By Cassidy Sheppard
I recently participated in the Solidarity with Charlottesville march and rally in Bakersfield. This march was in response to the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. and brought together a couple hundred community members of Bakersfield to express their outrage.
The most important message was, “We are Heather, Heather is us.” Heather Heyer lost her life in what many say was a terrorist attack in Charlottesville. This incident felt close to home for many Bakersfield residents. Multiple people spoke at the rally about how they have been attacked and harassed due to their race and/or religion. Many believed Heather could have been any of us. We all stand for the same principles she did.
People came to the march for many different reasons. Many came to support Black Lives Matter and people of color. Others went to support LGBT rights or to oppose white supremacy.
But one member of the crowd caught my attention. He was holding a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag but he was marching and chanting with us. This confused a lot of us in the crowd. For those of you who don’t know, Blue Lives Matter came about in response to Black Lives Matter and was organized by former and current policemen. But while Black Lives Matter was in response to young African-Americans being shot and killed by police, in most cases the police officers were not convicted of anything. Police officers have been targeted but they have not experienced the same oppression as African-Americans have.
African-Americans are convicted of crimes at much higher rates than their counterparts and are also much more likely to be wrongfully convicted of crimes. African-Americans are also 2.5 more times likely to be shot and killed by the police than white Americans. These are just a few examples of the deeply engraved systemic racism in our country.
Police officers, on the other hand, are treated very well and most often remain above the law. Many police never get convicted or if they are, they never spend much time in jail. Many get very short sentences compared to day-to-day citizens. In some cases many go back into the force even after being convicted.
Just look at the recent conviction of two Kern County Sheriff’s officers who were caught selling marijuana that was stolen from drug busts. They were convicted but they only got three years of probation. Other Americans convicted of the same crimes have gotten 80-300 months in prison. That is not justice. That is why ‘Blue Lives Matter’ is offensive and upsetting to people of color, LGBT and many other progressive organizations.
The ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag violates and offends those who are trying to stop systemic racism, oppression and hate. Not only that, but the flag was used in Charlottesville by white supremacists at the rally. Nazi flags were flying high right next to the Blue Lives Matter flags. When white supremacists and neo-Nazis use the same flag, we can not look on without feeling betrayed. This is why we cannot support this movement or the symbol of hatred it uses.