We’ve had enough of the police brutality, of the colorblind mythologies and post-racial rhetoric, of the sweet-talk, of the calls for non-violence; of mass incarceration and systemic poverty, of trigger happy cops and crying black mothers, of the Eric Garners and Renisha McBrides, theMichael Browns and Tarika Wilsons; of black tears and white terror. Dr Martin Luther King Jr said in 1968: “A riot is the language of the unheard”. Today, nearly 50 years later, black America demands to not only be heard but heeded–by any means necessary.
This week in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been more backlash over the resistance of a few black (and some white) protestors than the violence of white police. Meanwhile, according to organizers on the ground, it has mainly been (white) outsiders inciting violence to promote their own agenda. As the writer Sarah Kendzior tweeted: “White people coming to STL to provoke police violence against black residents and get them blamed”. More than blamed: black people are left to bear the brunt of the political mess white infiltration leaves behind, be it by the National Guard or outside organizers.
As Sean Beale, a 27-year-old local, told the Guardian: “If you don’t live here you don’t worry about the burning and looting. You don’t worry about stores closing, or losing your job, or walking for miles to buy food.”
But to focus more on the people’s resistance than the police repression that created it–even as tensions cooled in the streets on Monday night– is to participate in the dehumanization and devaluing of black life. To ignore the elders rallying for the sake of our babies and young people peacefully protesting on behalf of our future while some (white) visitors instigate disarray is morally reprehensible. Beyond Ferguson, the pattern is clear. Blacks are always to blame, even as we are brutalized by police, ghettoized by neoliberal policies, and disenfranchised by a racist criminal (in)justice system.
But that’s the crux of white supremacist racial logic: the problem with black people is . . . well, black people–not mass incarceration and the deindustrialization of urban America, not educational inequality and generational poverty, not 400 years of slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow. To be black in America is to be victimized and then made responsible for our victimization. We built this country. But, apparently, it is we who are lazy and dependent. We are bullied politically, socially and economically. But it is we who are called “thugs”.
“There is never an excuse for violence against police,” President Obama said. Yet there are endless excuses for state violence against black people. For mass incarceration, there’s the “war on drugs”. For poverty and unemployment, there’s “a culture of laziness” and “government dependence”. For the educational gap, there’s the burden of “acting white”. For Eric Garner: “loosies”. And for Michael Brown, there are stolen cigarillos, jaywalking or anything the police can say to shift the narrative from their white supremacist practices to black “ghetto” culture.
It is to say that black lives do not matter, that our babies deserve death and despair, that our communities don’t deserve protection and justice.
Obama needs post-racialism like Bush needed the “war on terror”: to camouflage our contradictions, to exercise global dominance vis-à-vis a (neo)liberal-democratic narrative, to lie to the world. But with the numbers of black bodies unemployed, incarcerated and extrajudicially executed, what are we to do?
No one person knows.
But we must act collectively and courageously. Alongside the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson, we must demand the demilitarization of law enforcement as well as the decriminalization of the black body. In addition to the withdrawal of the curfew and National Guard, we must demand the withdrawal of apartheid police forces and local governments where a black majority is ruled by a white minority. We cannot depend on the same police force that killed Brown to liberate us. In Ferguson and across the nation we must push for the implementation of community-oriented police models that include prevention, problem-solving, citizen engagement and community partnerships. There needs to be a cop-watch program in every city across America with a high concentration of people of color.
Also, we must recognize that naming Wilson as the killer without naming white supremacy as the culprit fails to address the root of racialized police violence. We must recognize, as Malcolm X did, that police brutality is a human rights issue that will not be solved simply by the passing of legislation. Our rallies must spark revolutionary action. Our marching must evolve into a sustainable movement. We must see that this is bigger than Brown and Wilson, than Ferguson or New York City. This is about the value of black life in 21st-century America.