By: Alexis Eisa
The will of the people, protest rights, and progression are considered the fundamental bedrocks of democratic societies. Notably, customary international law, or general principles of law that are binding on every state (regardless of its adherence) and several international law instruments dictate that states must have the will of the people serve as the basis of authority for the government. In other words, state governments must not only provide the platform for civil society to be heard, but state governments must adhere to what civil society is saying. Historically, this has been achieved through movements, protests, demonstrations, and other forms of public advocacy. Although movements and correlating protests have made remarkable progress since the beginning, such progress is severely hindered, and sometimes regressed, by subtle, nearly undetectable oppressive measures. In actuality, the oppression that Americans seek to eradicate is never actually eradicated; but rather transformed into a new, unidentifiable form. America’s oppression is preserved through transformation.
Peremptory strikes serve as an illustrative example of America’s oppression being preserved through tactical, subtle transformation. Following the end of the civil war, peremptory strikes were created. Although facially neutral, the strikes were created with the sole intention and purpose of keeping nonwhites outside of the courtrooms and legal systems. Still in effect in 49 states, peremptory strikes are almost wholly used for discriminatory purposes in the courtroom. In effect, the peremptory strikes continue to serve the same interests as those before the civil war: keeping nonwhites, or communities of color, outside of the courtroom. In fact, studies indicate that black venire members are 4.51 times as likely to be struck from the jury than white venire members. Another study found that in criminal cases, 60% of the prosecution’s peremptory challenges are used against black jurors, despite black jurors only constituting 32% of the juror population. As evidenced, the creation and use of peremptory strikes is a tool of oppression tactically used by America’s oppressors to preserve its hierarchy through subtle transformation.
The long-lasting movements for Black Lives Matter and Police Reform also exemplify America’s preservation of oppression. The BLM movement that erupted in 2020 drew enormous attention to the disparate treatment by police between the black and white communities. More so, the protests achieved greater understanding, sympathy, and empathy for the marginalized community. Yet, even with greater support, awareness, and sympathy, black men were still murdered, and murderous cops were still enjoyed impunity. Although hundreds of bills were passed nationwide to decrease police brutality, particularly against the black community, progress was never realized. Rather, the fatal oppression was subtly transformed so as to escape detection and accountability.
In fact, despite the government’s rhetoric that change has and is continuing to be realized, police murders have steadily increased every year since 2020. Those who suffer this increase the most are communities of color, namely the black community. Despite black people being more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed by police, the black community is significantly more likely to be killed by the police, even after 2020 and the U.S.’ public commitment to change via legislation and other mandates. In 2021, black people accounted for 24% of those killed by the police, despite only accounting for 13% of the total U.S. population. In 2022, black people were three-four times more likely to be killed by police. Yet, through bodycam mandates and mental health training, Americans have been told that the lethal racism plaguing the American police is being successfully combated against. However, in reality, the lethal racism has just manifested itself in others way as to as remain subtle and undetectable.
The most prominent example is legislation that was recently proposed to effectively prohibit all recordings of police interactions with civilians. This would have made the recording of George Floyd’s death, the act which basically triggered BLM’s national momentum, illegal. How could America go from the murders of countless black Americans to the loud and powerful protests denouncing such actions to enacting laws to prohibit the very actions that started the whole chain reaction? One answer: preservation through transformation. Rather than continue to publicly oppress the black community, the lethal racism has shifted to prohibiting the recording of it, thereby inhibiting the public from even knowing about the lethal racism’s perseverance. Instead, the public is persuaded by the various bills and regulations seeking to decrease police killings. This façade of change weakens social movements because by pretending to be an ally, a supporter, a change-seeker, and change-maker, the façade blinds the movements with its empty actions and promises while transforming the oppression into an undetectable form.
As such, solutions are few and far between. Until those fortifying oppression’s presence in America are weakened, oppression’s presence in America will continue to persevere via preservation through transformation.
Alexis, a current 3L with her eyes set on social justice and equity, is determined to ensure all persons their entitled rights through international human rights law work.