In high schools across the country, students are raising both hands in protest of the Ferguson and Garner decisions. Why aren’t we? Because we aren’t really in any danger? Because while we are a diverse school, the number of African American students is comparatively low? Because in the privileged suburbs of West Windsor and the calm villages of Plainsboro, the most concerning transgression of police power is excessive ticketing for speeding? In my old town of Montclair, ex-classmates organized a school-wide rally for Black Lives Matter—because for an urban public high school with a 40 percent African American population, located only a few miles from the city where Eric Garner was choked to death by a cop for selling cigarettes on a street corner, the reality of abusive power struggles in this anything-but-post-racial society looms large over their rights.
But do we really need those motivating factors to take action? Isn’t it the principle that matters? We are the next generation—what we believe in, what we choose to fight for, will shape society’s values for the next century, because we are society. All this whining about “the system” amounts to nothing if there is not action accompanying it. This can be incredibly difficult without immediate pressure to act, but so was sitting and marching with the oppressed for thousands of inspired whites during the 1960s civil rights movement. So was speaking out against the horrors of Vietnam for innumerable men, women and students who weren’t even eligible for the draft. But they did it anyway, because they knew that if injustice could plague someone, it could infect their own lives too—that there is no excuse for apathy, not even in the airtight logic of self-interest.
This goes for those who are against these accusations of injustice, as well—those who believe that the race agenda has vilified police officers around the country just as fervently as we liberals believe in the injustice of the system: stop tweeting labels and opinions into the sea of misinformation and selective absorption and do something meaningful. Write something intelligible, do some research, organize a rally, write a letter to your congressman.
Or maybe you genuinely don’t care at all, which, don’t get me wrong, is ok—problematic and worrisome, sure, but that’s the prerogative of each and every one of us, to not care. But for the sake of all that is good and authentic, please don’t pretend to care. Don’t spew rehashed criticisms and angry nothings into the void and then hide behind your keyboards. Watching justice prevail is much more rewarding than the short rush of pride brought on from watching your likes counter tick upwards.
Eric Garner was heard saying, “I can’t breathe” again and again in the video of his arrest and murder. This is a sentiment many share. Marxist philosopher Frantz Fanon once wrote that “we revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Some of us can breathe a bit easier than others, but only for the moment. It is our responsibility, those of us who have open lungs, to ease the pressure on those of others, to pry off the chokeholds of abusers with the sheer force of our passion, if we are keen to embrace it. The constant noise pollution on the web only adds to the risk of asphyxiation.