Today, social media introduced me to Alton Sterling during his brutal, involuntary final moments with Baton Rouge police officers.
More times than I can count since Trayvon Martin’s murder, friends, family, and colleagues have reached out to me through a helpless, angry, inspirational, curious, loving, or hopeless “what can I do?” message or phone call.
Hours after watching Sterling’s death, I read a law school friend’s post on how we can process police and vigilante killings that are widely publicized. He inspired me to pull this list together. This list is in no way comprehensive or exhaustive, but rather entry steps to further connect people to each other in tangible ways.
1. Love, study, struggle.
With a partner or a group of people, study issues that you care about and want to change. Read a book and discuss it once a month. Create a WhatsApp group or GroupMe to drop articles or music that are related to the topic. Attend an event where you and your group can listen to a speaker on the issue. Learn all sides of the debate. Over the course of the month or year, you and others will become more empowered to challenge problems with what you will learn together. If you do not know where to start, there are some reading and art lists on the internet that are really good, such as the Black Lives Matter Syllabus (Frank Roberts), Lemonade Syllabus (Candice Benbow), Radical Political Action Reading List (compiled by Rekia Jibrin; additions by #ReclaimHarvardLaw students) and the Black Radical Tradition Reader (various authors).
2. Locate your local prosecutors.
Who is your local district attorney? Have they held police accountable for their illegal actions? Are they making efforts to reduce and eliminate mass incarceration? Research how organizations have held prosecutors accountable. For example, Black Lives Matter Cleveland stopped the reelection of the prosecutor who did not charge the police officer who killed Tamir Rice. BYP100 and Assata’s Daughters ousted Prosecutor Anita Alvarez through their #ByeAnita campaign after she covered up Laquan McDonald’s killing by Chicago police officers.
3. Raise Hell.
Protest matters. Hellas. Social media is great for sharing and spreading information, but attending street protests, vigils, and demonstrations can help bring greater awareness to an issue and connect you with other people who are concerned about the issues you care about.
4. Film the police.
Try to find local “Cop-Watch” organizations to give you tips on how to legally and safely film the police when you are stopped or when you see someone else being arrested or harassed. Remember Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Now, Alton Sterling.
5. Consider joining an organization.
A group of people who are regularly committed to taking on social justice issues has more power than one individual trying to work alone. These groups can also provide a healing, learning, and protective space after people witness traumatic experiences. Research different groups, talk to members, and learn about the track records of the organizations that you might be interested in before joining.
6. Challenge narratives.
Do not feel obligated to respond to every (or any) comment or statement that you hear or see that attacks victims of police brutality, especially following police or vigilante killings. Think about different ways to communicate your response. For example, sometimes a phone call or lunch with a friend is better than a Facebook argument that leaves issues unresolved. Consider creating a space and inviting people with different viewpoints to discuss a topic and problem-solve. Brainstorm ideas. Or, just feel free to vent. Main point: there are many ways to have dialogue if you feel comfortable talking about a topic, but do not feel obligated.
7. Connect with movement lawyers.
What lawyers are showing up to help out the movement? Learn about the type of work that they are doing, and how they can support some of the work that you are interested in. Have you heard of the National Lawyer’s Guild? The Black Movement Law Project? Law For Black Lives? The Advancement Project? These are a few organizations that have been working across the country with organizers and protestors on police brutality issues.
8. Take care of yourself.
So many great people have already shared why those most vulnerable to police and vigilante violence do not have to watch videos of police officers or vigilantes killing our people if we don’t want to, and that we should include trigger warnings if we are going to share them. Consider what you can personally handle and make the decision that is right for you. Share at your discretion.