Brentin Mock consistently writes insightful articles about the intersection of race and environment. This week he wrote a very personal piece based on his own very real health-scare. He reflects on the many ways mainstream society fights against isolating a problem while at the same time missing the big picture. Promoting the slogan #AllLivesMatters undermines the current and long time on-going injustices experienced by Black people in the USA.
In his piece Why environmentalists should support the Black Lives Matter Protests Brentin helps spell out the connections between the institutional racism in law enforcement and criminal justice systems with the environmental racism that chronically plagues Black lives and bodies. He admits it is not a connection that immediately resonates, particularly in the middle of a protest over very immediate harms. But he beautifully weaves together the themes and deepens the slogan #BlackLivesMatter. I quote the central point of the article after he talks about the rage he felt after hearing the Grand Jury in NYC decided not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner.
These were the thoughts in my head as the days went by, as the pain in my back gradually subsided, and as the #BlackLivesMatter protests elevated. That’s when I came across this story in The Washington Post: “The racial divide in America is this elemental: Blacks and whites actually breathe different air.” It’s a story I’ve done a dozen times for Grist, about how air pollution falls more heavily on predominantly African-American communities than others. I’m glad that the mainstream press is acknowledging it. But then I realize that the story is about Eric Garner.
Garner was “obese” and an asthmatic, as Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was so quick to remind us. As the article explained, smog pollution induces and exacerbates asthma, especially for African Americans in urban heat islands, like Garner’s home in Staten Island, N.Y. But, No, I thought, We are not going to exploit Garner’s death to illuminate an environmental issue. Medical examiners ruled Garner’s death a homicide, strictly from the police officer’s chokehold — even accounting for the asthma — and that’s all that matters, I reckoned.
“Let’s be clear: Eric Garner was killed by a policeman not pollution,” I fumed on social media.
And then I got the learning. Eddie Bautista, the longtime environmental justice advocate and director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, was quoted in the article saying about Garner’s death, “There are [a] number of ways that racism plays out … The asthma is just one more example.”
thought the article used a poor occasion to illuminate racial asthma disparities. Bautista explained the larger context to me, though, saying, “The [article] doesn’t take the cops off the hook; on the contrary, it further indicts institutionalized racism in the U.S. for permeating the very air we breathe.”
The article is well worth reading in full.
Also check out Brentin’s short video about how climate destabilization is a human rights and environmental justice issue.