Thursday, July 07, 2016

Black Lives Matter, Summer 2016: Sterling/Castile/Robinson--

Union Square, July 7, 2016
Photo © by Jack Mirkinson 
UPDATE: Tragedy begets tragedy...last night in Dallas, Texas, during a peaceful protest against the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a gunman or gunmen ambushed and shot five police personnel dead, and wounded 7 others. Also injured were two civilians, including a mother who was trying to shield her son from the bullets. Police officials identified the gunman, a 25-year-old African American US Army reserve member and veteran, Micah Xavier Johnson. The shooter allegedly was angered by the killing of black people and wanted to target white police officers in retribution.

After a standoff with police, they sent in a bomb squad robot, armed with an explosive device, and killed him. Police and social media had initially misidentified the gunman as an African American man who had who was openly carrying his registered weapon. (This begs the question of whether open-carry and concealed weapon laws do not apply to or for African Americans, Latinxs, and others, and only for white people.)

I mourn the deaths of these officers, and continue to grieve for the people I list below who were killed by the police or in police custody. The answer is not more violence, but an end to it all, and if that means that we have to rethink and then rebuild the very foundations of this society, built on domination, violence and oppression, then we must do it. But peacefully. And that means we have to begin by addressing one of the root problems in all of these deaths: guns, and their easy availability in the US.

On and on and on it goes. State-sanctioned police murders of black people. Veterans, lunch room workers, fathers, daughters, loved ones, people seeking medical help. Supply the category and someone searching through the roster of those slain can find a name to fit. This has occurred my entire life, in various forms, usually leading to marches and protests, calls for accountability and legal and technological changes, prosecutions of the police (which rarely happens), and occasionally, as happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, as in Miami and other cities in the past, uprisings. It is no less painful to witness, to live through today than it was when I was a child or teenager.

These last few weeks, these last few days, have filled with the names of the newly dead: Alton Sterling in Louisiana. Philando Castile in MinnesotaAngelo Brown and Stephanie Hicks in Illinois. Darius Robinson in Oklahoma. As the Guardian's statistics show, over 566 people have been killed by cops or while in police custody this year. The Huffington Post points out that 136 black people have died at the hands of cops. The highest rate in 2016, 3.4 per 1 million people, is among Native Americans, with African Americans dying at only slightly lower frequency at 3.23 per 1 million people. As horrifying as last year's numbers were, this year's should give us pause to reflect, and a charge to act.

I've written on here before about how these deaths represent a slow genocide playing out before our eyes--or some of our eyes--and how what these state-sanctioned killings, which mirror the state's brutality elsewhere in the world, underline again and again, as the Black Lives Matter movement has pointed out, is how dehumanized and disposable black people--and brown people--remain in this society, a fact that not only the Donald Trump campaign's imagery, rhetoric and surrounding discourse testify to on a regular basis, but also the toothless responses from Democrats and Republicans alike. (As BREXIT, the rise of the nationalist right in Europe, the Brazilian coup and state-sanctioned police killings there of black youth and teenagers, the fanatics in the Middle East, and so on make clear, the same could be said for the globe as a whole.)

While technology has allowed witnesses to these state killings to record and broadcast via social media imagery of what occurred, offering proof to what has too long been viewed by people not directly affected as mere anecdote or exaggeration and creating documentation, as well as a space for witness, memorialization and mourning, I also think that the subsequent hyper-circulation and replaying, as the news media often do, of the deaths can habituate and inure us to the deaths of these victims and magnify the suffering their loved ones feel, while only increasing the centuries long trauma at the core of this society. We have to look directly at what is happening, but to the extent possible, avoid turning these tragedies into spectacle. Moreover, they attest that our melancholia and fear are not groundless; it arises from the danger and blood that saturates the very ground we walk on every day. Many of us rightly fear that we are a cop's bullet or baton away from becoming a meme and statistic.

These deaths also underpin the ironic force and truth at the core of the statement that cannot be proclaimed enough, "Black Lives Matter." That this statement of affirmation has been turned inside out points to the perverse social and political logic in which we live. Like the deaths, the iconic phrase, and the movement that has arisen around it, demands that we realize and act upon the truth in the statements STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE & STOP KILLING US!

Here is a powerful poem by Jericho Brown that captures the horror and tragedy of these state-sanctioned killings and deaths in a way that only poetry can. The poem is called "Bullet Points," and I have borrowed it from Buzzfeed, where I first saw it. The copyright is Jericho's and Buzzfeed's.

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