Black Lives Matter: License to Kill

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“Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers…” (Swain). The Black Lives Matter movement involves a group of people standing up to the justice system, mainly police officers, and taking a stand. This includes protests, articles and other ways to raise awareness about this cause. Black lives matter started out because of the amount of violent and cruel ways police officers treat people of color. Mostly, this movement started because of the amount of unarmed deaths, at the hands of police officers, of people of color. There is a clear divide in the United States between how officers treat White and Black people. Sociologists Marx, Weber and Durkheim were not far off in what they had to say about society regarding this movement and what is happening in today’s society. Weber and Marx’s theories about power and class consciousness depict what is going on in society today and what led to the Black lives matter movement. I will apply these sociologists’ theories to the Black lives matter movement and explain how each theory is relevant.

Throughout time, those with higher power have always dominated those with less. According to Weber, class and status make up power. He classifies class as people who owned property versus the people who did not.

“Racism and poverty may be distinct modes of oppression, but in the United States— with its history of colonialism, slavery, and genocide— they are never fully separable.” (Williams).

In 2017, class goes more along the lines with socioeconomic status. Those who are perceived as having a higher class are usually people who are wealthier. Weber defines status in terms of honor and prestige, which is pretty similar to how status is defined today. With these two components, one is seen as powerful by society. If one has power, they have the capacity to influence somebody else’s life just as we have seen with police officers. There have been many unauthorized search and seizures without probable cause solely because these officers have the power to do so. This power leads to authority. Weber defines three types of authority however, rational-legal authority best describes the authority that police officers have. This type of authority is based on rules that define power. People follow this authority because they have to, like society and the laws it holds. This puts the bureaucracy over the people. As Weber mentions in his works, this rational-legal authority is very unstable and only works until this authority can’t provide the benefits it once did. This control over the people makes them feel powerless.

Karl Marx is another sociologist who focuses on society and what drives it.

One of Marx’s main concepts is the idea of false consciousness. He defines false consciousness as the belief that capitalism is benefiting the lower class. In the United Sates, there is this universal belief that if you work hard and keep your head down, you can succeed and achieve a greater class and status than the one you were born into. However, this is rarely true for most Americans who do not have the same privileges as those who’s socioeconomic status is higher. Those who were born into privilege have many more chances than those who do not. Marx argues that the downfall of this capitalist society will be class consciousness. This is when the lower class becomes aware that their interests are contradictory to those with the power. I believe that the Black lives matter movement is a form of class consciousness. Typically, the people who are being affected by this police brutality are people of color who live in low income neighborhoods and are of lower socioeconomic status. If Marx was around today, he would argue that this is what is happening with this movement. The people in this community have realized that their goals and the goals of those in charge are not the same. Just like anyone, the victims of police brutality and their families want to be treated fairly.

Although Weber and Marx made some points that are still relevant, they were a little off in predicting future societies. Weber suggested that with the fall of a rational-legal authority an ideal bureaucracy would arise. Even though there has not been a decline, I do not see an ideal bureaucracy in the near future. One of the characteristics of this bureaucracy is the separation of personal and official affairs.

This seems to be one of the biggest issues in the Black lives matter movement.

It is easy to see that many police officers let their racist views cloud their judgment and the duties that they are supposed to be performing. There are countless examples of unarmed Black men being shot by police officers with faulty reasoning. A prime example of this is, and one of the main cases that helped the Black lives matter movement form, is what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed Black teen Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white officer. Not only was this a brutal murder, it was overkill.

“Officer Wilson fired 12 rounds, including two from the car and 10 more down the street, where Mr. Brown sustained at least six more wounds…” (Buchanan).

This started several protests and riots which led to the enlightenment of this movement. With cases like these, it is hard to see where there possible could be any separation from personal or official affairs. Along with Weber, Marx’s predictions for future society have not yet panned out the way he thought. He suggested that class consciousness would lead to socialism. Marx defines socialism as a transitional stage where the government is made up of the majority.

 

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In 2017, this would be the middle and lower class.

In this stage, both the leaders and the masses have the same interests. It seems that only half of the middle and lower class have reached this state of class consciousness while the other half is still ignorant to what is happening to the people of color around this country. Today’s bourgeoisie are the top 2-10% of our population, the ones who let incidents like police brutality get swept under the rug. Because the people at the top have so much power, I do not see how we will ever reach a classless society however educating yourself on the Black lives matter movement is a great place to start.

In conclusion, Weber and Marx had very relative theories to today’s society. Weber’s theory Capitalism and power go hand-in-hand with the kind of power that is being bestowed upon the people of color and minorities of lower socioeconomic status. Marx’s theory about the consciousnesses of the minority class seems to also be right in line with the Black lives matter movement as well. Although they had both hoped for better societies in the future, it does not seem that we are close to achieving their “ideal” societies. The best thing that we can do is to help educate those who are still engaging in false consciousness actions.