On Sunday, June 28, Mark and Patricia McCloskey stood on the lawn of their St. Louis, Missouri mansion, pointing their guns at protesters as they passed down their street. After this incident, the couple released a statement through their attorney indicating that the message “Black Lives Matter” is relevant, that they agreed with it, and it was overdue.
They further stated that they advised the protesters that they were trespassing on a private street. According to various reports, they leveled their weapons because they felt threatened and feared for their lives. They agreed with the message, aimed their guns, and “feared for their lives.”
The phrase “I feared for my life” conjures considerable skepticism in many communities and immediately calls to recollection police shootings and attempts to absolve officers of legal responsibility in post-shooting incidents. Its use, by design, also reinforces existing stereotypes about groups of people and garners sympathy for the speaker.
Saying “Black Lives Matter” and “I feared for my life” in conjunction is oxymoronic. As many of the conversations about this incident have been surrounding the Castle Doctrine and one’s right to protect private property, it’s exemplary of the critical work that is started and still needs furtherance.
The critical conversations are about the manifestations of conscious and unconscious biases towards the protesters and the expectations that they would engage in activities beyond those known to go along with protesting. The continued criminalization of Black and Brown people working for social change, and those who find themselves equally targeted by being allies and assisting in those efforts, continue to be problematic.
According to a 2019 Pew Research Study on race, 56% of white Americans have negative views about racial progress in the United States compared to 71% of African Americans. There are even further gaps in perceptions about how far we still must go. The same study indicates that 78% of African Americans reported that the country has not come far enough in securing equal or equitable rights on par with their white American counterparts, while 37% of whites felt the same.
Protesting and civil disobedience have a long history in the United States and have included African Americans sitting in at lunch counters, standing in line to register to vote, eating in white-only establishments, or protesting down a private street. Some of these encounters ended violently, and sadly, that was the expectation of the time. In 2020, we should expect a different outcome. Actions are not without reactions, but the caveat is the reactions are supposed to be “equal and opposite.” Protests are not designed to make people comfortable.
Protests are uncomfortable; systemic racism is uncomfortable; the manifestation of implicit bias or unconscious bias is uncomfortable; having a gun pointed at you while you protest down a private street is uncomfortable, where “Black Lives Matter,” just not in here.
“Black Lives Matter” should not simply be a marketing slogan, and it should not lose its meaning when the garage, gate, door, or anything closes.
Kenya Brumfield-Young, MLS, MSCJ, is a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University.