A hashtag, used thoughtfully, is more than a social media novelty. It is an invitation to participate in a discourse; it encourages those who come across it to access other people’s points of view, and to share their own. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is used in this way, which helps to create a strong community; the movement is backed by numerous voices and testimonies, and its supporters aim to empower black citizens and call attention to discrimination in the justice system. The media tends to notice the movement’s public work, such as demonstrations and rallies in the streets, but Black Lives Matter is a twenty-first century movement in that much of its discourse takes place online, both on the internet and via social media. However, the issues on which it speaks are by no means contemporary, as black people have faced institutionalized racism in North America for centuries. While the Black Lives Matter movement has many supporters, three women in particular have been key speakers. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the website and social media accounts for the cause, and popularized the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as a means of spreading awareness of injustice against black people in the United States. Their efforts have not gone without recognition: Garza, Cullors, and Tometi recently earned a shared spot on Fortune magazine’s list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” Erin Griffith explains, “Last year the movement inspired college students to take up the mantel … They also pushed the presidential candidates to address the country’s systemic racism – an issue would-be nominees would probably have preferred to sidestep” (Fortune). Clearly, Black Lives Matter is a movement that encourages others to join the fight against racism. As the founders explain, “#BlackLivesMatter is an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement” (Black Lives Matter). Indeed, their efforts, as well as those by other Black Lives Matter community members, have resulted in increased discourse around black rights, and in doing so have restored dignity to numerous victims.

The ways in which the Black Lives Matter movement provides a voice for victims intersects with the empathy in Yusef Komunyakaa’s collection of Vietnam War poetry, Dien Cai Dau. Komunyakaa, recipient of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, has written many poems since the early 1970s, but none touched on his Vietnam War experiences until those published in Dien Cai Dau in 1988. These poems, built on images garnered from Komunyakaa’s 1969-1970 tour of duty, demonstrate his empathetic view of how American soldiers, Vietnamese soldiers, and Vietnamese civilians experienced the war. His work as a wartime journalist exposed him to these parties’ suffering, allowing him a deep understanding of the variety of victims that war leaves behind; Komunyakaa tells the stories that they are unable to share.

Both Yusef Komunyakaa and the Black Lives Matter movement restore dignity to those who have been mistreated. War, whether on a nation or a race, leaves many victims in its wake. The first that come to mind are casualties, those who died in the line of fire. However, there are also survivors—those who make it out alive, but suffer from post-traumatic stress and guilt. The civilians whose space is invaded must deal with the physical destruction of war, along with the distress caused by witnessing atrocities and losing loved ones. As well, the victims’ families, perhaps victims themselves, mourn the dead and struggle to soothe the living. Many victims are also impacted by intersectionality, a theory developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw which explores how victims are often oppressed by numerous, interconnected systems, such as “race, gender, and class domination” (1246). These individuals may not be able to speak for themselves, either because of death or oppression, or perhaps because they never had a voice to begin with. Komunyakaa’s poetry and the work done by Black Lives Matter provide a voice.

            “Dien Cai Dau,” a Vietnamese phrase meaning “crazy head,” or “crazy in the head,” was a term applied by locals to American soldiers in Vietnam. While there are different interpretations of this slang, one version could be the fragile mental state of victims trying to cope with the effects of psychological warfare. “The One-legged Stool” is a poem from Dien Cai Dau, written from the point of view of a black American prisoner of war (POW). The title alludes to the balance the soldier must attempt; while physically balancing on the unstable perch, he struggles to stay psychologically balanced as well. A brief introduction to the poem describes the setting: “Semidarkness. A black POW is seated on a one-legged stool” (40), apparently in a cell, where “periodically a shadow of a face appears at the peephole in the door” (40). In the poem, the speaker makes it clear that he worries about being watched; he exclaims, “You didn’t see that. My stool never touched the floor, guard” (40) referencing the physical balance he is ordered to keep. The poem also showcases the racism that permeates both the man’s civilian life at home, and his experiences in the army. He rejects the idea that he has been betrayed by his comrades: “Lies, lies, lies. You’re lying. Those white prisoners didn’t say what you say they said … They ain’t putting me down, calling me names like you say” (40). The repetition of the word “lies” demonstrates the speaker’s desperation as he tries to convince himself he is being deceived. Clearly, either the soldier’s captors or his own mind are pitting white soldiers against black, in an effort to break their ties.

