5 Reasons Why Equating Protest With Looting Devalues Black Lives

Photo by Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia courtesy of Unsplash

My 78-year old white Atlanta neighbor is an unabashed Trump supporter —- but I love her anyway. Our daily “check-in” calls have become a big part of our morning ritual. Still, we have a gentle-women’s agreement not to discuss politics. Instead, we discuss hummingbird sightings, who’s making a store run, or if it’s too cold (or too hot) to sit on our decks. This has been working well for awhile —- that is, until Monday morning. When my neighbor asked me how I was doing, I told her I was “pissed” about the weekend killing of Rayshard Brooks by a White Atlanta police officer. Then, the convo got interesting.

Because we live not far from where Rayshard was killed, the protest and police response impacted each of us differently. At the first mention of Brooks’ death, my neighbor complained, “I don’t see why they had to loot and burn down that Wendy’s.” No doubt she’s been glued to Fox where the hosts continuously scream for a “law and order” response.

I told my neighbor that it’s true that there’s a small group of people who want to use violence, arson or looting to distract from the more important issue —- a Black man’s death for sleeping in the Wendy’s drive-through. She responded about how hard the Wendy’s owner had probably worked to build that store. I mentioned that the owner had insurance and would probably build a bigger, better Wendy’s. But, Rayshard Brooks will be forever dead because an enraged police officer was mad that his taser was taken because he couldn’t subdue a suspect.

It’s always interesting how some Americans complain about destruction of property before acknowledging a loss of Black life. Of course, this has a long history. It starts out with genealogy.

White Americans usually can trace their families back to the Old Country using a variety of sources. But researching African-American heritage is tricky and random. It all comes down to White power and privilege. With that in mind, here are 5 reasons why emphasizing property over Black lives devalues our protest.

  1. In 1787, the U.S. Constitution used the “3/5 Amendment” to apportion taxes and to assess congressional representation based on the number of slaves relative to a state’s White population. This amendment, though controversial, did not decree that African-American men were each counted as 3/5 of a man. Still, the reality is that Black people were mainly considered commodities used to boost congressional representation.
  2. From 1790 to 1840 during the U.S. Census, slaves were listed under their master’s name and counted as property like horses, sheep or cattle.
  3. By 1850, there were slave schedules that replaced a slave’s name with a dehumanizing number. A decade later, the names, ages, and other demographic information about slaves were finally included in the U.S. Census.
  4. Fast forward to 2017 when Dr. Ben Carson equated slavery with immigration during his first speech as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Check out the clip below.
  5. In 2018, a study by the Brookings Institute found that “owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses.” Ironically, American property is prized everywhere except in Black neighborhoods.
Courtesy of YouTube

So what does all this tell us? It tells us that for at least a couple of hundred years, African-Americans’ lives had no value other than in relation to being someone’s possession —- to be bought, sold, traded and used to pay off debts. It means that slaves were nameless property with an identity based on the slave owner’s name and heritage. It illustrates that slaves owned nothing but the rags on their backs and even those were supplied by their masters.

Americans who question the inability of Black people to be property and business owners need to give Black folks credit for all they have achieved despite the obstacles. Emancipated slaves weren’t property owners until after 1865 and the end of segregation. The time between slavery’s end and 1954’s landmark ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education was a mere 89 years. Between 1954 when Jim Crow ended (at least on the books) and 2020, gives African-Americans a scant 66 years to make an economic impact.

The authors of the Brookings Institute report referenced above stated it plainly when they wrote, “The problem, however, cannot be solved by trying to shame protestors into behaving like polite petitioners. That’s because the institutions meant to translate grievances into laws and public services have repeatedly failed Black people in crucial ways.”

To be clear, I’m not advocating for destroying property. But to simply see Black rage within the prism of property damage is gaslighting a much bigger problem of inequity. As Aretha said, it’s all about, “RESPECT.” One last thing if you’re protesting, wear your mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and remember to vote in November.

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