Saturday, June 22, 2024

The “Black” in “Black Lives Matter,” rechalked Monday on the steps at City Hall. (Photo: Luis Cotto via Twitter)

On Sunday, my partner, 12-year-old son and I participated in the “Wee Chalk the Walk: A Family Day of Action for Black Lives,” to chalk messages of love, hope and support on our city sidewalks.

We walked up the block to City Hall, where we wrote the names of many, but not all, of the black Americans who have been killed at the hands of police and vigilantes. A photo of our chalk memorial was included in a Cambridge Day article.

On Monday, City Hall reopened to staff. As I returned from my morning walk, I noticed that someone had erased the word “Black” from “Black Lives Matter.” My first reaction was shock, anger, then (after a few deep breaths) curiosity. Why are we still having to explain what we mean when we say Black Lives Matter?

Nearly seven years ago, after the acquittal of the aggressor who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin while he was walking home from the store, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi started the Movement for Black Lives and first used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

A friend wrote recently: “It’s the recent trifecta of a black man killed by vigilantes while out jogging, a black woman killed by police in her bed even though they had already caught the person suspected of a crime, and a black man brutally murdered in the public eye by a police officer who was known for brutality yet remained unchecked by Minneapolis’ government that has the rage and tears spilling over in the black community. All of this happening with the president of this country eagerly using the long-held code word for black men to incite white supremacist reaction. Every black mother cried when they heard Mr. Floyd pleaded for his life and wanted his mother … it was all of our black sons calling out for us.” Each time these acts of state sponsored violence happen, the black community is re-traumatized. The deep wounds are opened and the heartbreak laid bare. The righteous anger burns as people take to the streets once more to demand justice and change.

I am having a hard time understanding why in 2020, after so many tragic deaths, for some people this affirmation of the value of black lives remains controversial. 

If you have a problem with this statement, I want to encourage you to be curious and ask questions. When we affirm that Black Lives Matter, we are not saying that they matter more than other lives. We are exclaiming that black lives matter as much as white lives.

For 400 years, black Americans have endured the systematic devaluing of their lives and bodies at the hands of people who have built economic and political systems of oppression based on race, reinforced by state-sponsored violence. That rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans.

During this global pandemic, people from around the world are coming together and taking to the streets once again to demand that this country value black lives.

James Baldwin said, “’Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Affirming the value of the lives of those who have been harmed by the systems that benefit white people is the first step in acknowledging that we have to change. As long as black lives are at risk, all of our lives are at risk. Until Black Lives Matter, none of our lives matter. Our liberation is interconnected.

As I mentioned, we live up the block from City Hall and have plenty of chalk. So we’ll continue to write this message as many times as it takes for understanding to sink in. #BlackLivesMatter

Mercedes Soto, Harvard Street