of poor Black women have historically chosen pregnancy over education or vocational training. And, life sentences are given to bad people through a legal process. These are not political prisoners. They are felons, with the exception of a small percentage of cases, regardless of color.
Black neighborhoods have not cooperated with police historically throughout the U.S.., despite the considerable rise in Black police officers over the past several decades. Black voting statistics are very low. Black-on-Black crime investigations are routinely obstructed by Black citizens who do not cooperate with police detectives to help their own neighborhoods turn from crime to education.
Refusing to deal directly with police and government is not activism. It is anarchism. Anarchism may conform with Ms. Cullors' ethics. That is for her to decide, of course. However, I don't see it as a healthy prescription for nonviolent progress on policing problems in Black neighborhoods or with Black citizens individually. Anarchism, in my opinion, is the political stance of the enraged and antisocial. Anarchy is the politics of ISIS and Al Qaeda, not the politics of leaders like President Obama and Martin Luther King.