Black Lives Matter at SMCM

Written By: Hannah Yale

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter march from Hyde Park, central London on June 20, 2020. – British activists continue protests sparked by the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in the United States. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Saturday, Oct. 3, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Programs Board and the Hilda C. Landers Library collaborated to lead a virtual event about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and the state of racism in America. The event was organized as a lecture series on Zoom, with speakers Professor Sahar Shafqat and Kelsey Bush presenting over Zoom at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. 

Shafqat is a professor of Political Science who participated in the #ScholarStrike in early September by dedicating her teaching time to speak about racial injustices in the country and how to take action. During the #ScholarStrike, Sharfqat shared a presentation with her students titled “Abolition and Defund the Police: Understanding the Current Movement to End Anti-Black Racism.” She shared this same presentation with those in attendance at the Black Lives Matter lecture on Oct. 3. 

The main focus of Shafqat’s presentation was police violence and how the police functions as an institution that maintains systemic racism. In May, a Black man named George Floyd was the victim of a police-instigated murder. “It is not a mistake that Black people are murdered routinely by the police,” Shafqat said. Her presentation showed a picture of Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenage boy who shot and killed two BLM protestors in Kenosha, WI in August and was allowed by police to leave peacefully, as well as a photograph of an MPD officer fist-bumping a member of the white supremacy group the Proud Boys in Washington, D.C. in July. “Black criminals and white criminals are treated very differently,” Shafqat said, explaining that Floyd was killed because he had allegedly used a counterfeit bill while Rittenhouse comitted murder and was let to leave the scene. 

According to Professor Shafqat, there is a reformist approach and an abolitionist approach to racism in policing. A campaign called 8 Can’t Wait is a police reform plan that seeks to ban chokeholds, require de-escalation, require warning before shooting, and bring about other changes within the police institution. The problem is, Shafqat explained, most of the police departments that have been seen in the news lately for police brutality had already agreed to most if not all of the 8 Can’t Wait reform policies. Alternatively, there is an abolitionist approach to the issue in which America must “re-imagine and re-envision what our society looks like, and that means eliminating the police from our vision of society and how we deal with one another.” The abolitionist movement advocates for defunding and demilitarizing the police, and re-allocating police funds towards providing safe housing and other community social services. 

Interim Chief Diversity Officer Bush also presented for the event, sharing personal accounts about his experiences growing up as a Black man in St. Mary’s County. Bush also focused on racially motivated police violence as a symptom of systemic racism in his lecture, stating: “This is not just about policing, this is about government structures, too. This is about the understanding that people don’t value people. People see people as dollars, people see people as others, people don’t see people as people.” Bush stressed that it is vital to understand why systemic racism is so violently perpetuated in America, but that thinking and talking about racism alone will not solve the problem. Bush continued: “If we want change, what change do we want? If we want change, how are we going to implement it? If we want change, how are we going to sustain it? Those are always the questions you have to ask.” 

Bush has open office hours on Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Any students who have inquiries about what St. Mary’s is doing to promote racial equality on campus or how individual students can do their part in learning about and taking action against racism can contact him through the SMCM website.

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