As the poem progresses the soldier reacts to devastating news, saying, “Doctor King, he ain’t dead like you say. Lies” (40). The soldier tries to deny this information; the news of King’s death is too difficult to bear. Angela Salas discusses the emotional implications of a black soldier learning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, explaining that “while the soldier was fighting for democracy in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated for fighting for the democratic rights of blacks in America” (68), and voicing his opposition to the war. The soldier in this poem, captive, far from home, and bereaved, must feel as though he is losing both battles. Salas goes on to explain that the soldier’s captors purposefully share this information with him as part of his ongoing torture. As she points out, “the North Vietnamese enemy understood better than did the United States military the ways King’s death could demoralize or divide the American troops” (71), and used this news to their advantage. Clearly, this technique works, as the soldier is overcome, and at a time when he is already trying to deny that his white comrades antagonize him. Having lost an inspirational and key figure in the battle for civil rights is devastating to the soldier, which is clear from his reaction: “How many times are you trying to kill me?” (40). Despite this anguish, he tries to maintain his balance.

While the POW is clearly undergoing psychological torture, he also mentions the physical suffering he experiences at the hands of his captors. He describes the pain the captors inflict on him: “You can’t break me. Drops of water beating on my head for weeks, that didn’t work. Bamboo under my fingernails, that didn’t work either. The month I laid cramped in that body-cave of yours, with a pain running through me like a live wire, that didn’t make me talk into your microphone” (40). These images demonstrate the torture this soldier has undergone, and how his captors have prolonged his agony. In spite of this, he is determined to survive the abuse. The soldier makes it clear that he will not give in to his enemies’ demands, as he tells them “Don’t you know I’ll never cooperate?” (40). Despite his traumatic experiences, his attempts to stay strong are evident. This can be seen as he recites his credentials: “Name, rank—Sergeant First Class Thomas J. Washington. Serial number—321-45-9876” (41-42). The recital conjures up the names of past presidents (Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), perhaps to represent the man as a true American. Other than his name, the details he shares are his military credentials; it is as if he wants to present himself as a soldier rather than as himself, to seem unbreakable.

The prisoner continues his tirade, turning the one-sided conversation back to racism. He claims, “You’ve pitted me against them. Against those white troops over there behind those trees” (41). This accusation suggests that his previous relationship with his white peers was satisfactory, as though the tension between them arises only as a result of his captors’ scheming. He tries to maintain his alliance with his comrades, American soldiers, rather than dividing them between black and white; however, he is soon mentioning stateside racism. He says, “I’ve been through Georgia. Yeah, been through ‘Bama too. Mississippi, yeah. You know what? You eye me worse than those rednecks” (42). He continues, explaining how southerners “used to look at me in my uniform like I didn’t belong in it… I’d be sharper than sharp. My boots spit-shined till my face was lost in them. You could cut your fingers on the creases in my khakis. My brass, my ribbons, they would make their blood boil” (42). While the speaker clearly made every effort to wear his uniform with pride and dignity, the racists would “turn away, cursing through their teeth” (42), ostensibly unwilling to accept a black man in uniform. This image of a proud, immaculately dressed soldier is a stark contrast to the present state of the prisoner, after enduring months of torture and abuse. The speaker compares the Vietnamese guard, whom he imagines to be continuously watching him, to the American racists, and it is clear that he has no expectations of a different tenor at home if he ever completes his tour of duty. As he tells the guard, “All I have to go back to are faces just like yours at the door” (42); he protests that racism and racists are inescapable: “You’re everywhere” (42). The soldier, who so recently denied that his white comrades would betray him, submits to his tormentors. While he may be able to hold out longer against physical torture, he may be at his psychological breaking point as he describes the racism that he has undergone for so long. It is not only the captors who lead him to submit to these allegations; indeed, he believes the charge of racism against his comrades because it is all too believable. The ways Komunyakaa’s speaker describes the racism he experiences both at home and at war demonstrates the profound effect discrimination has on him.

