On Ferguson: To be relevant is to be powerful
September 2, 2014
The murder of Michael Brown by the Ferguson Police creates an opportunity for millions of people to confront the tragic and mundane daily realities of White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness, which are part of everyday public and private life for so many people in this country. It is imperative to rethink the spectacle that has been created out of Ferguson, and to contextualize it within as many structural realities of racism that we can comprehend.
In the past three decades, we’ve seen patterns of racist violence continue in America. Less than 25 years ago, we saw L.A. Police excessively chase and beat Rodney King, and the racially charged riots that followed. Now, we see Ferguson. Less than ten years ago, we heard “I am Oscar Grant” (after Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by BART police in Oakland). Now, we hear Ferguson. Less than 5 years ago, we saw the largest police department in the U.S.A employ racist Stop and Frisk Policing tactics, and the enormous campaigns that rallied against those tactics. Now, we rally around Ferguson. Less than 3 years ago, we saw millions of Black and Brown youth wearing hoodies declaring, “my skin color is not a crime,” in honor of Trayvon Martin. Now, we honor the memory of Michael Brown. And Ferguson.
Less than a week after we saw protests in Ferguson, we saw the police killing Kajieme Powell just blocks away.
This is not to compare the lives of our fallen brothers and sisters. May they rest in peace in a heaven of liberation. May their families know that their pain is important. It’s just as important as analyzing why local police departments get millions of dollars to purchase military weapons from the equivalent of the U.S. Military’s Goodwill Store, and analyzing why we don’t see the police kill White young people in the same way. These are two different ways of recognizing the trauma inflicted on those directly affected by White Supremacy; they are equally necessary in resisting the cruel and unusual force being used against People of Color by the U.S.A.
We must look at Ferguson as another battle of resistance to make People of Color relevant to the redistribution of power in the United States. The 13th Amendment was a work in progress from when the first person was abducted from Africa and deposited as property, and not as a person, in the eyes of the United States of America. The implementation of the 13th amendment to end slavery is still in process. We need to recognize the difference between a true end to slavery and the mutations of slavery that we currently live in.
The creation of capital through the killing of the Black body became slavery. During Reconstruction, a sense of solidarity grew between “freed” Black people and poor White people. Jim Crow made segregation laws to enforce that even the poorest White person was still not Black in the eyes of the U.S.A.
The rise of mass incarceration has been driven by the same mechanism that drove slavery — the creation of capital through racism. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and non-White people are incarcerated at rates much higher than White people for all crimes, especially non-violent and petty crimes. This all only took approximately 400 years to create in this country. Dismantling this reality is not only going to take a long time but will also require numerous acts of resistance.
Public education likes to declare that the Civil Rights movement was a victory. In fact, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Black men are nearly right where they started economically, but with a very high incarceration rate.
A person does not just end up in prison as an exchange for an alleged crime. Our incarceration rates start with police forces.
Cops (Constables on Patrol), originated in the U.S.A. as brigades of (White) people who surveilled both public and private property and searched for “runaway slaves.” Slaves were considered property of a slave owner, and if they fled for freedom they were “runaway property.” Eventually, there was too much work for these private slave brigades so every level of government in this country began to fund these patrols. These patrols became police departments.
The police were not established as a response to public safety. The police were not established to help people in bad relationships, or to solve problems between groups of people. The police were created as a response in order to protect property that was already stolen through the process of slavery, and keep it safe for self-declared slave owners. When a country is founded by slave owners and founded to declare their capital independent of Great Britain — when a country is built on slavery and colonialism — what else would be the plight of this country’s public institutions?