“Who would’ve thought–in our little town?” was a sentence uttered in a zoom meeting. Of course, they were speaking of Ricardo Muñoz’s murder.
I paused. Of course, this was coming out of a white person’s mouth.
They hadn’t considered that every person of color in Lancaster would’ve thought, would’ve feared, would’ve anticipated. And the arrests of organizers happening over the past few days? They’ve been happening all over the country in larger cities. The possibility for this to occur–all of this–was not a matter of if. It was a matter of when.
But this is the paradigm of privilege we live in as white Lancastrians. When George Floyd died, so many of us challenged ourselves to start digesting the hard truths about systemic racism. We posted for #blackouttuesday, put Black Lives Matter signs in the windows of our small businesses, and added fist emojis in our Instagram profiles as an act of solidarity. We reposted memes to bring attention to the fact that Breonna Taylor’s murderers still had their badges (this is still true today, 6 months later), we signed petitions, emailed and called Kentucky officials, and bought copies of “White Fragility” to discuss at “ally” book clubs.
But this week, as police brutality and following protests erupted its way into our backyard, so many of us who were vocal during the heat of this summer’s events seemed to have cooled into apathetic whispers, ushered in by an early-autumn breeze.
And we need to talk about why.
Below is a list of concerns and arguments I’ve heard from white Lancastrians (especially business owners) who have been afraid to take a stand and voice their thoughts about Ricardo’s death/the subsequent protests.
We know and understand the media, organizers, and the Police Department are all presenting you with conflicting information. But please read through this article in full with the same open mind you used back in June when you announced your support for Black Lives Matter. Your distrust for established institutions began unfurreling just a few short months ago… don’t fall prey into becoming comfortable in the seat of your privilege like you were before.
If you’re tongue-tied and need help crafting a relevant company statement re: BLM for your business, please email me: email@example.com.
“That video of Ricardo running at the officer with a knife in his hand was terrifying. It’s a tragedy; but I feel this might justify the use of force. He seemed really out of control.”
Let’s take a step outside of the 3 minutes of this incident we saw (or heard about) on the bodycam video; there were preventable mistakes happening far before this officer decided to pull out his gun.
We can all agree this officer was not equipped to de-escalate a mental health crisis. Mayor Sorace has noted continuously that our city budget prevents us from hiring mental health professionals to respond to these calls, and there are no systems or protocols in place for such programs. However, she intends to hire 11 more officers this year on top of the $27 million dollar budget the Lancaster Police Department enjoys annually. You agreed that defunding the police was a great idea in June… a service to help future Ricardos would be a direct benefit of this action.
Ricardo’s mental health status was not officially confirmed but his family has voiced he had a history of paranoid schizophrenia and was not taking his medication. Unfortunately, a side effect of this disease is an extreme distortion of reality and, at times, violence. Pair this with the presence of a vested up police officer–a figure that represents death and danger to many BIPOC–and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The cop should have never been anywhere near the door.
We don’t have the 911 dispatch script yet, but questions we’re asking include: why was this officer responding alone to a domestic dispute? Was he warned of Ricardo’s mental condition and weapon? And if so, why wasn’t he more prepared with a nonlethal weapon (stun gun, pepper spray) to subdue Ricardo?
Every day folks with weapons are apprehended and arrested safely without loss of life. Just a few weeks ago, a white man in Quarryville tried to murder 2 police officers (using a chokehold on one) and had an AR-15 in his car. Police first attempted deploying a stun gun before taking the man into custody unharmed.
Of course you are frightened by this scene. You are a civilian without police training who hopefully has never had to anticipate something like this happening. Police officers, however, presumably consent to such dangers when they apply to be cops, and train accordingly.
“This isn’t a BLM issue… It’s a mental health issue.”
We’ve all heard the argument that our mental health systems had failed Ricardo from the get-go. This is a nice, soft, easy statement to make because it’s compassionate towards both police and the Muñoz family. What’s not being said is that systemic racism is exactly what has caused this lack of funding (and uneven distribution of wealth) resulting in the failure of mental health resources for our citizens. The mental health of Black and Brown folx is a Black Lives Matter issue.
Those of us who write well and are skilled in PR (hello!) are pretty good at dancing around explicitly saying Black Lives Matter in times like these. But please understand and know that BIPOC and BLM activists see what you’re doing. And we aren’t impressed.
“I’m behind BLM but I’m not behind these riots. They set the movement back and distract from the real issues.”
A lot to unpack here, but here we go…
The argument that protests and riots set movements back is historically false, and remains to be untrue today. Over the past 3 days I have personally witnessed an explosion in the social media presence and popularity of local activists and nonprofits. Donations, shares, and support from protesters and followers alike allow these groups to not only gain popularity, but continue doing the work through “proper” political channels. Lancaster Changemakers, for example, focuses on education and pressuring local officials to improve the conditions of our neighborhoods. Awareness is activism. Just because we can’t see the good caused by protests right away does not negate their effectiveness.
The media and the Lancaster Police Department has a way of making you think property damage was caused by the organizers and activists who led the march, but these are lies designed to confirm your implicit biases against people of color. Many BIPOC who were present have shared their experiences of trauma with you online. Ask yourself: why are you believing the PD reports over Black and Brown folx?
“A riot is the voice of the unheard.” Martin Luther King said that, and he’s right. Destruction is not the first resort of a grieving Black community–it is the very last. The night of Ricardo’s death neighbors and community members were looking for answers that the police purposefully withheld. Instead, they suited up in riot gear, rained teargas down on protesters, and shot rubber bullets at their heads.
Every protest since Sunday has been peaceful, though the media has chosen not to amplify this fact.
At the end of the day, we understand that Ricardo Muñoz’s death has been shoved into an unfortunate gray area. While George Floyd and Eric Garner both helplessly cried out for their mothers in their final moments and were proven to be innocent of their crimes, Ricardo’s last minutes on camera are rife with contention and fear.
But this is yet another hurdle for white folx to overcome if they truly want to call themselves “allies” or advocates of Black Lives Matter.
Given the information presented above, you should now understand that our implicit biases paired with public perception has shielded us from a more nuanced (less desirable) truth.
If you want to be the “ally” you envisioned yourself being back in June, this is your next challenge: Believe that Black Lives Matter, even if this Black life at first appears guilty. Believe Black people when they tell you their experiences, even when the institutions you’ve been taught to trust are telling you to do otherwise. And learn to start accepting sacrifice as part of your allyship–whether this means losing business, putting your physical body on the line at protests, fighting with family members, or even saying goodbye to a part of yourself that you’re particularly attached to.
We need you to speak up.
Still unsure about all this unrest? Read: You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time
Want to know how local officials responded about Sunday’s events? Read: City’s “Progressive” Use of Force Policy Allowed Ricardo Munoz to be Killed: Is Reforming the Policy