Black Lives Can’t Matter Some of the Time

Joycelyn A. Wilson
Shaneku McCurty

The conversation about black lives "mattering" has once again entered the public discourse through the door of police brutality. Only this time, it was through the schoolhouse door. Earlier this week, Ben Fields, a sheriff's deputy and school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina, dragged an African-American teen from her desk after she refused to comply with his demands. Fields was fired Wednesday.

Rewind to last week.

In DeKalb County, Ga., Shaneku McCurty, a 25-year-old resident who was on her way home from work, stopped at a convenience store to buy a $5 lottery ticket. Upon returning to her vehicle, she was shot and killed after fighting off a carjacker. The three suspects arrested in the shooting were 15- and 16-year-old African-American boys who, in my opinion, should have been home getting ready to go to school the next morning rather than loitering outside a store at 1 a.m. waiting to pull a jack move on innocent customers. But I digress. 


Her death, which is also on video, did not make it onto CNN, MSNBC or even Fox. Only the local channels. Does her black life not matter? Her killing—how she was killed, where she was killed, by whom she was killed—was not and has not been discussed within the context of the contemporary mattering movement. Last report I got, McCurty's family was still trying to raise the money to bury her.

Why has there not been collective outrage about Shaneku McCurty?

I suspect it is because she was not assaulted by the boys in blue. Otherwise, the world would know how her life was taken in cold blood and how she died on the floor of the very convenience store she had walked out of minutes before. Perhaps, even, her family wouldn't have to struggle to lay her to rest. But for some reason, we don't discuss or deal with intracommunity violence in the same context of mattering as we do when someone outside the community—like an officer—strips us of our dignity.   

I understand that the Black Lives Matter movement began as a contemporary response to the long history of contention between the police and the African-American community. However, within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, is there room for people like me who want to address the senseless violence within my community? Is it not time to extend its concepts and methods beyond the interaction with law enforcement to an activist space focusing on the ways in which we interact with each other?

Currently, there's the conversation about police brutality and criminalization of black people, and then there's a separate one on internal brutalities. But police violence and community violence are inextricably linked. Often, where you see concentrated intracommunity violence, you will more than likely find police violence. Quite honestly, I'm exhausted with separate conversations about mattering when the reality is that blue-on-black violence and black-on-black violence have intersecting consequences: dead or imprisoned black people. 


Let me be clear: I'm not trying to sound like Bill O'Reilly. So miss me with the "She sounds like a conservative" nonsense. I raise these questions because I can't help wondering how much stronger my community would be if we operated from a common, collective, self-determining vision for enjoying the fruits of our labor, for educating our youth for posterity and for solving our own challenges. 

I'm sure it's possible to focus on one aspect of violence and criminalization, but the stakes are too high for African Americans to continue fragmenting issues when one issue can adversely influence another. 


A self-determining community's relationship with itself must be strong and superlative to its relationship with external institutions. To continue separating the outcomes is to engage in the very system of Western world "either-or" thinking that's under criticism. For example, black lives matter in the face of police brutality, but black-on-black brutality is a separate issue. They are not when black bodies are heinously assaulted and/or killed. Why is the "how" the benchmark for mattering? Why can't we take a "both-and" approach?

One way to start is to continue calling out the bad boys in blue over social media. The ones who hide their racist ways and fear of brown and black bodies behind the badge must be accountable. But we must also acknowledge those who hold in high esteem the oath they took to serve the communities they are paid to protect. It took less than 24 hours for DeKalb County police, working with the local community, to find the three young men responsible for McCurty's death. They did not allow her age, race or gender to interrupt the resources poured into finding her killers. 


Unfortunately, McCurty is dead. And these teens have died a spiritual death as they prepare to add to a prison registry dominated by African-American men. 

Let's not let the death of McCurty be an isolated incident distinct from police violence such as this latest example at Spring Valley High. They are both "mattering" moments in need of focused prevention, healing and collective vision. The BLM movement is like the root of the rhizome. Perhaps now is the time to add another stem. Or should we just give up the illusion that we are a community and continue to fulfill the stereotypical perceptions created for us?


Joycelyn A. Wilson is an assistant professor in the educational foundations program at Virginia Tech and director of the Four-Four Beat Project. Follow her on Twitter.

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