"They Can't Kill Us All' by Wesley Lowery

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Where do I begin?

"They Can't Kill Us All" was very high on my anticipated reads list for this year. I am so happy I had my wonderful friend @coffeeandbookss to read it with. This book is extremely heavy but also VERY necessary. Because it covers the #BlackLivesMatter movement, its origin and many of the high profile cases of unarmed African American males being gunned down by police there is no way I can give a standard review for this book. 

This book is good and tabbed, dogeared, annotated and everything else. There are so many profound points and ideas to really sit and think about from the longstanding history of racism in America, the turbulent relationship between African American males and law enforcement and the movements to combat it and the tireless effort to create policing reform. There are so many quotes that stood out to me from the simplest notion to the most difficult to swallow so I will highlight a few and provide you with my thoughts on them.

Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

p. 14

"Despite the talks so many of us of this generation received from parents, teachers, and coaches - Don't run from the cops. Keep your hands out of your pockets. Be conscious of where you're wandering...-the young black bodies we kept seeing in our Facebook newsfeeds could have been our own. How could we explain this to ourselves or each other?

This is one of the things that stood out to me right at the beginning of the book; the conversation. Every black person is aware of "the conversation". A parent's responsibility to their children is to warn them of the dangers in the world; to make certain that they are mindful and aware. A parent can physically protect their child up until a certain point to which they will begin to maneuver independently despite "race". However, it is difficult for anyone outside of the African American community to understand the additional talk that black parents have to have with their children particularly their sons.

The idea is to just be compliant. Do not talk back and be respectful. Do not run and if you are asked to put your hands up, DO IT. In the current climate, this tough talk is necessary, but I began to wonder how this conversation takes on a different shape when we have watched countless videos of unarmed African American males who followed all the rules and were murdered anyway. How then does the mother of a young black boy, the same age as Tamir Rice, explain that in hindsight those things may not save you? It's such a heartbreaking thought.

To add insult to injury, many black boys are seen as adults proven through vilification in the media. There is no childlike innocence in the face of certain authority figures/law enforcement in America when there is brown face standing in front of them. 

p. 17

"I'm a black man in America who is often tasked with telling the story of black men and women killed on American streets by those who are sworn to protect them but who historically have seen and treated those men, women and even their children as anything but American. The story didn't start or end on the streets of Ferguson."

I think it is a fair assessment to note that the killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement is nothing new. The difference now is that we are in the digital age where everything is recorded by everyday citizens. One would think that filming these incidences would bring about change or at least be a huge part of policing reform, but that is not the case. I have wondered what is on the law books that we don't know about? What policing loopholes are we completely in the dark about?

Why is it that unjustified shootings by police officers bare no consequences other than suspension or firing {with severance}. Where does the conversation ACTUALLY begin? More than likely it begins with a cycle of distrust. If you have  "white" officers that harbor in their minds very racist, prejudice and preconceived notions about "blacks" they are going to carry these beliefs with them while "policing" black communities which in turn is the basis of racial profiling. Those being racially profiled don't feel "served" or "protected" and so on and so on. 

Anyone committing any sort of crime or breaking the law should be promptly reprimanded even if that means long term incarceration, but what we are dealing with is beyond "you do the crime. you do the time." Execution is happening on the street so there is a wider net being cast.

"If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the other--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the world." ~ James Baldwin, 1963


"The abdication of responsibilities."

"One of the government's major jobs is to protect us. How can it protect us. How can it protect us if it doesn't know what the best practices are? If it doesn't know if one local department is killing people at a higher rate than others? When it can't make decisions based on real numbers to come up with best practices?"

This hit me like a ton of bricks. There absolutely cannot be reform if there are no real numbers to work from. The disproportionate number of blacks killed by law enforcement versus other races has to be seen as a major flaw in the system, but if you have a government that is not willing to consider this is an issue, it is going to be impossible to make changes. Change has to start at that top.


p. 154

"The role of the press in the civil rights movement also points to our larger failure as a nation to validate and trust the "black" experience. Why did it take "white" reporters writing for "white" audiences to finally address the inequities that "black" communities had for decades been fighting!? Was the lens of "whiteness" required for the nation to accurately recognize the "black" experience?" 

{NOTE: I put quotations around black & white because not the author}

The first thought that I had when reading this was the way in which the media has portrayed the Black Lives Matter movement as some "black alternative" version of the KKK where there is NO comparison. The KKK is an openly hateful group that represents, supports and promotes white supremacy. Their history details the heinous and tortuous deaths of hundreds and probably thousands of African Americans. I am reminded that ANY protest about ANYTHING ANYWHERE in the world can birth danger & rioting. People forget this. However, the MAJORITY, of BLM protests have been peaceful and almost reminiscent of the walk to Selma lead by the late honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but...


What the media also doesn't share, which Lowery details a bit is that BLM has also protested for the killing of NON African American citizen, but again it is difficult to sensationalize the positive. Humans are naturally drawn to chaos and media outlets feed of of this. I HIGHLY recommend this book as required reading if you are trying to GENUINELY understand BLM, why and how it started and the history of law enforcement's relationship with "black" communities.  I loved Lowery's approach from a journalistic perspective. He reported every story fairly while being able to express his raw emotions as a "black" man in America. This book is heartbreaking and reminded me all over again about Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddy Grey and the list goes on, but I didn't want to not read it just because these things make me angry, uncomfortable and sad. How can I be a voice and be properly armed with knowledge if I hide from these things. This is NOT just a book for "black" people but for all people and so important.

p. 195

"But the protest chants were never meant to assert the innocence of every slain black man and woman. The protests were an assertion of their humanity and a demand for a system of policing and justice that was transparent, equitable and fair."