Many Struggling to Breathe Amid Rampant Injustice
Many Struggling to Breathe Amid Rampant Injustice
By Katrina vanden Heuvel / washingtonpost.com

As I write, New York City is witnessing its fifth day of demonstrations after a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the Eric Garner killing. Those demonstrations followed on the protests across the country over the police shootings of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old father of two who was slain while walking with his girlfriend in Brooklyn, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot by a rookie Cleveland police officer while playing with a toy gun, and, most famously, the Ferguson, Mo., police killing of Michael Brown. Conservatives joined liberals in denouncing the grand jury’s outrageous decision in the Garner case. Demonstrations have spread across the country as people of all races have taken up Garner’s plea: “I can’t breathe.”

President Obama met with some of the demonstrators in the White House, where 20-year-old Rasheen Aldridge Jr., director of Young Activists United St Louis, said they made it clear “that we are in crisis.” He added, “It is a crisis when a black American can get locked up for traffic fines, but police officers are rarely prosecuted for killing unarmed children.” The president, as another attendee later reported, “cautioned us against demanding too big and stressed gradualism. He counseled us that the wheels of progress turn sluggishly.” The Justice Department has launched special investigations into the killings of Brown and Garner. The president has announced that he will push for putting cameras on police and has convened a Task Force on 21st Century Policing with instructions to report back in 90 days.

The deaths of Garner, Brown and others at the hands of police are not the only cause sparking mass protests. The day after the Garner demonstrations started, low-wage workers walked off their jobs in more than 190 cities, demanding a living wage and the right to organize. They, too, chanted, “I can’t breathe.” Workers from fast food-restaurants such as McDonald’s were joined by those from low-wage retail and convenience stores and airline service jobs. In Washington, federal contract workers joined the march, calling on the president to issue procurement regulations that would reward good employers that pay a living wage with benefits and allow workers to organize and bargain collectively.

“I can’t make it on this type of income,” Shantel Walker, 32, who earns $8.50 an hour working at Papa John’s Pizza in Brooklyn, told MSNBC. She struggles to get 30 hours of work per week. Many of these workers juggle two or three part-time jobs but aren’t told their schedules with enough notice to be able to plan their child care. Taxpayers end up subsidizing their wages with food stamps and Medicaid, while the chief executives of companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks receive more than $9,200 an hour. No wonder the workers can’t breathe.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) offered an emotional and personal response to the Garner decision, repeating the demonstrators’ chant that “black lives matter” and admitting that he fears for his African American son, Dante, when he is out at night. The mayor got it right in his campaign: This is about a tale of two cities. It is about the injustice of our criminal justice system and the injustice of our economic system. It is about police shooting African American boys and men with impunity. But it is also about chief executives pocketing millions in bonuses even when their companies lose money, about bankers walking away with millions even after blowing up the economy while more and more working people are in jobs that don’t offer the pay or minimum benefits that would enable them to breathe.

After riots swept the streets in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) to investigate their causes and propose reforms. The commission found shortcomings in the police but recognized their situation was impossible. The police were viewed as occupiers, guarding the haves from racially segregated, impoverished communities ravaged by unemployment and poverty. The commission warned that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” In essence, there would not be peace unless there was greater justice. It was, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life” — a prescription that was never filled.

These demonstrations — against both criminal injustice and economic injustice — are only the beginning. In order to breathe, people have begun to move. Efforts to raise the minimum wage have been successful in both blue and red states. They pose a challenge to political leaders at all levels: Lead, or get out of the way. As demonstrations spread, politicians will have to choose which side they are on. Real leaders will choose to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

© 2014 The Washington Post

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

3.5 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 7,012 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
This Short Film Plays Out Like an Epic Movie That Will Shake Your Soul - But the Movie Is Real, and We are The Actors
6 min · 5,006 views today · For next year, we need a resolution capable of confronting the crisis we face, and making a future worth fighting for. This short film looks back on the crisis and confusion...
The Daily Show's Trevor Noah Talks With Conservative Host Tomi Lahren
14 min · 3,965 views today · "Tomi" host Tomi Lahren gives her take on the Black Lives Matter movement and explains why she lashed out against Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest.
Social Media Echo Chambers: Here's How Most of Us are Living in One
2 min · 3,009 views today · Americans are blocking out the friends and news sites that won't confirm their views.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,999 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,938 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Why We Need Big Picture Activism
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 2,062 views today · Despite the countless grassroots projects already under way, the global economic juggernaut can seem too powerful to stop. But because more and more of us are becoming aware of...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 2,033 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 1,790 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Who's Really to Blame for Fake News? Look in the Mirror, America.
Neal Gabler · 1,319 views today · Consider for a moment the oxymoronic concept of “fake news,” which we have been hearing so much about lately. This isn’t your typical disinformation or misinformation —...
Bernie Sanders: Carrier Just Showed Corporations How to Beat Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders · 1,313 views today · We need a president who can stand up to big corporations, not fold to their demands.
How a Land High in the Western Himalayas Can Help Us Understand The Crisis of The Modern World
9 min · 1,311 views today · This is a clip from The Economics of Happiness. Watch it here. It's a brilliant film that was easy to put at the top of our list of the top 100 documentaries we can use to...
South Koreans Are Really Good at Protesting
2 min · 1,008 views today · South Koreans organize some of the largest and most peaceful protests in the world. Here's what makes them so good at protesting.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 947 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The Most Mind-Altering Photograph of All Time
4 min · 853 views today · Carl Sagan narrates the story of the Pale Blue Dot, the one place we all call home. 
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 791 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
Corporate Giants' "Sustainable" Palm Oil Revealed as Sham
Nika Knight · 724 views today · Nestlé, Kellogg's, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and others are linked to child labor and forced labor in Indonesia
The 6 Grand Illusions That Keep Us Enslaved
Sigmund Fraud · 632 views today · For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the...
What Humans Are Really Doing to Our Planet, in 19 Jaw-Dropping Images
Michael McCutcheon · 595 views today · Last week, Pope Francis and church officials encouraged everyone to consume less and think more about our impact on the environment. It's a timely warning because the next six...
Dreaming Beyond Capitalism: a Culture Without Fear
Martin Winiecki · 399 views today · In the 1990s an unusual encounter took place in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In plant rituals, shamans of the Achuar, a tribe living in pristine forest that had never been in touch...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Many Struggling to Breathe Amid Rampant Injustice