“We didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.”
-Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
On June 13, Albuquerque Journal staff writer Elise Kaplan posted an article about police brutality and raised yet another call for reform. Her coverage included three specific New Mexico cases, so why did it take George Floyd’s death in Minnesota for New Mexico public officials to start preaching?
As Kaplan stated, in the past year and a half, three men in New Mexico have been killed by officers using forceful restraint: Vicente Villela in February of 2019, Rodney Lynch in August of 2019 and Antonio Valenzuela in February of 2020.
Why are these cases being revisited now when the state had the opportunity to make a national impact with reform when the situations occurred? One reason is politics. It’s an election year; the two main parties remain at war, using the people as pawns to solidify a term. It seems it’s the goal of some to say the right thing at the right time in order to finagle more timely support to claim or maintain a seat. Then what happens? Petty bickering over nastiness, reports and tweets, forgetting about the promises they made concerning the issues that matter the most—until the next reelection when they’re all ears, ideas and proposals.
Another answer could be minority status. “Black Lives Matter” is an international movement, but it seems some people forget to realize that injustice doesn’t stop at just one race. There are New Mexican residents—Hispanic, Native-American and Caucasian—protesting with signs about African-American injustice and boasting their support for the cause on social media, but that’s part of the problem. When Villela, Lynch and Valenzuela met their unwarranted fates, where were all the protesters and demonstrations? These men are of Hispanic and Native-American descent, the two cultures that make the Land of Enchantment one of five majority-minority states, but again, it takes an African-American man nearly 1500 miles away to bring awareness to social injustice when discrimination continues to happen to all races in every community.
These cases didn’t provide enough of a discussion. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic or Latino citizens make up 18.3 percent of the nation while Black or African-American citizens make up 13.4 percent. Even though African-Americans hold the largest minority status, they don’t hold the largest population of minorities because of the re-classification of how a race is labeled. African-Americans are a racial minority while Hispanics or Latinos are an ethnic minority.
This is how issues become convoluted and overlooked until an atrocious viral act occurs. Why do we need sub-categories to segregate how a specific population is defined? Shouldn’t it be that all lives matter instead of—wait, this sounds familiar.
All lives do matter, except for some, but more specifically, maybe just one—but there’s no validation for a counter claim of racism; the severity of injustice is eons apart (except for one of the one). Many African-Americans have suffered tremendously in this country; they have every right to vocalize their frustration from centuries of persecution that sadly remains relevant.
Still, all lives matter. Not everything is black and white—figuratively and literally. There shouldn’t be levels of racism or sub-categories of culture because separating the segregation even more allows it to exist. If “Black Lives Matter” is a cause for all minorities and cases of racism, then that is one thing, but their website doesn’t specify that, which narrows the scope of social injustice. Racism may harm people of African descent the most here, but reform can’t just be for some because racism can then slip through the cracks of a fractured structure. Bringing equality and liberation to just one race may actually push more hate onto the next, or even create bitter envy from other minorities. Reform needs to happen across the board, hashtags need to be more about the massive picture instead of the big picture, and politicians need to stop making it political and actually do something more productive than just debating over the cause.
We’re privileged to be a front-runner of change, an international influence, but acting in a regressive nature and playing a blame game makes it seem we’re voluntarily demoting ourselves to a lesser status. We can see the effect social injustice has as it trickles disruption into our economy and our personal freedoms we’re so fortunate to have.
We need to talk about it more when it happens in our communities instead of waiting years for the nation to decide what sparks another fire, because if we ignore it, it’s bound to repeat. Don’t make this a convenient cause; don’t make this a trendy situation until next time.