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[OPINION] All lives can't matter until Black lives matter

On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for their scheduled playoff game with the Orlando Magic. Instead of playing basketball for the entertainment of millions of basketball fans across the world, the Bucks stayed in their locker room, calling the Attorney General and the Lieutenant Governor of their home state of Wisconsin to demand justice for Jacob Blake, who was shot 7 times in the back by a cowardly police officer while he was walking away, in plain view of his 3 young sons. Although he survived, Jacob Blake is now paralyzed and may never walk again, and his children are now traumatized for life. 

Words matter

Later that night (Thursday morning in Manila), after players from other teams chose to boycott the rest of the night’s games, every NBA player and coach in the Disneyworld bubble was invited to a meeting to discuss the league’s response – and need to hold the officer accountable for his actions. Even after being advised of the possible financial implications by the NBA Players’ Association, the Lakers and Clippers voted to boycott the rest of the 2020 NBA season, and walked out of the meeting. The walkout was led by LeBron James, who called out the NBA for euphemistically saying that last night’s games were “postponed” instead of boycotted, and calling for team owners to be more involved and take action alongside the players.

Over the last few months, while most people have been sheltering in place during the pandemic, a light has been trained on the ongoing racial injustices perpetuated by the police against the Black community, with protests rising all over the US and the rest of the world. While some hype up isolated instances of destruction or looting (often with the contributions of “Boogaloo Bois,” predominately white anti-protestors who want to cause chaos), property can be replaced. Life cannot.

Lives matter

Black lives matter. Does it bother you to read that? People sometimes retort by saying that “all lives matter,” or worse, that “blue lives matter.” While it is true that government officers in uniform are civil servants whose jobs are meant to serve the public, putting on a blue uniform and signing up for a job is a choice. Skin color is not. And yes, all lives do matter, but all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.

Let’s not kid ourselves – white people are not the ones getting shot for failing to signal before changing lanes, for selling loose cigarettes by the stick, for using money that looks funny, or for wearing a hoodie. Although “Christian” radio stations in America broadcast wacky commercials that preach blasphemy about their imaginary “God-given right to guns,” white people’s children do not get shot for playing with guns, nor do police shoot white people in front of their child after being told they are legally exercising the same 2nd Amendment Constitutional right that conservatives love to defend, while ignoring the other clauses of the Constitution that they don’t like.

Pulis vs police

I’ve lived about half my life in the US and half in the Philippines. If you asked first grade me what he wanted to be when he grew up, he might have said basketball player, but he might also have said policeman, because they were glorified in the cartoons I used to watch as a kid in America.

That definitely changed after moving to Manila. As a teen in the Philippines, I had a more of a love/hate relationship with our pulis, mainly centered around driving. Sometimes I’d get pulled over for “swerving” or entering the “yellow lane” at intersections designed so Manong Pulis could say you committed a traffic violation no matter what. Or someone would crash into my car or allege that my changing lanes made them brake so hard that their motorcycle slipped on the wet road, even with no actual contact between our vehicles, and we’d all head down to the precinct to hand-write statements for a typewritten police report for insurance purposes. Pro-tip: if you slip the cop some money for coffee or merienda, the report tends to work out in your favor.

Pulis in the Philippines will take your money, but until recently, they wouldn’t kill you. On the other hand, American police are trained to kill. As of writing, there have only been 12 days in 2020 when American cops did not kill someone. Not only are cops rarely prosecuted or even charged with killing people, most instances of cops killing people don’t even make the news. Even if they do, today’s news cycle pushes them off the front pages and off people’s minds as soon as the next scandal occurs.

It could have been me

Imagine being an international student who got the opportunity to study in America, at a good school in a great city, with a scholarship from one of the biggest companies in the world. It’s winter, maybe your first time seeing snow, and you take a weekend road trip to see some of the country, visiting your country’s embassy in Washington DC, to check in with and thank your sponsors.

It’s Sunday, and as you’re driving back towards your dorm, the highway takes you through a suburban area that boasts about its outstanding education system, historic high-end shopping and dining, and its overall outstanding quality of life. It’s a rich area, roughly the size of Makati and Taguig combined, but only has about 25,000 inhabitants, not far from the average population per square kilometer in our NCR, where regular middle-class folks live in nice houses set on 10,000-square meter lots.

You lose control while driving in unfamiliar snowy weather, clip someone else’s car, and your car flips over on the side of the road. A few minutes later, a cop pulls up and sees you, dazed, just outside your totalled vehicle. At this point, all he knows is that there has been a minor car accident, and that you have a funny sounding foreign name. That’s it. You have no criminal record, no convictions, no felonies, misdemeanors, or anything – not that cops are supposed to kill people even if they’re guilty. That should normally involve a long process involving lawyers, several levels of courts, and years of appeals, even for the most heinous of crimes.

Does the cop ask if you’re ok? Does he try to help you to safety away from the highway? Does he call for medical assistance for you? Even the most conservative person can probably agree those would be reasonable ways to help a chubby guy resembling Winnie the Pooh who has just been in an accident, dazed and confused beside a car that’s flipped over.

But wait – the kid has a funny sounding Muslim name. Within 45 seconds, without provocation, the cop pulls out his gun and shoots 6 shots. 3 to the face, 2 to the knee, and one that missed. A closed casket to send back to the kid’s grieving parents in a faraway foreign land. School administration doing damage control with the media and the student body. An investigation that focused on trying to find any vices the kid might have, since they had nothing else to pin on him. 

This is a true story of something that happened to one of my friends, and you already know how it ends: administrative leave for the murderer, then the grand jury declines to even indict him of any wrongdoing. A promising young future gone, taken by a white cop about 3 weeks before a white Christmas, and all the kid did wrong was to have a Muslim name and brown skin. – Rappler.com

Jath Shao became a lawyer to help people. With offices in Chicago, New York City, Cleveland, and Bonifacio Global City, he serves clients from all over the world. Email jath@lawfirm4immigrants.com for any consultations, questions, or concerns.