Posted on August 20, 2017
Not long ago Black Lives Matter Pasadena founder Jasmine Abdullah updated on Facebook:
Truly, panels are not the work of the Movement for Black Lives. Attending a panel can sometimes be barely better than watching CNN since panels don’t contain the critical depths, the generations of suffering, and genius that motivate Black Lives Matter and the Justice Teams Network (JTN).
Even so, panels like Politicon’s “Black Lives Matter: Rights and Resistance” are much better, much more deeply critical, and more open to reflecting on the sufferings and genius of Black people than, say, any evening with Don Lemon.
Two years ago Patrisse Khan-Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, began to organize local anti-racist organizations across California to comprise the JTN. As abolitionists concerning the prison-industrial complex, JTN organizations are united under a banner of common values: rapid response, legal aid, healing justice, grassroots mobilization, and effecting policy change in order to divest from the prison-industrial complex and invest in local and statewide resources, such as education programs for historically marginalized communities.
Guadalupe Chavez of Dignity and Power Now framed the conversation with an opening word about the final goal of all the Justice Teams which is transformative justice and healing justice for marginalized people. And the panelists, other representatives from the JTN — Dr. Melina Abdullah (Black Lives Matter Los Angeles), Tifanei Ressl-Moyer (Black Lives Matter Sacramento), Cat Brooks (Anti Police-Terror Project), Me: Carlos Antonio Delgado (Just Love Coalition), and Brother Brian Muhammed (Fathers and Families of San Joaquin) – addressed both their local work and the national political climate.
Moderators America Ferrera and Touré asked questions ranging from the general public’s knowledge of systemic anti-Black racism to police brutality, to President Donald Trump’s contribution to a climate of police terror, to how JTN organizations partner across racial lines to advocate for Black and Brown people, to fighting unjust legislation such as the Police Officers Bill of Rights. Touré asked the panel about next steps, noting one would have to be living under a rock not to know that anti-Black racism among police is a pressing social issue; “What’s the next battle?” he asked.
But the panel was a beautiful show of the work of the movement and of pushing back on assumptions. “Not everybody knows,” Brooks said, citing a long history of denial on the part of the white majority. The work has been in part persuasive, she noted, but persuasion has lasted hundreds of years, not merely since Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
As Toni Morrison notes in her essay The Site of Memory, American slaves’ autobiographical narratives were frequently scorned [by reviewers] as ‘biased,’ ‘inflammatory,’ and ‘improbable.’ Never in American history, even when the brutality and terror of the Pushing System was in shameless full view, has the white majority shown a willingness to believe Black people about their suffering.
The panel then addressed issues from the perspective that nothing much has changed for Black people; the climate President Trump nurtures among law enforcement has for example, as Brother Brian Muhammed described, only removed “the mask of civility.” “Obama was smooth and soothe,” Brooks said, “and now we’re smash and grab.” Dr. Abdullah added,
“Red hats have essentially replaced white sheets.”
to which most of the audience responded with a standing ovation.
So the work of persuasion must continue. But the JTN devotes itself to the work of resistance: to defunding police and funding community resources, to the abolition of the prison-industrial complex, to supporting victims of state sanctioned violence, to countering police narratives in the aftermath of their brutality against those whose spaces they occupy and surveil. The JTN seeks to bring justice, transformation, and healing to the capitol, to the courtroom, to the streets, and to the homes and traumatized bodies of those who have suffered because of systemic, sustained, and state sanctioned white supremacy.
Indeed it is easy to imagine that panels might sidestep the real work of the movement. After all, people cheer but they go home, neglecting to do anything concrete; conversations don’t often lead effectively to change; popular Black Lives Matter activists risk becoming movement “mascots.” And yet, as Dr. Abdullah noted hopefully as the panel closed, “This is a call to action,” challenging everyone to do all they could to bring about a world where finally all would see what truth really looks like: that Black Lives Matter.
Cover Photo Source: John Sciulli/Getty Images North America