On Saturday, a few thousand protesters participated in a “Justice for All” march in St. Louis, one of the largest and most diverse gatherings since the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Unions, religious groups and student organizations gathered behind banners as flags and posters bobbed down the street while drums thundered above a loud din of chants of “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
More than 1,000 peaceful protesters shut down an intersection by playing jump rope and silently marched through Saint Louis before staging a sit-in at Saint Louis University early Monday morning. Why Saint Louis University was chosen is beyond me. However, protest leaders addressing the crowd said their demonstration was about ending white supremacy and addressing systemic problems people face regardless of race.
Watching scenes protrayed in social media and news outlets, I ask with all honesty, do black lives matter? Do any of our lives really matter? Placing thoughts into perspective, I repeat part of a previous post:
27-year-old Quinnell Stanciel, was pronounced dead at the scene while the second victim was rushed to an area hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm. Also, a week ago today, Jonathan Saddler, 24, and James Lane, 22, were killed in a shoot out in downtown St. Louis. Police said that shooting was drug-related, and officers recovered suspected marijuana and heroin at the shooting scene. Surviving victims were not cooperating with the investigation.
Researching news wires, readers learned James Lane was the uncle of Latasha Williams, a 14 year-old shot in the left eye September 12th. Latasha was buying snacks at a corner store when bullets were sprayed from a passing vehicle into the store. Latasha’s father, Marvin Williams, also died violently. Willliams was fatally shot on March 21, 2005 at the age of 21. Police said then they believed the shooting was gang-related.
Neither Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams nor Marvin Williams had signs erected on their behalf. And why not? Do any of their lives really count? Or does the community at large largely ignore their lives, while focusing upon only a select few?
From a Buddhist perspective, I ponder whether protests work. In June 1963, a Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc sat down in a busy intersection of Saigon set himself on fire. However, the monk’s friends ensured foreign reporters were on the scene; thus ensuring photos would quickly spread around the world.
In spite of significant media reporting, Ferguson protesters appear to have a message looking for a cause, as statistics clearly support, that in total, police shootings of unarmed men are rare. If black lives matter, then all black lives have to matter, not just those cherry-picked for this version of ‘activism weekly.’ This doesn’t mean Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers don’t matter. But while protesting provides a profound “moral shock,” almost all causes fade in waning years. Look no further than Trayvon Martin, where nationwide protests remain unanswered years later.
As a Buddhist, if we’re going to achieve transformation, we must focus upon the lives of all people, not just black people. I do believe our lives can speak to the future, if all of us become involved to provide solutions. But warning signs are ominous. The interfaith service meant to bring the St. Louis community together exposed fissures between protest leaders and the youth. Still, if the lives of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers matter; Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams and Marvin Williams must equally matter as well. Yet few, if any, speak for them.
Everyone has to matter.
If every single life doesn’t matter, the protest won’t last.