Ken Plum: Black Lives Matter
Black lives matter. Period. No further explanation or expansion of the phrase is needed. Do not try to switch the subject by wanting to suggest that all lives matter. For more than four centuries the lives of black people have been degraded. There have been numerous instances during that time when events would have suggested that there might finally be a recognition that black lives do matter. With the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that all men are created equal one might have concluded that black Americans might finally achieve some semblance of equality, but they did not. With a constitution for the new country, blacks were counted as worth only three-fifths of a person. Virginia and the Southern states seceded from the Union and fought a civil war to be able to keep black people in bondage. After more than 250 years of slavery black people were given a hollow promise with the Emancipation Proclamation. Jim Crow laws replaced slave codes. Many ingenious ways were contrived to keep black people from voting. Lynching was among the ways used to instill fear in black people to keep them “in their place.” Police too often became less public safety protectors and more keepers of a divided society where black lives have less value than that of others.
With all this history and more is there any wonder why leaders who are willing to take a stand are insistent that we keep the message clear: Black Lives Do Matter! Too much has happened to turn our backs on much-needed changes in so many aspects of our society and our governance. When a cop feels that he can grind his knee in the back of the neck of a black man until he dies while three other cops look on, we know that the time has arrived for change. No excuses. Enough is enough.
The General Assembly will take up significant reforms to our policing and criminal justice system when it meets in August. I look forward to cosponsoring and voting for meaningful bills that will redefine policing, shift resources from policing to community and social services, and reform our criminal justice system. The needs are so extensive that one legislative session will not be adequate to deal with all the needed reforms, but there can be no delay in taking the first very big step forward.
Make no mistake thinking that all that is talked about will be popular. Some will think that if black lives matter their lives and their security will somehow be lessened. Politicians will jump on the divisions that exist in our society and suggest that everyone will somehow be less safe if changes are made. They will twist the meaning of the movement to reform policing, referred to as “defund police” by some, as leaving communities unsafe. The white supremacists among us, and they are more numerous than we might like to realize, will be marching and protesting any changes.
Black lives matter. We are on the verge of making the statement a reality. We cannot falter in our resolve to make it true!
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.