On Tuesday, February 10, students gathered in the Leung Gallery to learn about and discuss the topic “Why #BlackLivesMatter,” in a workshop conducted by the Minority Peer Counselors. While explaining various injustices black lives have faced both in the past and today, the workshop also asked attendants to think about how they could contribute to the movement moving forward.
The workshop was structured around a historical timeline, looking at three key eras of social control of people of color, beginning with slavery, then moving to Jim Crow, and finally ending with the current state of mass incarceration. Addressing the first two eras, the facilitators drew parallels between the practices and rhetoric of pre-emancipation slave owners, Jim Crow white supremacists, and current policing procedures, in order to historicize and contextualize events occurring today.
One particularly resonant connection was between a statement made in Look magazine by the notorious murderers of Emmett Till–a fourteen year old boy killed for supposedly flirting with a white woman in 1955–and that of Darren Wilson, with regard to the murder of Michael Brown. The audience was to listen to the statements and determine if any similarities could be found. Many determined that both perpetrators expressed a lack of guilt as well as rhetoric which suggested ideological backing by higher institutions, institutions that tacitly or explicitly supported their lack of guilt at taking a Black life.
In the third and current era, three foundational policies of mass incarceration were discussed: the War on Drugs, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Stop and Frisk. 500% increase in prison rates since the 1980’s. Most of these inmates are Black or Latino, though these citizens make up a proportionately smaller percentage of the population than their white counterparts. The effects of incarceration are not only detrimental for the duration of the sentencing, but also following the sentence. Former inmates are subject to intense discrimination including lack of employment and, in some states, disenfranchisement, not unlike the policies that permeated the Jim Crow era.