Melenna Awaju: #BlackLivesMatter: Why the Controversy?

Melenna Awaju

Melenna Awaju

 

 

#BlackLivesMatter: Why the Controversy?

 

It’s a shame that the U.S. Government’s FBI failed to document all killings of citizens and non-citizens by the hands of the police in the States. Thus, the fact that The Guardian set up an online, unclassified interactive database with all records of killings in 2015 and is continuing to do so this year for the public is a great leap forward. However, the statistics and data released by The Guardian prove to be bittersweet. Although this is an opportunity for families who’ve unjustly lost loved ones to be recognized and heard, it is definitely not reassuring to come to terms with the fact that there is a disproportionate amount of people of certain minorities – Blacks specifically –  that are killed, arrested and are involved in police conflicts relative to the demographics of these industrialized nations. Plus, it’s unfortunate that the responses of police forces when questioned are often vague and misleading, while those directly involved in these killings are often acquitted.

In Canada, ‘race-based statistics on police shootings’ are unavailable from “institutions such as Statistics Canada, the Toronto Police, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit” or the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services when they’re requested from advocacy groups and protestors.[1] According to the study entitled Whitewashing Criminal Justice in Canada: Preventing Research through Data Suppression by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Ph.D. and Paul Miller, Ph.D., “blacks are over-represented in police stops in Canada and Aboriginals are over-represented in Canadian prisons” These minorities have socio-economic disadvantages and also are victims to police discrimination – these were the reasons offered that explained this cold, unsettling fact. Miller then rightfully states that a well-established method of data collection for these missing statistics (in order to build a foundation such as The Counted) would definitely benefit Canada in the long run.[2]

Consequently, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement spanning the world reached Canada with the purpose of increasing awareness regarding the bias in the judicial system against racialized individuals. Its universal goal is to dismantle the systematic discrimination and oppression of our fellow brothers and sisters. The movement strives for a prosperous future where no Black individual will have to question authority, but instead, can trust them entirely. Although we’ve consistently been taught to be meticulous with the way we dress and act to avoid being profiled, the recent events of police brutality are cruel reminders of the injustice the system serves. The disparity concerning the level of security and trust in the police amongst Blacks and non-Blacks are thus far too significant, and it is our job as an international community to bridge the gap and to eliminate anti-Black racism. Although the movement has good intentions, the response of some groups and individuals have proven that not only is it misunderstood by them, it is also disliked to quite an extent.

Firstly, in response to the phrase “Black Lives Matter”, many praise the expression, “All Lives Matter” and/or “White Lives Matter”. A great example w0uld be of the controversial singing of the anthem by The Tenors, an acapella quartet group whose manipulation of the Canadian anthem at the MLB all-star game in July to include the words “All Lives Matter” wreaked havoc.[3] Those who oppose the #BLM movement simply do not comprehend its paradox. By saying that “Black Lives Matter”, we are not supporting the idea that Blacks are more important than members of other races. Instead, we deserve unique treatment and care in order to cure deep, emotional scars left because of uniquely cruel treatment. As President Obama once said, the phrase “All Lives Matter” is concerning simply because of its context and origin, in which it implies that those supporting #ALM believe that #BLM suggests that Blacks are the only ones who matter. However, it’s the Black lives that must matter more than they presently do for all lives to matter equally.[4] Thus, by supporting the #BLM movement, we are helping to decrease disparity and increase equality. Those who support the #BLM movement claim that supporting the phrase “All Lives Matter” “is an ignorant way of silencing the discrimination and racism faced by black people for centuries.”[5]  In addition, police killings of non-Blacks are isolated incidences where killings of Black folks are most often not – this is what differentiates “Blacks Lives Matter” from “White Lives Matter”. As a result of the amount of discord, controversy and tension built, progress is considered to be relatively stationary at this point.

So what is the truth behind the controversy of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the unjust killings of Blacks? Is it because the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is believed to be a racist statement? Or because it is simply misunderstood by many communities? Or because controversial actions taken by some individuals during protests may hinder our progress? Simply put, all these reasons apply, and as cliché as this may sound, it will take everyone’s participation to settle the tension and work to disintegrate deeply-rooted systemic racism once and for all.
*A contribution to the ‘When Will I Be Free?’ Collection*

 

 

Biography

My name is Melenna Awaju and I am a second-generation Canadian with Eritrean roots. I am 12th grade student who values experience as a primary source of knowledge and strives to cherish life’s simple moments and humbly learn from new opportunities as often as possible. Within my communities, I am engaged in several leadership roles and hope to strengthen my role as a writer. Black Ottawa Scene has given me the opportunity to write what inspires and impacts me, and I only hope to develop my love for writing in order to continue writing against injustices and disparities from a local to global perspective in the near future.

 

[1] WASHINGTON POST: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/14/the-controversy-surrounding-black-lives-matter-in-canada/

[2] UofT: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/canadian-police-agencies-suppressing-data-race-says-criminology-study

[3] CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/mlb/canadian-national-anthem-all-lives-matter-change-1.3676477

[4] THE HUFFINGTONPOST: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/richard-sherman-all-lives-matter_us_57979f7be4b02d5d5ed30330

[5] CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/black-lives-police-1.3679595

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