As a veteran, Komunyakaa presumably witnessed traumatic atrocities similar to those the POW might have experienced, yet his empathetic approach leads him to focus on the victims’ experiences rather than his own. The speaker he constructs in this collection narrates a variety of events, not all of which Komunyakaa personally experienced. Salas clarifies the reasoning behind this when discussing another poem in Dien Cai Dau. She comments on how Komunyakaa’s “narrator does not make himself the central character in the poem” (54). Instead, “it is the [victim’s] suffering, not the narrator’s, which Komunyakaa reanimates for readers” (54). Depicting the horror he believes the victims experienced demonstrates how he is writing about the suffering of war, not necessarily his own suffering. In doing so, he acknowledges the victims’ pain and recognizes that their stories are important ones to tell.

In Salon magazine, Brittney Cooper speaks to the same black-vs-white mentality that affects the soldier in Komunyakaa’s “The One-legged Stool,” though her discussion takes place decades later. She focuses on tensions between police officers and black civilians in the twenty-first century, explaining that “the Black Lives Matter Movement is not an anti-cop movement. It is a movement that vigorously and voraciously opposes the [over policing] of black communities and the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed black people (and yes, all people) by the police.” Cooper criticizes how the police and media create patterns of blame for black perpetrators, yet allow white police officers’ offenses to be characterized as rarities. For example, Cooper condemns the persecution of Vester Lee Flanagan and Shannon J. Miles, asking, “How is it that two mentally ill Black men targeting police officers constitutes a pattern, but the killing of Walter Scott, the killing of Samuel Dubose, and the killing of Jonathan Ferrell, all by police while they were clearly unarmed and committing no crimes, add up to a collection of unrelated, isolated incidents?” She claims that the answer is “gaslighting,” which is “The action or process of manipulating a person by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity” (OED), the undermining of one’s argument. Cooper restores dignity to black victims by criticizing how black issues are often contradicted by other people, who do not recognize the urgency of issues between black civilians and police officers. She explains that “Black communities are experiencing an epidemic of severe police brutality … When we point this out, and when we point to case after case and story after story of inappropriate treatment, we are told that we are merely imagining it. Things aren’t that bad. The cops are the good guys. And see, they get killed, too!” (emphasis hers). Not only does this retort undermine the issue of police brutality, but it also suggests that black individuals in altercations with police, then, are “the bad guys.” Cooper validates concerns about treatment of black individuals in America, and in doing so, supports the voices that denounce police brutality.

Cooper’s discussion of the contradictory views on police violence—whether or not it is institutionalized racism—is relevant in many cases. For example, Jamar Clark was a 24-year-old Minneapolis man, whose life ended because he was shot by police on November 15th, 2015. As Sara Sidner, Steve Almasy, and Joshua Berlinger report for CNN, there is much controversy around the circumstances of Clark’s death. Clark was purportedly “interfering with [a] woman’s medical care” when police restrained him, eventually shooting him. However, witnesses claim the shooting was unwarranted, as Clark was not resisting the officers’ efforts to detain him. One witness, Teto Wilson, explains, “One of the cops had his knee in his back and the other cop was kind of straddling him in an awkward type position. But they had complete control of him. I didn’t see him fighting, I didn’t see him resisting” (Wilson as qtd. in Sidner et al.). Another witness, Everett Spicer, corroborates Wilson’s claim, adding that “[the police] went back and took the handcuffs off because they didn’t want the EMS team seeing that this man was still in handcuffs” (Spicer as qtd. in Sidner et al.), though it is possible that handcuffs were removed to allow paramedics access to assist Clark. However, another perspective is presented, as “Robert Kroll, president of the [police] union, said Clark had control of an officer’s gun belt and pistol” (Sidner et al.), which prompted the shots that would end his life. Frederic Bruno, attorney to one of the officers, claims, “At no time was Mr. Clark handcuffed, contrary to press reports and social chatter” (Sidner et. al). While Bruno may certainly present his client’s version of the events, his characterization of witness reports as “social chatter” aims to undermine the validity of this account of the story. Whether the police shot and killed Jamar Clark is uncontested; the dispute lies in whether the fatal shot was warranted.

