A Response to Dr. Ben Carson’s Misfire on #BlackLivesMatter

Dear Dr. Carson,

Thank you immensely for your taking the time to write a response to Black Lives Matter protesters around the country, and specifically to young ladies that disrupted Bernie Sanders’ speech not too long ago. While you are running for president, it does send a major signal—a good signal—to us millennials that our leaders are not so far removed from the real world that they cannot speak to the realities many people struggle with day to day. You are campaigning to demonstrate you can lead the nation, and it means a great deal that you can demonstrate concern on our segment of our society. As my elder, I am grateful for the perspective you bring and I am always willing to listen to and learn from those who have gone ahead of me.

However, Dr. Carson, respectfully, I disagree with your editorial published by USAToday. It concerns me greatly that as a presidential candidate and as a person of color in the United States you would categorize systemic issues the Black Lives Matter Movement are seeking to raise as merely the results of self-inflicted suffering through action and inaction. While I do not agree with everything the protestors are saying or doing, they do have my attention and—for the most part—my support. While they may have your attention, I do not believe you understand where they, where we are coming from. If you will permit me, Dr. Carson, I’d like to respond to your “concerns.”

First, you state “the notion that some lives matter less than others is meant to enrage.” I do agree with you: it should enrage. It has enraged African-Americans, people of color, and our white brothers and sisters every week we see an unarmed Black person killed at the hands of law enforcement around the country. It has enraged the African-American community for centuries. (Dr. King said it best, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” Now is that time, Dr. Carson.) That anger, however, is not “distracting us from what matters most.” Rather, it is unifying us. Have you ever stopped to consider why so many people across ethnic, geographic, and socio-economic lines are rallying together around the country and even the world? People are disgusted to learn that after all these years, the complaints and fears African-Americans and so many people of color have been raising are true. Not just people of color, but people at the bottom of the socio-economic latter. It isn’t “a notion” that our lives matter less.

They simply do.

We are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, and convicted with higher sentences than our white counterparts. There are numerous news reports, Justice Department results, and personal videos on Google that show law enforcement using every possible tactic to safely disable someone of the dominate culture but engage lethal force when in proximity to a Black person. Again, this isn’t a notion. It’s a statistical fact.

Second, you state “unjust treatment from police didn’t fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness.” Again, you are right. Police didn’t create ghettos, slums, and impoverished neighborhoods. The United States government did that with its legal marginalization of people of color and housing discrimination laws for almost a century. That happened then. What’s happening now is gentrification in those inner city neighborhoods, the militarization of law enforcement to govern those same neighborhoods, and the building of bigger prisons that are privatized—which requires high occupancy to yield high profit. Guess who your police officers have been trained to target? People living in those same neighborhoods. What police are doing is helping to maintain the hopelessness in the hood—outside the hood as well. I agree that not all police officers are bad and not everyone in the hood is innocent, but it is difficult to have hope when you are routinely stopped by law enforcement looking to get promoted rather than serve and protect you and your community. It’s difficult to maintain hope when investigations reveal police officers and judges have illegally detained, arrested, and wrongly convicted innocent people. Watching friends and family who are innocent until proven guilty–excuse me, guilty and rarely proven to actually be innocent in life or after wrongful death—can erode hope every quickly. Hopelessness comes when you are evicted from the only house your family has lived in for generations by descendants of the people that forced your family into that neighborhood in the first place. Hopelessness comes when you are

My mother is 70, a few years older than you. She had a drug addiction, but she fought it vigorously and won. She also taught me the value of education. Like you, I have seen drugs and heard gunshots, and like you, I made it out of the hood. But the difference between the two of us is I didn’t forget where I came from.

There are people living in the inner city. Not statistics, not menaces to society, not lazy individuals (about 47%) looking to live off of the government, but people. People who want an education, a higher paying salary, benefits for their families, and they want to have peace in their minds that when a cop pulls behind them, they won’t end up dead for failing to use a turn signal. I think perhaps in your attempt to demonstrate your “blackness,” or your life in the hood, you may have forgotten to practice some humility whereby you listen to the concerns of the people in the streets rather than merely diagnosing their behavior as cause of their problems. Library cards alone cannot combat systemic issues. Michael Brown had a high school diploma. Sandra Bland had a Bachelor’s degree. Both are gone.

Now, Dr. Carson, for your points:

– Let’s head down to the board of education…and tell them we will give them more government funds than we do to militarize the police! Please don’t place the blame for “destroyed black lives” solely on our teachers. They work hard, Dr. Carson. Many of them don’t make enough money to pay all their bills—including their undergraduate debt from the degree which enables them to teach. Perhaps you should head over to Washington and ask our elected officials to raise teacher’s salaries and grants given to provide a better quality of education for kids.

