By Jeannine Etter
A good friend of mine who lives in deepest East Oakland, where killings happen quite regularly, often complains to me about his irritation behind police brutality protests and rallies.
He says he isn’t concerned about the police violating his rights as much as he is about “Pookie and them,” and why weren’t there rallies or organization around that?
“People can sit up and watch a woman get beat down in the middle of the street and do absolutely nothing, but then if a police officer beats someone down in middle of the street, they want to film it and hold a rally.”
In his eyes, if the “power to the people” analysis, that Oakland righteously proclaims, doesn’t include black-on-black and neighborhood violence, there is no need to hand him a flier about a police brutality rally, without it also mentioning a plan or a rally that also includes community accountability.
“No, thank you,” he says. It’s quite irrelevant.
"Look at yourselves. Some of you teenagers, students.
How do you think I feel and I belong to a generation ahead of you - how do you
think I feel to have to tell you, 'We, my generation, sat around like a knot on
a wall while the whole world was fighting for its hum an rights - and you've
got to be born into a society where you still have that same fight.' What did
we do, who preceded you ? I'll tell you what we did. Nothing. And don't you
make the same mistake we made ... ." `Malcolm X
There was a time, particularly in the black community, when our national leaders loved us so much that they would call us out on our less than favorable qualities and when, in addition to demanding justice of “the system,” the finger was also lovingly, yet sternly, pointed back at ourselves. What did we need to do to improve ourselves as a people? As a community? As a society?
Also, during that same time, the community took care of its own and functioned more like a village. Entire neighborhoods knew the children and had rights to discipline them. If someone was caught doing something out of alignment with its core values, every adult in the community had a right to intervene … and there were consequences that usually involved a belt or a “switch.”
Now, there seems to be individualistic and gang mentalities when it comes to accountability. People refusing to take responsibility or be held accountable for their behavior. Friends and families posse up to “protect and defend” those they “love” from reasonable and responsible consequences. No one wants to “break the code” and be ostracized for pointing out a contradiction and demanding a behavioral shift. No one is willing to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes. No one wants to be uncomfortable. No one wants to be the bad guy.
Unfortunately, this has led to the same corruption that comes with abusing powerful positions and the impunity that is also encouraged by silence. People can talk about an unjust system and know that there are people in the community doing crazy things to others and won’t say anything, not even to the perpetrator and/or demand justice for those harmed. The silence, with the pink dancing elephant in the middle of the room, is deafening … and creepy.
“Some of the most destructive and backwards men I’ve met have been black men in African garb with dreadlocks. Now why do I have to say that? Because as an adult woman I have a responsibility to these young girls who are out here … to let them know what they will encounter after these men have seen them express themselves. To let them know so that they will not be … naïve victims of men who portray themselves as being righteous and African and balanced, but who will ultimately destroy them in some way, shape or form. I recognize that I’m stepping on toes, but I don’t care.” -Sistah Souljah
If we are willing to take responsibility to shape the world as we want to see it, then that means all aspects. If we see injustices happening do we simply get an explanation from the harmer, demand forgiveness from the harmed and let bygones be bygones, all in the name of love, peace and harmony? Where is our sense of outrage against injustice no matter who suffers it or who perpetrates it? Is it “loving” to allow anyone to be mistreated (ourselves included) while demanding nothing of the perpetrator but an explanation?
There seems to be a lot of “cheap forgiveness” (forgiveness that doesn’t honor the healing or grieving process), as author Melodie Beattie describes it, that’s bordering on psychotic denial. Is it really “loving”or is it dysfunctional and “enabling?” What about love that challenges? That pushes? That demands better and refuses to accept anything less? Love that is fearless. Love that is revolutionary.
“Without justice there can be no love.” -bell hooks
So on Sunday, we gathered, as a community to discuss the issue of creating community accountability. Using the momentum of ancestors, elders, artists, activists, organizers, writers, thinkers, leaders and a power legacy of change that Oakland is known for, concerned community members gathered for the first of many conversations and answered a few key questions: What does accountability mean to you? What encourages accountability? What discourages accountability? What things do we have in place to hold ourselves accountable? How can we create a system that addresses accountability without having to involve the police or social services? Who among us will stand up for revolutionary love?
If you are interested in creating a cultural shift and being involved in future “Revolutionary Love & Rebellious Integrity” community forums about accountability systems and strategies, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.