This summer saw the resurgence of a national discussion on police brutality and race, a conversation reminiscent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s initial emergence back in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin. The officer-involved deaths of Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, two unarmed black men, sparked demonstrations and outrage across the country. Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where Sterling and Castile were killed respectively, erupted in protest. People mobilized, not only in Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge but also Dallas, Texas; Paterson, New Jersey; and even Oakland, California. While protestations of police abuse intensified, another facet of the larger conversation appeared with the shooting of multiple police officers in both Dallas, Texas and later Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Within the stretch of only a couple weeks, the country was examining the relationship between policing and the communities they serve in a way that was not simply limited to abuse and brutality.
It’s often easy to detach yourself from these issues when they occur on a national scale. The responsibility to resist appears to be that of a distinctly distant community rather than your own. But when protests began in Oakland, a community deeply connected to our own here in Berkeley, the deaths of Castile and Sterling took on a localized importance. These deaths were no longer just a headline; they catalyzed dialogue concerning the Bay Area’s police force. After a flurry of scandals the Oakland Police Department (OPD) faced harsh criticism from the residents it served. Community members pointed to incompetence and abuse, themes that perfectly aligned with the larger discussion started when Sterling and Castile died. Activists were provided an opportunity to confront OPD’s corruption and scandals within the context of a nationwide conversation. Suddenly, the responsibility to protest belonged to Oakland, and the larger Bay Area, just as much as it did to Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. In early July, demonstrators would congregate at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland, march to OPD Headquarters and eventually shut down the 880 Freeway, demanding for Mayor Libby Schaaf to meet the protesters and discuss the state of the police department.
There is immense value to this. We see a community respond to other cities’ tragedy in a way that is both locally and nationally relevant; the actions brought attention not only to the issues Oakland residents face with their own law enforcement but also the larger movement at hand. Activists in Oakland took advantage of a national story to shed light on a local problem that would go on to spur community conversation.
As the school year starts here at Berkeley High, it’s critical to continue these discussions regarding racial injustice. We must keep in mind that what may seem detached can be much more relevant than we may initially think. It is easy to allow tragic deaths like those of Sterling and Castile that occurred over the summer continue to be just headlines, another statistic. Yet with the start of the new school year at Berkeley High, we must continue to make the choice to stay engaged in these issues afflicting our nation and our community. Discussions in the classrooms allow us to both celebrate our various communities and confront the issues within them. Berkeley High, as well as the Jacket, presents itself as a valuable place to both celebrate, confront, resist detachment, and create a more aware school.