– Let’s confront the entertainment industry…specifically the owners and presidents and CEOs of companies in the entertainment industry. Sex sells in our society today, Dr. Carson. It is sad, but true. Yes, gangsta rap does negatively portray Black men and women, however, since we make up less than 15% of the population, it is impossible to conclude Black people—or supporters of the Black Lives Matter Movement—are responsible for this and that our lack of attendance in the theatre can transform this issue. Perhaps you could use your influence to ask the entertainment industry (that includes producers of movies, music, and television shows) to write characters and hire people of color to star in roles where they aren’t holding a gun and a bag of weed.

– Let’s go down to city hall…and ask for cross-cultural training for law enforcement. I grew up in 3rd Ward in Houston, Texas. I went to Ferguson for the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. I was stopped a few months back by a police officer for a “delayed turn signal” whereby I didn’t have my turn signal on the entire time I sat a red light. He then asked me if I had any guns or drugs in the car—I didn’t, by the way. Most people in the hood aren’t afraid of their neighbors. We are afraid of the police. Hopefully, that’s the message you want us to say at City Hall.

– Let’s go over to the crack house…wow. Wow. You’re a doctor. You know better than this, Dr. Carson. Are you not taught that addressing the behavior, the issues on the surface will not lead to long term change? Yes, tear down the crack house, but before you get back in your luxury car with a smile of victory, ask: Why do people in urban communities turn to drugs? What are they attempting to escape from? What environmental issues have led them to conclude drugs is their only means of coping with their lives and the world? While you are wrestling with those questions, go over Washington, D.C. and ask our elected officials to end “The War on Drugs,” or better yet, restore it towards its original intent, rehabilitation of drug users rather than lining the pockets of the wealthy.

– We should go to Washington…to ask why the war on poverty failed. Was it because the money wasn’t present or because the money was given to the wealthy who were supposed to create programs to help the poor but instead kept it for themselves? I encourage you, with humility, to question the people the programs were intended to help before you gut them completely. Perhaps the problems can be solved at the top without harming the homeless, the poor, and the food insecure at the bottom.

– We should talk to the Democratic Party…and them how so many people of color have consistently voted Democratic over Republican. I am a Christian. I don’t affiliate with either party. There are elements of both I agree with, and others I am completely allergic to. It is clear, however, the Democratic Party at least sees the poor and people of color. The Republican Party does not.

– Finally we need to go over to the Republican Party….and ask them to come into the 21st Century. You currently have presidential candidates that think women need to stay home and raise babies. You have candidates that struggle to acknowledge racism still exists in America, and Fox News only affirmed that asinine assumption by asking one question about Black Lives Matter during debate. Your front runner, Donald Trump, has managed to offend women, Mexico and the Mexican community in the U.S., African-Americans, and every other marginalized group. With every racist and sexist comment he makes, he gets further ahead in the polls. It seems to me, Dr. Carson that while you are using stereotypes to define the problems in the Black community, your friend, Mr. Trump, is using similar stereotypes as his presidential campaign.

I am surprised your critique of the race issues in the country lie largely in the actions and inactions of poor people and people of color. I hope you will take the time to listen to our concerns before you make comments this offensive again.

I fear if you aren’t willing to listen to us now, there may be a peaceful protest headed your way, at least to get your attention.

Sean Watkins


1 thought on “A Response to Dr. Ben Carson’s Misfire on #BlackLivesMatter

  1. I think you bring up a good point when it comes to everything doesn’t rely on solely the black community. I don’t expect to go up to a homeless man and say, “Get a job,” so that tomorrow he is in the working environment. It isn’t that easy. It disregards the fact that people have it hard and it isn’t always their choice. Nonetheless, I do think that some people like to keep themselves there and that it isn’t the responsibility of other people and, what I assume by what you are stating, the white community. I know of a person who was living off of welfare and then got a job in construction. Though he made more in his new job, he quit in order to go back on welfare because he decided that he likes being handed money without the work. I’m not saying that it is bad to be on welfare, don’t get me wrong. I am saying, however, that there are areas in life that people can make it out on their own. With race issues, the problem is with everyone. All people have the tendency to create a space where there will be some sort of tension. Just think about it for a second, if history was flipped and the black community was the community that conquered and enslaved and all such things, would we still be in the same position? Would history have been handled the same way? We can’t discredit ourselves and say we would never do such a thing. I’m not saying I agree with Ben Carson, however, I am addressing your last statement that though it doesn’t rely on the actions of the colored community, it isn’t solely the responsibility of the white community. Rather, it is a collective effort that, unfortunately, many don’t want to be a part of.

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