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National Commentary

#BlackLivesMatter: Prioritizes Black Life

By Julianne Malveaux

NNPA Columnist

Nineteen-year-old Zachary Hammond was sitting in a Hardee’s parking lot in his hometown of Seneca, SC, on a first date. An undercover agent had arranged to buy marijuana from his date and had lured her to the parking lot. What could have been a simple drug bust turned into tragedy. Zachary was killed when two bullets struck him on July 26.

As always, there are conflicting stories of what happened. The shooting officer says he was in danger of being run over by Hammond, but not everyone agrees, and one Hardee’s employee witnessed officers moving Hammond’s body to place it so it confirmed officer reports.

Hammond is White and his name is not as widely known as that of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice. Hammond’s family and their attorney Eric Bland, say the national media have not covered the murder of Zach Hammond because he is White. Give me a break.

While activists organized to protest the murders of the unarmed African-American men (and women) who have been killed by the police, no one in Zach Hammond’s circle has cared enough to organize an action to protest his killing. His town is majority White, as are the officers of the law. Citizens of Seneca, S.C. need to ask why Zach’s killing is tolerated.

Approximately 350 people have been killed by police officers so far this year. We don’t know all of their names, but we do know that African-Americans are twice as likely to be killed (or die in police custody) as Whites. We know about Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice because somebody lifted them up, organized around their murders, and made their presence known. Tellingly, the protest of Michael Brown’s murder was muted until a grand jury failed to indict murderer Darren Wilson for his crime.

In the case of Zach Hammond, there has been no tape issued, no witnesses who have come forward, and a police bureaucracy that seems in no hurry to issue facts and findings. Still, everybody would know Zach Hammond’s name if that #AllLivesMatter crowd, the ones who object to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, would coalesce around Zach Hammond’s murder.

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Instead of criticizing the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Hammond’s attorney and his grieving parents ought to ask why more White folks aren’t outraged about young Hammond’s death.

Zach Hammond’s tragic death highlights the reasons why police officers should be forced to wear body cameras. It reminds us that too many trigger-happy officers of the law should be better trained. It reminds us that some have been trained (or decided) to shoot to kill, even if the perceived threat comes from a 12-year-old child playing with a toy gun, or a young White man who (facts still to be determined) was simply driving his car. Even if Zach Hammond was trying to flee the Hardee’s parking lot, the consequence for evading arrest should not be the death penalty.

I am proud of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, an excited about the three young women who organized it, and the thousands who have united under their banner. That movement that prioritizes Black lives in a way that they have never before been prioritized. The #AllLivesMatter seems to be a flippant answer to #BlackLivesMatter.

But here’s the deal – White lives have always mattered and Black lives have been historically denigrated. Our nation’s organizing principle, the Constitution, stated that African-Americans should only be counted as three fifths of a person. Thousands of African-American people were lynched because they dared defy “Black Codes” or simply because they had too much money, too much attitude or too much dignity for oppressive white southerners. Congress repeatedly refused to pass anti-lynching laws.

If all lives matter, where are the White folks who protest the murder of Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Where are the White folks who will protest Zach Hammond’s murder? (There have been White protesters, to be sure, but have Zach Hammond’s parents ever been to a rally to protest the loss of Black life). There are many Black South Carolinians who would join in a protest against police brutality and an unjust killing. But those close to Zach Hammond will have to do the organizing to attract the national media.

Because of historic oppression it is important for those who oppose needless police killings of unarmed Black people to embrace the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

All lives matter, certainly, but it is the disproportionate killing of African-Americans that has provided the impetus for a movement. Eric Bland, the Hammond attorney, ought to embrace it instead of being criticizing it.

Julianne Malveaux is a DC based economist and author. She can be reached at juliannemalveaux.com.

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