This week, students staged a die-in at University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutman's holiday party. Gutman responded to the "ambush" by leaving her own party. The protestors eventually left voluntarily. At Harvard, protestors initiated a failed attempt for 4.5 minutes of silence before primal scream, a naked run leading up to finals. The result was a "chaotic exchange," with the drunken streakers turning around and running in the opposite direction of the demonstrators.
Initial protests in the aftermath of the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown created awareness about widespread racial discrimination in law enforcement and excessive police violence. Recent protests, however, have taken on a more cynical, counterproductive tone.
#BlackLivesMatter needs centralized leadership and a tangible political agenda if it is going to improve the lives of African Americans and begin to reign in on discrimination.
The logic behind peaceful protest in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision was sound. Enough was enough. The killing of Michael Brown was not an independent incident -- it was indicative of a culture that devalues black lives and a legal system that fails to prosecute their killers. From Berkley to New York and Boston to Philadelphia, people of all races united to protest a pattern of behavior that we would no longer tolerate. Anyone who watched the video of Eric Garner being chocked to death knows exactly what I mean.
But now, almost two weeks later, the deed has been done. The protests have accomplished their goal. The world is listening. Instead of taking this victory and moving on to the next battle, college students and political activists think the answer is more protests. At Harvard, protesters hosted yet another die-in at Davis Square. At Columbia, students hosted a die-in at a tree-lighting ceremony. At Yale, students blocked the streets to raise awareness about Ferguson. But with each new protest, the marginal value diminishes. We're approaching a dangerous 'protest for the sake of protest' mentality. Such protests have negative marginal value, because they breed cynicism and frustration, rather than awareness and action.
I am not criticizing the protestors. I understand and sympathize with their anger. But it's time to move to Phase II of #BlackLivesMatter. The #BlackLivesMatter movement needs to consolidate its demands into a tangible policy agenda and then convert the national uproar into a grassroots campaign that can implement it. What might these demands look like? Cop cameras, stricter penalties for police brutality, and bans on stop-and-frisk are just a few ideas that have been thrown around so far. Police departments ought to conduct stricter internal audits and self-regulate. Mayors should be held responsible for their police departments and commissioners should make civil rights a top priority.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has succeeded in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Americans around fighting racial discrimination and police violence. The question now is whether they can convert that action into results.