The police shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards reveals that we haven’t made any real progress since Rodney King and the L.A. Riots.
Editor’s Update: A previous version of this article stated that the L.A. Riots took place 20 years ago. The actual number is 25, though the thesis of the piece still holds.
How ironic is it that Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old black teenager, was shot and murdered by Texas law enforcement as he was leaving a party on Saturday, April 29 — exactly 25 years to the day the L.A. Riots broke out? And how ironic is it that this isn’t ironic at all?
It’s legacy. It’s heritage. The legacy and heritage of white supremacy.
While media networks were saturating our airwaves with documentaries on the unrest and devastation piled on Los Angeles following the acquittal of the officers who brutally beat Rodney King, another black male, this time in a Dallas suburb, aroused by what at most might be described as a petty offense, was gunned down, his entire promise and future forever foreclosed.
In all due honesty, there’s no need to subject any of you, dear readers, to a lengthy diatribe connecting the death of Edwards to the import of the L.A. Riots, and how 20 years ago our illusion of a post-racial society imploded. No such thing occurred. That has become more and more apparent in the years following the riot — not only in the first few months of the Trump era, but under the social purview of the Obama administration as well.
It’s good, and indispensable, that folks remembered and commemorated as expected, that there was dialogue. But certainly, much of that dialogue consisted of people wading through the two major theses that recur whenever an officer snuffs out the life of a black body. Either they say, “he deserved it, he should not have broken the law” chatter, or deniers parade the “things are different now” talk.
Are they? That’s a fair question.
Since the L.A. Riots, we’ve seen violent outbreaks in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte and Sanford. These and others have created the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve had jury acquittal after jury acquittal of police officers who, though they work in different states, are philosophically aligned by the same credo — as was the case with the LAPD — to assault black bodies.
Since Rodney King, we’ve had Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Freddy Gray, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and ReNisha McBride.
None of the families of these dead black lives reduced to hashtags has seen justice. All have been accused of bad parenting and raising criminals.
We still take to the streets to vent and express our grievances, protest, make demands and apply pressure to people who weld positions of authority, power and control in a country still determined to run its white supremacist bona fides.
We’ve held more vigils and experienced more pain and loss, including, for some, the loss of hope and optimism about the future and our prospects as a species.
Things have changed, but not at the level of substance — even when we account for a black president.
The lifeblood of this struggle depends on people invested in the fight against every manifestation of institutional racism and systemic oppression for the long haul. It needs them desperately and the fact that it does, that it cannot survive without it, that no substantive change has been accomplished, cannot be stressed enough.
For, as that old piece of sage wisdom goes, the more things appear to change — and our work is dedicated to ensuring that they genuinely do, FRFR — the more they stay the same.
Now is not the time to use the commemoration of dead black bodies to pat ourselves generously on the back and celebrate surviving this or that particular moment of intense racial tension. It is a time to leverage our talents, plan and pursue the radical transformation of our world.