In the words of every philosophy professor I’ve ever had, “let’s do a quick thought experiment.” Imagine you hire someone to do a job with a pretty clear description and expectations. If that person kept messing up on such a large scale that you had to crowdsource the funds to fix the damage that they did, you’d probably fire them, right?
Now, imagine that you’re putting together a team of new hires. Some of them might be pretty good at their jobs, but you still have a few really sh*tty employees. Even the good ones seem ill-equipped to step in to help fix or prevent the others’ mistakes. Maybe you call some people who run teams similar to yours and find that they’re all experiencing the same thing.
I might not be an employer or anyone’s boss. Still, even I can reach the conclusion that there is something deeply wrong with continuing to pay people who not only suck at their jobs but make other people’s lives way harder, when they don’t end lives themselves. No sane person would continue paying those employees, so how did we get to where we are now with the police officers sworn to protect us? And the elected officials, like mayors and city council members, we specifically chose to keep them in line?
Well when you don’t vote in local elections, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Imagine if you called firefighters and they just beat the shit out of you instead of putting the fire out
— Ethel (@Ethelmonster) June 5, 2020
Like most people, I’m a huge fan of being told exactly what I need to do to fix a problem. But as with most things in life, there is minimal success in quick fixes, especially when it comes to long-standing, fundamental, systemic injustices. This means that there’s no one action that we need to take, and nothing will be fixed in a single day, even if that single action is voting for president in November. In an op-ed earlier this month in the New York Times, Stacey Abrams wrote: “to say that the answer is to go cast a ballot feels not just inadequate, but disrespectful.”
1 in 13 black americans that have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions as part of systemic racism in the justice system. so before you say to “take your anger to the voting booth” just know not everyone has a voice there.
— parker (@momappreciator) June 2, 2020
I discussed the issues of speaking about voting as a ‘solution’ with Dr. Anna Mahoney, the director of research at Tulane University’s Newcomb Institute. She explained that “we in the United States have a long history of keeping all kinds of people out of what we consider to be ‘traditional electoral politics.'”
“Who the President is, is really really important. Not just because of the constitutional powers that are assigned to the executive branch, but because of the informal powers that the President has,” explained Dr. Mahoney. Whether we like it or not, the way the President frames these issues and his language surrounding police brutality has a big impact on voters and other political issues. As Biden senior advisor Symone Sanders pointed out in a recent Sup podcast, there’s a reason why the people protesting in D.C. are doing so outside the White House — not their mayor’s office.
Obviously, we need more than just a shift in the way we discuss police brutality, which is where our local governments come in to play. In my mini-lesson on local government, Dr. Mahoney clarified some of the local offices that have the most influence in police protocol and behavior.
“Mayors are really important, because, in a lot of places that choose police chiefs, and their relationships are significant,” she said. Sheriffs and district attorneys also play a significant role in working with law enforcement. “Thinking about cases that district attorneys choose to put forward is really important, and we have seen really groundbreaking elections in other states like New York.”
Basically, from the President all the way down to smaller local offices, the people we elect make a huge difference in our policing. Yet, they’re rarely a big point of focus due to the decline in local media sources. Local officials create community-specific legislation and set budgets that determine how we fund police departments and pay our officers.
Abrams tells us that we must “protest to demand attention to the wrenching pain of systemic injustice as a society. Vote because we deserve leaders who see us, who hear us and who are willing to act on our demands.” Those of us who can vote must work on electing people who make will make sure that, at the very minimum, those who are getting paid to “serve and protect” us are doing that and not targeting, harassing, and killing our neighbors and fellow community members (i.e., the other people who pay them.)
Right now, especially, it is really vital to continue protesting and donating to important causes. Every single voice and action matters – but, as we all know, your activism has to go further than your Instagram feed, and it must last longer than the next few weeks. Unless we carry this with us to November and beyond then, we are only hurting ourselves. As President Obama wrote, when it comes to the divide between protesting and voting, “it’s not an ‘either-or,’ it’s a ‘both-and.'”
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