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From Impossible to Inevitable: If any of us are treated as disposable, then we are all in danger

Starting with the original sin of slavery, those in our nation who were born White have exerted power over those who were born Black. Black Lives Matter is a powerful response to the implicit attitude that Black lives are disposable.

As horrific as it was to watch the torture and murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to the brave young woman who captured it on video for all the world to see. She is being “rewarded” with harassment, and the need to move to an undisclosed location.

In response to that unspeakably painful video, people are rising up across the country in massive protests seeking to finally eradicate the systemic forces that led to Mr. Floyd’s torture and death. An underlying message of the protests is that if any of us is treated as disposable, we all are in danger.

Those protesting represent all races, ages, genders, and sexual orientations. One of the tens of thousands of Americans who joined protests demanding that our country value Black lives was Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old peace activist. During the June 4 protest in his hometown of Buffalo, Gugino unthreateningly walked up to a group of police. They responded by violently shoving him, knocking him to the ground, where he hit his head and lay unmoving and bleeding.

The police let him lie on the ground, by himself, unconscious, blood pouring from his head. He was eventually taken to a hospital, acutely injured, in serious condition. Gugino is White, but because of his decision to stand up for Black lives, his life was treated as disposable, too.

In blasting the unconstitutional, dictatorial use of force by President Donald Trump against peaceful protesters, General James Mattis stated, “Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that ‘The Nazi slogan for destroying us … was ‘Divide and Conquer.’”

The Normandy invasion marked the turning point in our fight against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, which saw many lives as disposable. The German language even has words for these supposedly lesser humans. Untermensch are sub-humans, those who are useful for slave labor. Lebensubwertes leben are an even lower category, “life unworthy of life.” Those the Nazis deemed unworthy of life—Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities, among others—were taken to concentration camps for extermination.

If you do not understand that today’s protests are in opposition to the same forces that motivated Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, you are part of the problem. It is time for people of all races, all ages, all religions, genders, and sexual orientations to stand together in solidarity and protest under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

Former President Jimmy Carter clearly sees the deeper connection: “People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say ‘no more’ to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy.”

As humans, all of us are physically vulnerable. From the dawn of humanity, we have engaged in collective activity to reduce that physical vulnerability. Police, in theory organized to reduce our common physical vulnerability, have instead become an instrument of increased physical vulnerability of some humans simply because of the color of their skin.

It is well past time for systemic police reform. To those who say that it is just a few bad apples, they should remember that a few bad apples rot the entire bunch. A 2006 FBI report revealed that law enforcement has been “infiltrated” by White Supremacists.

The institution of White Supremacy cannot be reformed. It must be dismantled to safeguard everyone. We need accountability, including the following actions:

  1. Defund police budgets by at least 15 percent and allocate those funds to social programs and affordable housing.
  2. Every year in cities across this country, millions of dollars are awarded in civil lawsuits to settle cases of police misconduct. Instead of the money coming from the city’s budget in general, it should be taken from both the police department budget and the salary/pension of the officer in question. This, more than anything else, will immediately alter the behavior of rogue cops.
  3. Prohibit asset forfeiture unless there is a conviction; when there is, the funds should go to the community, not to the police, who should not have a self-interest in forfeitures.
  4. For every police force, create a citizen review board with the power to fire, indict, and prosecute officers for misconduct.
  5. Any officer who causes the loss of life of any person who is unarmed and found to be innocent of any felonious wrongdoing should be automatically fired and subject to prosecution.
  6. Create national databases for all police shootings and for all complaints filed against individual police officers.
  7. Require all police to wear body cameras and keep them turned on when in the community. If a complaint is made against a police officer whose camera was off, the irrefutable presumption is that the complaint is accurate.
  8. Ban all chokeholds and neck restraints.
  9. Require police that work in a community to live in that community.
  10. Restrict the power of police unions to negotiating only about wages, hours, and benefits. Eliminate their involvement in issues of police misconduct.

But reforming the police and increasing physical security is only the first step. To build a more perfect union, we must work for economic justice and security for all.

Measures that would benefit all of us—but especially Black people and other people of color—include increasing the minimum wage, strengthening workers’ ability to join together and collectively bargain, expanding Social Security, and enacting an improved Medicare for All. Increased economic justice and security also mean ensuring that we have clean water to drink and air to breathe, as well as safe food to eat.

The intertwined crises of a worldwide pandemic, economic collapse, and racial injustice have shined bright spotlights on long-simmering problems. Exposed by the crises is that people of color disproportionately hold essential jobs that are dangerous and life-threatening.

Laid bare is the fact that Black people have disproportionately suffered premature death due to a number of discriminatory factors, including the lesser ability to access high quality health care. Laid bare is their disproportionate economic insecurity. And laid bare is the fact that their lives are disproportionately treated as disposable.

People of color disproportionately suffer these threats, but no one is immune. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick infamously called on older Americans to sacrifice their lives to protect Wall Street’s profits because there’s “more important things than living.”

Similarly, U.S. Representative Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN), argued that saving the economy was more important than preventing the deaths from COVID-19, disproportionately suffered by seniors, people with disabilities, and Black people. He condescendingly claimed that deciding to treat some lives as disposable was to “put on our big boy and big girl pants and say ‘This is the lesser of these two evils.’”

No life is disposable. No human is inherently superior to any other. Today is one of those moments in history when the impossible turns into the inevitable. The nation’s Founders wrote that all of us “are created equal, endowed… with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If all of us stand together and make our voices heard, we can finally, together, make that inspiring goal a reality for one and all.

Kymone Freeman and Nancy J. Altman

Lee Matz

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