Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Generation Z spent the last year and a half marching. We protested the ongoing disregard our society has for the mistreatment and murder of Black men and women by police officers across the nation. We shared the names of those who had been murdered and reminded the world that their loss would not be in vain.
We also had hope.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 passed the House of Representatives on March 3. The legislation by Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles, California, offered a framework to address and prevent racial profiling by police officers at all levels of government. It created the National Police Misconduct Registry to keep records and data on police misconduct. It addresses the issues surrounding qualified immunity and holding police officers accountable to the communities they are supposed to serve.
We also knew that passing the legislation out of the House of Representatives was the first step of getting negotiations going within the United States Senate. We had hoped that the bipartisan effort in Congress being led by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) would lead to steps forward to address this long-overdue reform of those who are paid by our tax dollars to safely serve and protect all communities.
We watched as the major mainstream media shared the news that progress was being made. We hoped that the time had come where policymakers and special interests would put aside their old habits of blindly protecting and serving those police officers who violated the trusts of the communities they worked in.
We watched as news organizations declared in June that an agreement had been reached. NPR captured this moment with the headline “Lawmakers Reach A Bipartisan Agreement On Police Reform” and shared a joint statement by lawmakers that stated, “we have reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform.” As young Americans, many in Generation Z felt that maybe our voices were being heard and change was coming.
Then, we got our hearts ripped out. We learned once again that our nation’s history of implementing structural change is one deeply rooted in decades-long fights that ebb and flow over time. We learned that movements for empowerment have and will continue to be won only by a commitment to engagement and the willingness to never give up for what is right.
We also learned that this most recent effort to bring the first steps in long-overdue changes in how our police departments and criminal justice system works, fell apart because of the lack of leadership and commitment to protecting equality by Sen. Scott and his Republican Senate colleagues.
Sen. Booker shared that the “effort from the very beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a lot more transparency and then police reform that would create accountability. And we were not able to come to an agreement on those three big areas.”
President Biden issued a statement on the collapse of negotiations with Sen. Scott and Republicans where he made it clear that “this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call.”
As frustrating and disheartening the collapse of this effort to reform police departments in the United States has been, we were also brought together as a community to remember why the protests and marches were so important and must continue. And it came in the form of a song.
On Sept. 23, one day after the collapse of the negotiations on the bipartisan police reform legislation, the African American Policy Forum under the leadership of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw released a new song by Janelle Monáe that provided us with a rallying cry to keep moving forward on this fight to end police brutality once and for all.
The song, “Say Her Name,” is a masterpiece of art and music and reminds us of those Black women, girls and femmes who have had their lives taken by the misdeeds and actions of police officers. Ms. Monáe once again reminds us how music can be used to uplift a movement and re-energize everyone to continue fighting. As with the release of the 2015 song “Hell You Talmbout,” we are reminded that “silence is the enemy and sound is the weapon."
The song features Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Chloe x Halle, Tierra Whack, Isis V., Zoë Kravitz, Brittany Howard, Asiahn, Mj Rodriguez, Jovian Zayne, Angela Rye, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Brittany Packnett-Cunningham and Alicia Garza. They spend 17 minutes and 42 seconds saying the names of the Black women, girls and femmes that we have lost. For anyone listening to this powerful collaboration, you quickly connect to names you hear. For me, living in Texas and being a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated, it was hearing the names of Atatiana Jefferson and Sandra Bland that reminded me why we can never let a setback stop us from pushing forward.
While listening to this beautiful and moving protest song, I was also taken by the question if Sen. Scott or any of his Republican colleagues in Washington, D.C., would ever contemplate listening to this release. I wondered if Sen. Scott could make it through this song without thinking of Black girls like myself who live in fear of being pulled over like Sandra Bland and dragged into a criminal justice system that would strip us of our basic humanity and disregard our lives. I wonder if Sen. Scott could spend 17 minutes and 42 seconds listening to this song and not think of the women in his own family who have experienced these terrifying fears of what interaction with the police could be. I wondered if Sen. Scott had asked his ideological colleague Allen West of Texas about the recent interaction his wife had with Dallas police.
Recently, Sen. Scott went on CBS News’ Face The Nation and immediately started the interview by blaming everyone but himself for failing to meet the call for justice. He blamed “Big Blue cities” and even accused Sen. Booker of being unable to read. He made the argument to protect his own political interest while willingly disregarding the lives of Black men, women and children. His argument became that he could not support anything that may defund the police. Sen. Scott expressed “so when you tie funding losses in this legislation, you should expect an allergic reaction from me."
With all due respect, Sen. Scott, using the powerful words of Ms. Monáe, what the “hell you talmbout?" This comes from the same Sen. Scott who issued a press release in March of 2021 where he stated he was joining his Republican Senate colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, “in filing an amendment to make K-12 funding contingent on schools reopening for in-person learning by the end of April.” So Sen. Scott does support using a funding contingency mechanism for creating policy change and holding local governments accountable. He just didn't feel we as Black Americans were worth supporting it in this case.
For Gen Z, the question is, what do we do next? The first step can be helping ensure such a powerful protest song such as “Say Her Name” is shared and heard across the nation. For those feeling more adventurous, having the song played at every event that Sen. Scott attends will be a constant reminder to him that we see who he is and what he actually stands for. Let’s not forget our purpose and remember that “silence is the enemy.” We must continue to use our voices to speak out for and demand justice.