Tamir Rice and LaQuan McDonald were both unarmed and killed by police. The top prosecutors in Cleveland and Chicago were both voted out of office, largely due to the way they handled those two cases. Many are calling this a victory for the Black Lives Matter movement but in reality, I’m not sure the movement can ultimately win. The system is just way too complicated, by design.
Few people pay attention to prosecutorial races. In fact, prosecutors win re-election 95% of the time. Yet the office is extremely important, influencing which, and with what, individuals are charged among other things. Without media scrutiny on the two aforementioned cases, Cleveland and Chicago would have the same prosecutors today. Still, who makes the laws being prosecuted? A variety of local and state laws, many unjust, routinely destroy the lives of poor people. For example, living in Los Angeles makes one subject to a collection of gang laws which even cover the possession of aerosol paint containers. Voting in new representatives locally can be a challenge, particularly in places like Florida where ex-felons generally aren’t allowed to vote.
Cities and states are ultimately subject to federal codes of law, such as mandatory drug sentencing guidelines authored by Congress. Overturning bad federal policy would naturally begin by voting in new blood to the Congress. Voting in more progressive federal representatives is challenging, however. The boundaries of congressional districts are typically drawn by state legislatures and the controlling party tends to draw the lines to ensure their side picks up the most seats. For example, Democrats won 1.37 million more votes in the House in 2012 but Republicans actually won the majority of seats.
Beyond criminal justice matters, there are the overwhelming community development and educational concerns the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to address. With respect to community development, housing in a given neighborhood can be influenced by anything from a local zoning board (often elected, sometimes appointed) to a state housing agency, typically run by an appointee of the governor. Of course, HUD dictates a good amount of what these agencies are actually capable of. Educational outcomes can be influenced by a locally elected school board, under the broader leadership of a state board of education. Of course, local schools are ultimately given a budget by a county executive or mayor, supplemented by the federal government through the legislative process. Beyond all this, federal guidelines have far reaching impact as to what actually happens inside of a local classroom and those guidelines can be traced back to the President and the Congress.
The point is that the system is multi-layered, complex, convoluted and it is intentionally so. Truthfully, it’s quite difficult to be equally focused on local planning boards, state legislative, city council, prosecutorial and congressional races. Although not impossible, it’s challenging to produce quality research on a candidate for clerk of the court and the school board. The system is intentionally designed to retard progress and frustrate the vulnerable. However, navigating each layer of the system would be absolutely necessary to secure a true political revolution. Whether this is truly feasible is the question.
For the rich and powerful, no political institution presents a serious threat. The political is always subject to the economic. Whether the discussion is campaign finance or the influence of developers in zoning policy, money certainly answers all things. As I’ve written, there exists no single issue which black America cannot solve if we were to organize our capital through banking, investing and collective spending. Yes, we must vote and organize politically but only parallel to our organizing economically. Navigating the many layers of governmental influence is complex but it doesn’t ultimately hinder those who are organized economically. Let that be the focus of the vulnerable.