Despite the unsettling and contradictory reports about Clark’s death, the voices behind Black Lives Matter focus on the tragedy at hand, and the transgression of rights that may have occurred. They dignify Clark’s life by treating him as a human with rights rather than just a criminal under arrest, and they demand accountability for police shootings, just as Cooper does. In Salon magazine, Ryan Berg, “a white man living in a white neighborhood of Minneapolis” discusses his participation in a protest after Clark’s death, and shares details about Minneapolis society that likely impacted Clark. For example, Berg mentions that some people argued that “because Clark had a criminal history he somehow deserved his fate,” which demonstrates a classist attitude towards individuals who have committed crimes in the past. Berg also explains that “Minneapolis has some of the worst racial disparities and employment in the nation … About 62 percent of black students in Minneapolis attend high-poverty schools.” These details about race and class clearly tie back to Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality; these connected oppressions are likely to have affected Clark and limited his opportunities in life. Berg comments on the protest he attended, and explains what has been accomplished as a result:

Since the occupation … Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has achieved a great deal. They asked for and received an independent investigation by the state and federal governments. They asked for and received the released of the officers’ names. They met with Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Gov. Mark Dayton, and lawyers from the Department of Justice. They also received a commitment that the tapes of Clark’s shooting will be shared with the family and made public as soon as it will not impede the investigation. The nation has taken notice. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis will be heard. What, exactly, white America hears is an issue of how we use our power and privilege in this country. (Berg, Salon)

As Berg points out, the calls for responsibility have been answered. The Black Lives Matter movement has not tried to clear Clark’s name of past offenses against the law; rather, it aims for every victim to have a voice, and, in doing so, provides one for Jamar Clark. While Clark may have been convicted of criminal offenses in the past, and even if he was committing a crime at the time of his arrest, the Black Lives Matter movement demands that we ask questions when death may be caused by excessive use of force by police. The police and media may focus on the victim’s criminal actions or background; however, the Black Lives Matter movement serves to dignify the victim by recognizing them as a whole person, and condemning their violent and unnecessary death. On March 30th, 2016, it was announced that no charges would be laid against the police officers involved in Clark’s death. For the Black Lives Matter movement and other Clark supporters, this development only confirms the institutionalized racism that permeates the justice system.

While the soldier in “The One-legged stool” and Jamar Clark are both males, detained by some official entity at the time of their victimization, the events that Komunyakaa and the Black Lives Matter voices speak to encompass a variety of victimized individuals. While victims may face indignities at the hands of their abusers, how the media treats a victim’s story may either restore their dignity, or degrade it further. In the poem “Re-creating the Scene,” Komunyakaa presents the experience of a Vietnamese civilian who is the victim of rape by American soldiers. He demonstrates how the event shatters her dignity, yet he starts to rebuild it in his empathetic portrayal of the events. Several lines into the poem, the speaker tells us that “the woman’s clothes / come apart in their hands” (7-8), which causes the victim to appear vulnerable. This leads to the reader’s understanding that perhaps the woman’s emotions, like her clothes, are coming apart. The gentle language that describes her clothes coming off is starkly in contrast to the reality of the event.  At this point the reader realizes that the poem is about rape, and retrospectively understands how the speaker has been sympathetic to the event from the first lines. The speaker starts the poem by describing how “The metal door groans / & folds shut like an ancient turtle” (1-2), and with the rape in mind, the reader understands that the woman is trapped, and a tense mood is created. The “ancient turtle” draws itself in for protection, yet it holds the woman captive within, while the image of nature conjured by the mention of the turtle is abolished by the “metal door,” a man-made trap. There are further details in Komunyakaa’s portrayal of events that produce uncomfortable feelings for the reader; for example, as the rape begins, the attackers’ “mouths find hers / in the titanic darkness / of the steel grotto” (9-11). Certainly, rape is a horrifyingly invasive crime; however, the image of the men seeking out the woman’s mouth to kiss during the attack is uncomfortably intimate and out of place, much like the seemingly gentle shedding of her clothes. Furthermore, the use of the word “grotto” to describe the vehicle incorrectly suggests that it is a place of retreat, when it is the site of brutality. It could also be interpreted as a grave for the woman, as a grotto may be the site of a crypt; this could suggest that perhaps the woman never escaped her attackers, or that the attack took something from her that she could never get back. These images personalize the attack; it seems as though the men crave closeness with the woman, instead of the dominance and sexual release one might expect a rapist to desire.

