Editor’s note: In a recent open letter prompted by statements made by Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper, members of Black Lives Matter Birmingham collaborated on an open letter aimed at challenging long held perceptions.
Dear Chief Roper,
We are writing to you with extreme sincerity about statements that were made to media in regards to the black community in Birmingham. We would like to preface with the notion that we truly understand the discontentment with localized crime in the Birmingham area. This has been a consensus between officers, activists, politicians and community members. We also understand the emotional toll and frustration that law enforcement officers may face while having to relive these experiences over and over again.
However, despite intent, we cannot agree with statements that connect issues of localized violence with race as its causation. We urge the police department to be more responsible about the language that it uses to describe members of the black community when localized violent crimes occur. We ask that you not join in on commonly used canons that negate community efforts to end racism and over policing. By that, we mean narratives that perpetuate the false myths of black-on-black crime and black inferiority.
In a statement which addressed crimes in Birmingham, you were quoted as stating “These are not random crimes and at some point, black lives must mean more to black people. We understand the socioeconomic factors that exist, but there is no excuse for this type of recklessness. We should all be saddened and troubled when a 4-year-old loses his life because adults can’t solve a simple issue without resorting to violence.”
First, we reject the notion that “at some point,” black lives must mean more to black people. We urge you to truly reflect on this statement. Note that there are community organizations that have worked tirelessly to combat issues of oppression, poverty, mass incarceration, over-policing, mental health, hypermasculinity, gang violence, youth intervention, education, domestic abuse, sexual assault, crisis intervention, homelessness, policy and many other systems and institutions that marginalize people of color.
We also urge you to truly reflect on the fact that, even if many of these organizations were extremely effective in creating real change in these areas in a way that would prevent marginalization, violence will likely still occur in communities of color. It is true that we should all be saddened by anything that happens to those in our community, but most of us are. We constantly struggle to find the cause of violence in poor communities, but many scholars have determined that it is likely that violence occurs more often in poor communities because of economic, not racial factors.
Again, black-on-black crime is a myth. Many activists, researchers, academics and criminal justice experts have determined that localized crime is common in most areas. It is also determined that 84 percent of white murder victims are white. While it might not have been your intent, the statement that you made created an image that blackness is dangerous, violent, etc. in a country where crime will exist in any neighborhood with any racial composition. This was made clear by the title of the article which “conveniently” stated “5 killed in 52 hours in Jeffco: ‘Black lives must mean more to black people,’ Roper says.”
This form of victim-blaming is counterintuitive to the promises made by the police department to engage in training about bias and about developing strategies for interventions that are effective. As a leader, we urge you to set an example for other police officers. It is important that they not espouse rhetoric that distorts their perceptions of the communities they serve.
Unless a racial reason for murder has been identified, we urge the police department to no longer use these types of racially charged phrases. We also hope that the department switches gears and reaches out to community members for ideas on how to intervene on localized violence. This may include, in the case of gang violence, identifying the causes of gang formation and identifying when recklessness or disregard for human life is a factor other than gang violence or race.
As many people have expressed their condolences for the loss of lives in Birmingham, we urge you to embrace them or create a better awareness of the community’s remorse. Even in instances where some of the community members seem indifferent, we urge you to explore the common symptoms that may result from constant exposure to violence such as disconnect, withdrawal, numbness and indifference.
Our people are hurting, Chief Roper, and oftentimes senseless violence can be frustrating to handle. However, we must try to be strategic and responsible in how we address these tragic events. We must effectively form an understanding of the specific causes in every situation. We are disappointed by the accusation that black people do not value black lives, and that we must attribute racial, and not individual or societal blame (when evaluating situations) to all things horrific that happen within the black community. We must do better. We must be better!
Yours in justice, love and betterment,
The Official Black Lives Matter Birmingham Chapter