Lauren McCauley: ‘The Alarm Bells are Ringing’ — From Athletes to Environmentalists, a Universal Call for Racial Justice Emerges
While the protests over deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown refuse to stand down, leading environmentalists, labor protesters and others show their solidarity saying: “These issues are not separate.”
With the nation’s streets still filled with protesters and a plan for thousands to march on Washington brewing, the call for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and other black victims of police violence has only grown stronger. In the days and weeks since two grand juries failed to indict the police officers who killed the two men, expressions of solidarity have poured in from all corners—from professional athletes to fast food workers, education leaders and environmental groups, with the message that an injustice against one is an injustice against us all.
On Monday evening, several NBA players took the court wearing t-shirts that read, “I can’t breathe,” a reference to the final utterance issued by Eric Garner, who was forced into a chokehold by New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17. “It’s not a Cavs thing,” said Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James, who was one of the players to don the shirt, before the game. “It’s a worldly thing.”
The symbolic action was not the first expression of support by a professional sports team. Members of the Ferguson community’s hometown football team, the St. Louis Rams, also signaled their solidarity with the movement when they walked on the field on November 30 holding their hands in the air in what has become the signature “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture of the Ferguson protests.
The idea that the demonstrations—sparked by incidents of police violence against black individuals in the communities of Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and elsewhere—have “worldly” resonance is a connection that the environmental movement has also been quick to make.
The argument that environmental issues are inherently intertwined with social justice issues is one that has been voiced repeatedly. But in the wake of the recent grand jury decisions, leading environmental groups have come out strong in support of those in the streets, arguing that a world that breeds such inequalities is fundamentally opposed to the idea of a sustainable society.
“We cannot lead a meaningful fight for the environment without first taking steps to address the unequal valuation of life within it,” Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica wrote in a statement this weekend. “The preventable deaths of Mike Brown, Darrien Hunt, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant and dozens of others bespeak not just a systematic injustice, but of a cancer in our national consciousness that seems to place little value on the lives of black and brown people.”
“Our mission is to create a healthier and more just world, but we have little hope of success if our nation cannot agree on the definitions of chokehold, unarmed and murder; let alone clean air and water,” Pica concluded.
Following the Ferguson grand jury decision last month, 350.org Executive Director May Boeve issued a call to the climate movement to stand in solidarity with the protesters there, saying, “their fight is fundamentally linked with ours for a healthy and livable future for all. It’s past time to replace the broken system that continually devastates communities of color, and reform the bankrupt laws that put over-reactive self-defense above the dignity of life.”
And Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune agreed, saying: “These issues are not separate.”
“The Sierra Club’s mission is to ‘enlist humanity’ to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people’s rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis,” Brune wrote this weekend. “This must stop.”
Low wage workers protesting for a higher minimum wage also threw their support behind the protests against racial profiling and police brutality, staging solidarity “die-ins” and chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” during last week’s national day of action.
Journalist Sarah Jaffe, who wrote about the converging demonstrations for Salon, spoke with St. Louis Burger King worker Carlos Robinson who said that the actions last week “felt different because we were doing it for the Mike Brown situation and trying to show people the significance between injustice in our workplaces and injustice in our communities.” Robinson, who had been organizing for $15 an hour and a union for about seven months, said the demonstrators “know just as well as we do that there’s injustice in our communities and there’s injustice in our fast food places and we need to do something about it.”
And labor leader Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, was arrested along with her partner Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and several other prominent rabbis while protesting in New York City following the Eric Garner grand jury announcement last week.
Meanwhile, the demonstrations have yet to cease. For the third night in a row, protesters on Monday night rallied in the streets of Berkeley, California and organizers have called for a mass mobilization in New York City on Saturday, December 13. Further, Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network is organizing a march on Washington, D.C. on Saturday to demand congressional action on police brutality.
Onlookers believe that this moment, the growing call for racial justice which continues to sweep the nation, has the potential to make significant change if enough people join that cry.
“Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke of the perils of ‘sleeping through a revolution,'” writes Randall Amster, Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University. “Today, the alarm bells are ringing in town squares and city streets everywhere, urging everyone still holding out hope for a more just world to rise up and get busy making it.”
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Protesters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — December, 2014 (photo by Robert Lee Baily)