The continued violence of #AllLivesMatter: Mural of Sandra Bland defaced in Ottawa
The backlash to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which sprung up last summer during the resistance in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and beyond, was as speedy and as certain as the three seconds Cleveland PD needed to gun down Tamir Rice in a park. The hashtag #AllLivesMatter sprung up as a pushback to the centring of Blackness; the hashtag was challenging and fear inducing to white supremacy even in its centering of Blackness as an epicentre of white violence. This violence is visited by white supremacy upon Black bodies in a white colonial state and this revelation, while not really a revelation to anyone who is not white, seemed threatening enough to white folks that they immediately erased Blackness yet again and reasserted white violence with the #AllLivesMatter hashtag.
Many penned their reasons explaining why #AllLivesMatter was racist and violent, hoping perhaps that there were some well meaning white people out there using it by accident. And perhaps there were a few. Yet, the sentiment survives and, in fact, has seen a revival in the recent US presidential race, most notably with Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton walking into a Black church and proclaiming “All lives matter.” Understanding the power of #AllLivesMatter matters...
What has also continued is the murder of Black people by police. As activists have noted, hardly a day has gone by without someone in American being murdered by a police officer, the ones who some still trust to ‘protect and serve’. One of the most recent cases was that of Sandra Bland, a Black activist pulled over for an alleged traffic violation, roughed up by the arresting officer for daring to assert her rights in the face of routine police intimidation, and found dead in her jail cell days later. While an investigation is still ongoing, to many there is no doubt that Sandra’s murder is part of an ongoing pattern of the state and their belief in the disposability of Black life.
In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, artists Kalkidan Assefa and Allan Andre painted a mural in Ottawa in remembrance.
This is significant in it’s cross-border connection making. Canada promotes a narrative of blissful and peaceful multiculturalism, particularly in contrast to race relations in the United States. And yet, Black life is routinely erased, in many ways. The day after the mural was painted, activists marched in Toronto to protest the police murders of Jarmaine Carby and Andrew Loku, Black men gunned down by police. They shut down highways, reminiscent of actions south of the border. In Montreal, the same week, two police officers were found guilty of beating a Black man stopped for a traffic violation. Canada does not value Black life any more than the United States; in this, colonial states are remarkably consistent.
Less than 48 hours after it was completed, the mural of Sandra Bland was defaced with “All Lives Matter.”
Make no mistake, this is an act of white supremacy. #AllLivesMatter is a mantra of white supremacy that ignores history, social relations, power, and, most of all, the lives of non-White people. #AllLivesMatter is a mantra of peaceful multiculturalism that proclaims equality in the face of disproportionate violence against Black and Indigenous peoples, in particular. #AllLivesMatter is hate speech, especially when splashed across the mural of a slain Black women, erasing once again Black life, remembrance, resistance, and presence. It proclaims that Sandra Bland’s life does not matter underneath of #AllLivesMatter.
This defacement was spotted by RJ Jones, who organized a group of Black, Indigenous and white allies to attempt to fix the mural. This too is significant in its connections. In Canada, like in the United States, Black and Indigenous peoples are the most targeted by police violence. In fact, days after Sandra Bland was detained and murdered by police, a Choctaw activist, Rexdale Henry, was found dead in his cell after failing to pay a fine for a traffic citation. While in different yet connected ways, Indigenous lives do not matter in the white colonial state. So it is Indigenous youth who recognized Black life as valuable, recognized the violence of #AllLivesMatter and attempted to restore the mural. As Anishinaabekwe writer Leanne Simpson wrote during the #BlackLivesMatter protests last summer, “I was reminded over and over this week that Black and Indigenous communities of struggle are deeply connected through our experiences with colonialism, oppression and white supremacy.”
The violence of colonialism and white supremacy continues, writing itself onto buildings, over murals, onto bodies and the land, and into the laws – and the enforcement of them - of our countries. #AllLivesMatter is a form of this violence and cannot be ignored, cannot be condoned, cannot continue. As Leanne Simpson writes, “To me, Ferguson is a call not only to indict the system but to decolonize the systems that create and maintain the forces of Indigenous genocide and anti-Blackness.” We must continue to resist, continue to remember Black and Indigenous life and, more importantly, begin to support and centre Black and Indigenous life beyond the spectacle of their death. We must decolonize systems of white supremacy that are built on Black and Indigenous death.
A version of this post was republished in the Huffington Post, here.