Black Lives Matter is overreacting. Why are they protesting in such damaging ways.? It isn’t helping their cause at all. They haven’t even finished their investigation. Why can’t they wait for the facts before condemning the police? You can’t condemn all police for what one or two do. 99% of all police do a wonderful job of protecting and serving their communities. All lives matter.
Those are among the more civilized responses to black protests of police brutality. There are other, much less civil responses that most of you know and I won’t go into them here. If you like, comment that you wish me to go there and I will. But for now let’s concentrate on why most white people don’t understand Black Lives matter protests. I myself don’t fully understand and as a white person can’t fully understand. I want to look at why.
If you have never removed a dead body from a crime scene you can speculate on what it feels like. You can empathize in the most humble and sensitive way. But you will still never know how it really feels. Only the medical examiner and their staff truly know. They are privileged. They have medical examiner privilege. They are able to cross the yellow tape of a crime scene and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry a dead body to the medical examiner’s van and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry the body into the morgue and you aren’t. Even if you are given permission to carry a dead body to the morgue or do it yourself unilaterally they are going to do everything in their power to prevent you from doing so because that is their job and always has been.
They have privilege but I’m sure they have never thought about it in that way. But if you make a good case for letting you transport, and reveal that it is privilege that is stopping you you are met with anger. How dare you call me privileged. I work hard being a public servant. You make a good case for your issue; you go to the media and ask why you can’t transport a corpse to the morgue when you are already at the crime scene with your van, and the forensics people are done, and the media decide it’s not a newsworthy event.
The people gathered ask why you want this particular body when what you told the media was that all bodies could be transported by concerned citizens. Even when you ask the police for permission to take the body they tell you you aren’t allowed to and besides, the medical examiner’s van and people are already here. They brusquely push you back behind the yellow tape.
People are outraged that you would even ask to do such a thing. Everybody knows that it is the medical examiner’s job. The next day you tell the media that your concerns haven’t been listened to and you surround the morgue with your supporters, arms locked together, and do not let any dead bodies in or out. People are outraged that dead bodies are going be left to fester out in the street and nobody will be able to walk to where they are going without either smelling death or going out of their way. What if someone from a rich family dies and they insist the police arrest the protesters because they want their relative embalmed immediately.
Aren’t the protesters going overboard? Aren’t they being idiots and hurting their cause by over reacting to one crime scene incident? Aren’t they being criminal in making innocent citizens late for work and appointments? Aren’t they threatening the vital needs of important people? Some would say so. Some would say they are ruining their chances to be heard.
What the protesters are doing is what they feel they must do to make society recognize that they are serious about this issue and want active and honest dialogue about the issue. They are tired of being subject to medical examiner privilege, even if everyone is unaware that it even exists. And no, the medical examine isn’t responsible for his privilege. He has just always had it. The mayor isn’t a bad person for not recognizing the privilege. The mayor is always looking for things that hurt the people but this one is invisible, and may not even be legal.
What the protesters want is for the people in power to simply understand their issue and support their right to petition to change policy, allowing anyone, under certain circumstances, to transport bodies to the morgue. Let the process work and bring applicable laws before the courts. Don’t squash the issue simply because it might not be vitally important. Serve the people like your job description indicates
Now this is a ridiculous analogy but I think it gives us a vague approximation of the dynamic of my point. In this instance the protesters aren’t blaming the individual trained medical examiner employees, who are there to carry the body to the morgue, for having the privilege of transporting that body, even though the examiners enjoy that privilege. The employees in that van are only symptom of the problem. The real problem, to the protesters, is that the issue is systemic, institutional. The medical examiner has always been the only one allowed to transport dead bodies, and they have been supported by government and the people for years without ever giving regular citizens the chance to do so. The protesters are serious about the issue, believe it is vital to the health of the city and want to make government and the people face it head on and do something about it.
I do apologize for this poor analogy. But it addresses, somewhat inadequately, the often complex relationship between the individual person or action and the group/society that I believe is germane to this issue. Most human issues, when boiled down to their essence, involve some aspect of the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities of the individual and those of society, the two in conflict. What makes this issue so difficult is that there is confusion, sometimes on both sides, but more often on the side of privilege on who and what is involved in the essential issue at hand. Who is to blame, the system or the individual actor?
In this case of protest it is not the individual actor being blamed, even if he is a bad actor and is booed off the stage. It is the playwright (the system) and his work, the play, (the situation of privilege) that is the problem. The actor has been given all the good lines and almost all of the time on stage and the chorus (the oppressed) has been given hardly any lines. This ruins the play, but the audience (privileged society) doesn’t know better, because all plays are the same. The chorus knows the play would be better if they had more lines. The audience members are shocked and angered when the chorus asks for more lines. The chorus is determined and desperate, they threaten not to perform the play. The audience is enraged at the chorus and demands the play be the same as it ever was . They blame the chorus for the ruination of the play
And herein is the essential issue. The play has been ruined. But by whom. Is it the oppressed chorus, because of their radical threat. Or is it the playwright and their play (the system and it’s situations of privilege).
The truth is we need both the actor and the chorus. The actor will still be important with less lines and the play will be better with the chorus having more lines. The playwright must be made to write more balanced plays and show both actor and the chorus that he has evolved. The audience will enjoy the new play better than ever and realize it’s because the playwright has evolved. And who makes the playwright evolve?
The critic (you and me)