The phrase “Black lives matter” has been used countless times as a stance against racial profiling and the use of excessive force by police against unarmed Black citizens, but the true meaning of the phrase is not just about saving Black lives. It’s a call to improve the quality of Black lives as well.
The country has been focused on Black citizens who have been put six feet under due to violent police officers but the nation must also remember to focus on the incredible number of Black citizens being placed behind bars as well.
One in every 15 Black males 18 or older is incarcerated in the U.S., according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“More than 2.3 million people in America are in jail or prison,” a 2011 report about race and incarceration rates by the Aspen Institute read. “Sixty percent are African-American and Latinos.”
Other reports indicated that roughly 400 Black men will be killed by law enforcement every year.
The statistics are a harsh reminder that many more Black men will be incarcerated than will be killed by police officers.
It’s the reason why some protesters have chanted that the “whole damn system is guilty.”
For years, reports have indicated that a disproportionately greater number of Black men are jailed than white men.
“Black-white differences in incarceration rates are most dramatic,” the Aspen Institute report stated. “An estimated 4,777 black males were locked up for every 100,000 black males in the free population, compared to about 727 per 100,000 white males…Black men of all ages are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white males of the same age. These racial patterns hold up across gender, criminal offense and regional categories.”
It’s a clear sign of a justice system that is targeting Black citizens, hindering their chances to have a successful future and contributing to the staggering rates of unemployment and poverty in the Black community.
A criminal record makes it incredibly difficult, and nearly impossible in most cases, for people to find employment or even obtain home loans.
It’s a vicious cycle that the authors of the Aspen report say “challenges the very definition of our democracy.”
“It indicates the failure of so many of our society’s institutions; it predicts dire consequences for millions of children and families of color who are already at socioeconomic disadvantage; and it challenges the very definitions of our democracy,” the report continued.
The facts paint a picture of the real role individual officers play in the grand scheme of the oppression of the Black community.
Officers need to be held accountable for their actions, but these individual officers are certainly not the greatest monsters that the Black community is up against.
#BlackLivesMatter is just as much about creating change as a whole as it is about pushing for officers like Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown, and Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold, to be held accountable for their actions as it is about fighting high incarceration, recidivism, unemployment and poverty rates in the Black community.
The movement is about trying to create a justice system that works for all people regardless of their race.
So as more and more people ask why “Black lives matter” is being chanted more frequently than “all lives matter,” they will come to find that the answer is simple when you look at the numbers.
All lives certainly do matter, but it seems like the lives of people of color are the only ones that the justice system actually forgot about.