Despite the deplorable act of tenderness, it is clear that the men are formidable figures in the poem, not only because they dominate their victim. For example, the woman “floats on their rage” (17), which indicates a violent and angry attack. Also, the rape takes place in a “machine / where men are gods” (19-20) which reveals the position of authority the men assume, and the power they feel they possess. The “Confederate flag / [that] flaps from a radio antenna” (5-6) indicates the men’s heritage; not only are they American, but they are most likely white, and they come from the same Southern region that the speaker mentions in “The One-legged Stool” when describing his experiences with racism. The Confederate flag that still represents the South, long after the American Civil War from which it rose, carries connotations of white supremacy. In both of Komunyakaa’s poems, the non-white victims are dehumanized by white men who are powerful wherever they go. The woman is further marginalized by her gender, while the soldier, like many other Southern recruits, may come from poverty. Furthermore, it is likely that the soldier was drafted; black men often lacked the money, influence, or excuse of being in college required to obtain a draft deferral. These intersectional disadvantages further oppress both victims.

The speaker also describes how the victim’s family will react to her rape. During the attack, the rapists are “taking turns, piling stones / on her father’s grave” (24-25). Likening the woman’s rape to desecration of her father’s resting spot demonstrates the gravity of the offense to her relatives; this attack victimizes not only the woman, but also her family, as their honour is marred by the rape. The victim is doubly shamed, both by the damage to her own honour and the disgrace her attack brings to her family. As the attack continues, “The APC rolls with curves of the land… droning like a constellation / of locusts eating through bamboo” (26-30). This characterization of the men and their vehicle as pestilent insects demonstrates the effect they have on their victim, figuratively decimating her. Furthermore, the locust imagery also calls upon a Biblical allusion to demonstrate the destruction in Vietnam on a wider scale, fittingly, as the Americans come from the staunchly religious South. M.J. Redle explains the role of locusts in the Eighth Plague of Egypt: “The whole Middle East dreads the coming of locusts. At the Lord’s command, Moses stretches his staff over the land of Egypt, and a strong east wind blows in swarms of locusts that destroy what has been left of the crops” (404). Both the Americans and the Biblical locusts were sent as expressions of power.  The bamboo, an omnipresent plant in Southeast Asia, represents Vietnamese civilians who, like the Egyptians, fear their invaders. Komunyakaa’s use of this image reminds readers of the poem’s context, in addition to describing the effect the rape has on the victim.

Despite how the victim is degraded, the poem restores some modicum of her dignity; her story is told, and the brutal actions of her attackers are presented in a way to incite censure from readers. The exploration of the woman’s thoughts continues as the speaker describes the immediate aftermath of the attack, as the rapists drive away, and “for a moment / the world’s future tense” (42-43) as she imagines her attackers’ prosecution. These lines could be the factual events that followed the rape; however, they may also be the woman’s fantasy of reporting the offense and bringing her attackers to justice. Whether the prosecution is real or imagined, “on the trial’s second day / she turns into mist” (51-52), indicating her powerlessness in the court proceedings. The speaker describes how onlookers exchange gossip; for example, “someone says money / changed hands” (53-54), the unnamed spectator either suggesting that the victim is a paid prostitute, or perhaps indicating that a bribe took place in the legal process. Another possible outcome is mentioned when “someone else swears / she’s buried at LZ Gator” (55-56). While these snippets of conversation leave an ambiguous conclusion to the poem, they also counteract each other and come across as rumours, which are not to be believed. The result of this ambiguity is a clear view of only the victim, rather than her attackers and the context of her rape.

