Milk soothes, tear gas burns — an adage of protest culture that Black Lives Matter activist Nyle Fort picked up from Palestinian activists on Twitter and adapted for use in Ferguson, Miss, half a world away. Fort opened with this anecdote at his presentation last Wednesday, at an event sponsored by the Black Student Union and Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine.
The event took on an informal tone, as a crowd of about 50 students and faculty congregated in Peirce Pub to hear Fort speak. Fort made it clear that he intended to spark a thoughtful discussion in which all viewpoints would be welcomed.
Fort explained how the injustices in Palestine pertain to the fight against racial inequality in the United States. He said that he first became aware of similarities between the two during the Ferguson riots in 2014, when the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson ignited the Black Lives Matter movement. “It was there [in Ferguson] that I first learned of the catastrophe that some call euphemistically the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Fort said. “Ferguson opened my eyes to the ugliness of American racism; Palestine made me weep over the ugliness of American empire.”
Fort’s discussion comes at a time when the national conversation surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can feel hazy. He said that one way to relieve this confusion is “creating awareness on what’s actually happening.” Moreover, he said that it’s crucial for Americans to realize that the injustices carried out by the United States and Israeli governments are not separate conflicts; they are interdependent battles.
“The modern-day lynching of Michael Brown is inseparable from the extrajudicial executions of the 200 Palestinians, including 41 children, who were extrajudicially murdered at the hands of Israeli military forces last year,” he said.
Joe DeAngelo ’21, who attended the event, remarked on the significance of Fort’s insight. “It was pretty monumental to draw the connection between the oppression on both sides,” he said.
“[Their] oppressive tendency is bigger than we think because they have kind of branded themselves as the saviors of liberalism.”
Fort referred to Israel and the United States as “colonial carceral states” whose “power and wealth are built on colonization, incarceration and exploitation of the most vulnerable.” He contended that the problems with the American justice system, such as mass incarceration and police brutality, mimic the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.
While Fort knew about the epidemic of mass incineration in the United States “by looking outside my window,” he didn’t know that “the prison crisis is not uniquely an American phenomenon, but a global project.” He pointed out that Palestinians suffer from one of the highests per-capita incarceration rates, with 20 percent of the overall population having been imprisoned at some point.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Fort ended his talk on a positive note. He spoke of the unremitting commitment to hope that the oppressed in the United States and Palestine share. “More than prisons, police and profit, I believe that the most important connection between us isn’t our common oppression, but it’s our desire and our will to be free,” he said.