It seems people have already forgotten the saying was "Abolish the Police" before it was watered down to "Police Reform." Americans are seeing a tiring and oft-repeated, combination of revisionist history and performative activism. Instead of policy change, we get murals, and instead of active help, we get social media campaigns.
Black activists have made it clear that they want the police abolished. This sentiment has been around for decades, and was even popularly supported by notable activists such as Angela Davis. This demand has been diminished to a belief that the police departments in many communities receive a disproportionate amount of funding, and that reallocating those funds to those departments would be better for the larger community.
While this is true, as police departments across the U.S. get hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal funding, it reframes the discussion as "who and what should get funding?" instead of "why are police killing so many minorities?"
This motto results from an increased focus in money and funds, and not Black lives. This has further led to yet another slogan, "Police Reform," further distancing the movement from the original call of "Abolish the Police."
This is, sadly, a very common phenomenon. The demands and calls to action from many Black activists are drowned out and mitigated with easier solutions that few, if any, Black activists asked for. The response to last summer's protests against police brutality have more to do with performative support than tangible change in our system of policing. Think of events such as "Blackout Tuesday," where people posted solid black squares on social media in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, or the numerous murals bearing the movement's name. It's support, yes, but it's not a policy change.
This is just the latest in this pattern of clear goals established by Black activists being abstracted and forgotten. The biggest name in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., was goaded to commit suicide by his government and lamented the white moderates that let him be jailed in Birmingham, Alabama. Instead of recognizing this injustice for what it was, the government named streets after King Jr. and former President Ronald Reagan honored him with a holiday, all while he ravaged Black communities with the War on Drugs.
Instead of letting MLK's thoughts and ideas for a better tomorrow continue to progress, he's now often boiled down to a single line in a single speech, crying out for judgment based on character, not skin color. That’s the only part of the “I have a dream” speech that can be used by the very people King was fighting against. It's merely an image of support — a performance for the public — but it doesn’t create change.
It’s still an issue today. Nobody asked for a "Black Lives Matter Plaza" in Washington, D.C. It's nice, sure, but it’d be better if Mayor Muriel Bowser did something about the disproportionate amount of Black people in D.C. that get arrested.
It happens at IU, too. Last year, IU awarded Keith Parker, a former IU student and activist, with a Bicentennial Medal. While this is a great award to a very deserving person, it comes long after what must’ve been a difficult time for him at IU.
"When I left IU they weren't awarding me medals." Parker said during the award ceremony.
That said, change does come quickly, at times.
In IU's own history, there's been plenty of protests and sit-ins, a tradition that lives on to this day. In 1968, about 50 Black IU students stopped the Little 500 to protest how the campus' fraternities treated Black students differently. Even in recent times, the Rainbow Coalition made waves by pushing the IU Student Government to properly represent its students.
It seems that at least on a local level, demands of activists are met well, and activists achieve their goals of change. Still, on a larger scale, there's a pattern of institutions vehemently fighting against acts of activism, then retroactively supporting it long after the fact.
Is it wrong to feel like it isn't enough? That murals, medals and philanthropy won't change the system that has routinely hurt Black people, as well as many other minorities, for centuries? This kind of performative activism, where demands are warped and rewards aren't what Black people asked for puts the onus on the activists. It's yet another opportunity for members of the movement to seem ungrateful or unrealistic because they demand too much. While it's enjoyable to see things like Confederate statues torn down and flags get changed, the system remains the same, and that's what needs addressing.