The speaker relays the events in the poem as an observer, and in the latter half of the poem tells of the events as a reporter might. Because the woman may be unable to speak for herself, perhaps because she did not survive the attack, or because her white, male attackers possess so much power, this point of view provides a voice for her. Kevin Stein argues that “Komunyakaa, who served as a journalist in Vietnam, uses those skills to narrate the incident with ostensibly detached, journalistic precision” (545). While the speaker does take on this perspective, his imagining of the victim’s thoughts and experience are too intensely personal and compassionate to be “detached.” For example, when the woman “counts the names of dead / ancestors” (12-13) during the attack, the speaker acknowledges the shame that the victim fears she will bring upon her family. Stein does go on to explore how the speaker uses careful details to provide a nonjudgmental tone while still providing the brutal context for “viewers.” Certain elements of the poem, such as the Confederate flag and the closing metal door, could serve as these contextual details, but the idea of a journalist inventing such intimate details of a crime he did not witness is unusual. The journalistic tone of the poem is strongest from the point when “the world’s future tense” (43) and the woman imagines (or her point of view changes to) the future. The speaker puts himself in the role of journalist, saying “I inform The Overseas Weekly; / flashbulbs refract her face” (47-48); these images of media and headlines create a setting that contrasts with the scene of the rape. Though the speaker also describes gossip that permeates the trial, the suggestions of legal action and news headlines about the crime emphasize its grave nature. Ultimately, journalism restores dignity to the victim by sharing a sympathetic interpretation of her story, and acknowledging her attackers’ brutality.

Komunyakaa’s approach to telling the story of the rape victim demonstrates how the media can prompt empathy, spread awareness of little known issues, and perhaps restore some measure of dignity to disgraced victims. However, many victims in the media today are misrepresented, which degrades how others remember them. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement speak for some of these victims, including those whose cases may not be widely publicized. While black victims of police brutality may seem to be at the forefront of the issues they speak to, the Black Lives Matter website claims that the movement “affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum” (Black Lives Matter), many of whom have been misrepresented by the media. These people the Black Lives Matter movement defends are presumably already impacted by racism; they also have additional intersectional forms of oppression working against them.

            While supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement discuss a number of ways in which racism is prevalent in our society, violence against black transgendered women in particular is a growing concern in North America today. This is another example of how many victims are doubly oppressed by intersectionality; as Crenshaw explains, “the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class” (1242). In this case, the women are subjugated not only by gender and race, but transphobia as well. Jorge Rivas’s article for Fusion magazine highlights this issue. He draws attention to twenty transgendered women, all murdered in 2015, and briefly explains the status of their cases. Rivas personalizes the victims, providing images of most of them, and condemns their murders. Many of the images he includes are “selfies,” pictures the women took of themselves perhaps to celebrate feeling especially beautiful or confident, a reminder of the vivacity within each woman—these are pictures of humans, not just murder statistics. By naming the victims and bringing their cases to the public’s attention, Rivas commemorates and dignifies their lives, demonstrating that they are worth remembering, and their murders are worth solving.

Rivas discusses problems that arise when researching the rising trend of violence against this group, admitting that “The truth is that no one has an accurate count of how many transgender people have been murdered.” As he explains, “It’s hard to say whether the rising number of trans women being murdered represents an actual spike in killings or whether they are the result of more awareness and documentation,” which could muddle numbers. Rivas explores why murders of transgender women may be underreported, mentioning issues such as administrative roadblocks, or “family members [who] have requested the LGBT community to not claim a trans homicide victim as one of their own.” Another reason he cites is that in some cases, “because [the victims] lacked the support from loved ones and organizations they may not have felt safe to fully express their gender identity” (Gutiérrez as qtd. in Rivas). This suggests that transgender women of colour are marginalized not just by society as a whole, but perhaps by their racial communities as well. Rivas also points out that the number of documented homicides “[does not] include transgender people who were shot, stabbed, or brutally attacked and left for dead but survived.” Thus, while there are many trans murder victims, there are also surviving victims of violence.

