Recently, Black Lives Matter has been trending in the news and media. I had a simple understanding of it, but I still wasn’t confident. I saw people get backlash for saying “all lives matter”, and I didn’t want to say anything inappropriate like that. So, in a desire to learn more and increase awareness of our local Black Lives Matter community, I interviewed Makeba Scott Hunter, a concerned mother and Black Lives Matter advocate from Herndon. She recently attended 3 separate protests in the Northern Virginia area.
Since its founding in 2013, the Black Lives Matter organization and movement has been advocating against police brutality and racial injustice inflicted on Black communities. Hunter stands with this. “I will always advocate for the concept that black lives matter, that we need to be valued, that our contributions are important.” Hunter said.
Although the recent killing of George Floyd made national headlines and sparked protests around the nation, Hunter believes the protests were inevitable as the situation was growing over time.
“[The protests] have been building because we keep seeing the same thing confirmed over and over. George Floyd was the third incident...The first was the guy in Central Park [who was told] ‘I'm gonna call the cops on you and tell them I'm feeling threatened by a black man’,… the second incident was Ahmaud Arbery, where he was jogging and got shot... And then George Floyd [and] the eight minute video of the officer kneeling on him was too much to bear. And so after [the third], [people were asking] ‘what type of sadistic society do we live in where we would justify that [as] public safety’.”
Hunter wishes the protests this year can raise awareness of this issue. Awareness will cause the overall system to be changed.
“[I would like it to] amplify these issues. The more mainstream these instances become, the more [incidents reported on] you have, the less you can argue that ‘it's just one bad apple’ when you see the same thing happen over and over in different situations and in different states. The more people we bring on board with understanding that this is a systemic issue, and not an individual issue.”
For the ultimate goal of these protests and movement as a whole, Hunter wants to see policy reform.
“Let's see some policy changes, Let's see some real tangible, sustainable changes that benefit these communities, and that make a safer world for all of us.”
Hunter believes communities and law enforcement should be in partnership instead of opposition. As she phrases it, should police be “guardians” or “guards”?
“[At school], do you want your kids to feel that the police are guardians, or guards?... Put that within our communities. Are [police] our partners or enemies? I don't think it's helpful to have the [police and community] be opposites.”
Hunter claims her ambivalence on whether the system is truly just or corrupt started with an incident when she was growing up in New York in the 90s. One of her closest friends was one of the members of the Central Park Five. The Central Park Five case was a criminal case over the rape and assault of a white female jogger in Central Park. A group of 5 young teenage boys, black and Latino, were wrongfully convicted of the crime. Years later, the real assailant confessed to the crime, and the convictions were vacated.
“My friend, Yusef, and I were both really young and naive. [I] believed that, of course, he's not going to jail, I know he's innocent, I know him. And there's no physical evidence, so, of course, the system would work; you know, that's what I believed. And to watch a complete and total failure of the system, and then see my friend actually be put in jail left an indelible mark on me... I will never ever be surprised when [the system] doesn't work or when it is corrupted, when it does show favoritism.”
Unfortunately, Hunter has “no doubt in [her] mind that [her] children could face police brutality”. She clarifies that although she has had good interactions with police, she always worries about interactions going bad.
“That's not to say that all my interactions with police officers are bad. I just always feel like it can always go south. I appreciate good interactions with police officers, but I would not be surprised if it didn't turn out that way...and that’s sad.”
Hunter has two 12 year old daughters, which makes this situation more complicated for her.
“The age that they are is just a very interesting age, [they have] one foot in ‘little kid’ and one foot in the ‘big kid’ world right and you know they're starting to pay attention to things that they wouldn't have paid attention to before… The killings of George Floyd and Marbury were huge flashpoints for my kids. They were instantly activated. It's scary and sad at the same time right because I see this loss of innocence, but at the same time I see these young fighters coming out to fight for stuff that they think is just... It's hard to push your kids into activism when there is less protection for them, they're entering choppy waters.”
Seeing her daughters using their voice and celebrating success in the movement, Hunter wants to support them all the way. Together, they went to a march in D.C.
“I would say it's been bittersweet. My kids were instantly activated [and] really passionate, educating themselves, [and] wanting to participate, which is why I went to the marches with them. I've marched before, and DC was far away and hot, but my kids wanted to go and so I went with them. I was so happy that I did because I want them to understand that they can affect change. I want them to understand that they need to stand up for things that are right. And that nobody has a right to take away their dignity and their humanity.”
Hunter concludes that “you’re never too young to start learning about [these issues], but it’s sad that you have to”.
One of the most profound moments Hunter recalls is when she took part in a march located in Reston. Thousands of people participated, and “85 to 90% of the people [she] saw were not black”.
“It was humbling because I'm not used to seeing‒not that I'm not used to seeing non black people at Black events‒ I'm used to it [being] organized by black people, black organizations. I'm not used to non people of color taking the lead on issues that are affecting primarily people of color. It made me feel like more people understood what we were talking about, more people heard, at that moment I felt very seen, I felt like the causes that affect the black community were very seen and empathized with. Others were joining in the fight, which was encouraging because systemic change [is] going to take a lot of allies. I thought that was a beautiful display of unity and love.”
To anyone who may be thinking about getting into activism or needs inspiration, Hunter shares a quote from civil-rights leader and former U.S. Representative John Lewis.
“‘Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America’, the movement and protests are good, necessary trouble..., if we don’t get out and make our voices heard, change will not come… [Currently], the stakes are no less dire than the soul of [our] country”.