Several of the cases Rivas outlines were still unsolved as of his article’s August 2015 publication date. One of these cases is that of 30-year-old Lamia Beard, who “was found suffering from a gunshot wound and later died at a Norfolk [Virginia] hospital.” No one has been held accountable for her death, but this is not the only injustice about her case. Terrell Jermaine Starr, in his article in AlterNet about Beard’s murder, suggests that “Lamia Beard may be the first transgender woman murdered in 2015, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), but she is by no means the first trans woman to have her gender identity denied by authorities and media outlets,” who described her as male despite her self-identification as female. Officer Daniel Hudson of the Norfolk, Virginia, police department addresses this issue, explaining, “police are aware that Beard identified as a transgender woman but the department must identify all victims by the names stored in their system and the FBI database” (as qtd. in Starr). While this technicality may explain references to Beard’s legal name in police reports of her death, Hudson does not explain why subsequent mentions cannot use Beard’s preferred name or female pronouns. In addition to inaccurate reporting by police, Starr explains that three local media outlets also described Beard as a man, and used male pronouns in reporting the news of her death. This disrespect shown to Beard after her death degrades

the way she is remembered, as the media imposes an identity on her rather than honouring the way Beard preferred to be known. Osman Ahmed of the NCAVP is quoted in Starr’s article as explaining how this disrespect can be linked back to the police: “Their reports label this person as a man as opposed to who she really was and that was perpetuated to the media.” Clearly, a number of groups showed disrespect to Beard after her death.

Despite the indignity of Beard’s unsolved murder, and the lack of care shown to her by the police and media’s misidentification of her, voices of the LGBT and Black Lives Matter communities have restored dignity to her. These activists highlight issues such as the misreporting of Beard’s details; in doing so they demand respect for her case and remember her as a person, whose death and story should be handled with integrity.  Many individuals and groups who spoke out against her death, including Black Lives Matter via their Twitter account, used the hashtag that has become paramount to this movement: LAMIA BEARD, we love you. You were [taken] from us too soon. #BlackLivesMatter.”

The somber details from Lamia Beard’s murder, and the call for victims to be treated with dignity, connect back to the solemn events portrayed in Komunyakaa’s poetry. While Dien Cai Dau deals with poignant and distressing images and experiences of war, Komunyakaa still endeavours to inspire hope in his audience. As Komunyakaa explains, “my idea is to—if possible—create a situation where the listener or the reader can be co-creators” (Komunyakaa, Barnstone, and Garabedian 50). While there are plenty of images and locutions to reflect on in his poetry, another way to “co-create” these poems is to participate in the emotions we feel while reading them. We, too, can acknowledge the shock and pain caused to American troops by their wartime enemies, just as we can mourn for the Vietnamese victims, and ponder the inner workings of their lives. We can also co-create by taking the empathetic point of view Komunyakaa presents, using it to consider other events, such as the shooting of civilians by police, and the unsolved murders of black people, transgendered women in particular. The intersectional oppression in these victims’ lives further demonstrates the many ways in which they are at a disadvantage in our society, which redoubles the need for their sympathetic and respectful treatment. The Black Lives Matter movement also speaks for these events and victims, and it draws attention to injustice that black people in America face daily. Just as Komunyakaa encourages readers to “co-create” his poems, Black Lives Matter encourages civilians to participate in their cause, whether by attending events at a local chapter, or by using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter; anyone can join the discourse on social media to mourn, debate, defend, and advocate for black lives.  Being able to co-create the emotions in poetry with Komunyakaa, and to enter the dialogue of black rights with Garza, Cullors, and Tometi, and many other supporters, means that readers and observers may participate in restoring dignity to victims of all kinds.

 

 

Works Cited

“About us.” Black Lives Matter. N.p. n.d. www.blacklivesmatter.com/about/. Accessed 02 January 2016.

Berg, Ryan. “Silence is no longer an option: Why the death of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis brought me off the sidelines.” Salon. Salon Media Group, Inc. 27 December 2015. www.salon.com/2015/12/27/silence_is_no_longer_an_option_why_the_death_of_jamar_clark_in_minneapolis_brought_me_off_the_sidelines/. Accessed 29 February 2016.

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