when my father was a little boy, my grandmother instructed him to bite down on his lower lip, so it wouldn’t grow too big.
maybe she believed that big lips were ugly. maybe she was trying to keep him safe by muting the africa in his face. maybe some of both.
more than sixty years later, some things have changed. i can clearly see that black is beautiful.
but i still don’t know any bodily contortion that can keep a black boy safe.
* * *
i don’t know about you, but i’d say that the courage of the people of ferguson in standing up to a militarized, racist occupation has helped break another layer of the national spell of submission. with the local police force driven out, things are starting to look up.
for a “post-racial” society, america (well, the darker parts, at least) still seems pretty unshy about confronting this particular form of racism: the racism that declares state-sanctioned open season on young black men. from the oakland rebellions for oscar grant, to a nation cloaked in hoodies for trayvon martin, in recent years we’ve seen huge mobilizations for the many (too many; way too many) black people murdered by police and vigilantes.
Contortions. After Mike Brown’s murder, students at Howard University say “hands up; don’t shoot.”
but for all the electrifying power of unity and resistance, by now we’ve seen it play out enough times to anticipate the plateau. to realize that the spontaneous, luminous camaraderie of black folks (or of the 99%; or of “the people”), focused on the temporary lightning rod of a common opponent (police; a dictator; the 1%), will not automatically coalesce into something lasting. will not automatically blossom and root into an organized political force capable of challenging these devastating, brutal banalities in a sustained and serious way.
the question always remains: what next?
i ask this not to be a downer, not to minimize the brave activities of people in the streets, and not to be pessimistic.
quite the opposite.
i ask because i believe in black liberation. and as a black mixed-race woman, i believe in the importance of studying black freedom struggles in order to build upon them.
what is it that we want to be different, after the dust settles in #Ferguson? how do we want to change and evolve our struggles?
i hear people calling for white allies to educate themselves about systemic racism and structural violence.
i hear people organizing for nonviolent actions and continued protest, demanding justice.
but what will this change? even if the cop who executed mike brown gets put away for life, what will this change? will it stop black men from being murdered by police, security guards, and vigilantes on an average of one extrajudicial killing every 28 hours? will it reverse or even slow the militarization and high-tech stockpiling of terrorizing weapons within domestic police forces?
so far i hear anger, grief, and outrage, all of which are important and necessary. but i seldom hear tangible, material proposals for how to stop the rampant murder of black people, or the intense repression of black communities who dare to rebel against the killing of their children. (and why would we expect anything other than repression? the politically powerful in this country have long recognized the incendiary revolutionary potential of black people. recognized, feared, and attacked it — through bombings, infiltrations, assassinations, lockups, forced sterilizations, and more.)
given this dire circumstance, here are 6 concrete proposals for nonviolently confronting the militarized domestic war on Black life.
1) disrupt and prevent all police trainings and weapons expos (like Urban Shield), which serve as the testing grounds for “crowd-control” equipment like the war gear used in the Ferguson repression.
for folks in the bay area, you can come out this weekend to a community forum preparing to confront the 9th annual Urban Shield, hitting Oakland streets September 4–8, 2014.
2) de-militarize police forces nationwide by removing and destroying high-tech military equipment like tanks and drones. militarization is heavy, but it can still be reversed through legal changes and creative direct actions.
“Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time.”
— Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief (quoted by CNN)
3) disarm all cops in the united states.
sound impossible? police in britain, new zealand, and south korea don’t carry guns. for those u.s. organizations committed to gun control: you can start with the officers, please.
And while we’re at it, how about disarming the rent-a-cops hired as “guard labor,” shoring up the rise in wealth inequality?
now let’s imagine this long-term, for a moment. even if we did somehow manage to disarm police, would it put a stop to surveillance, harassment, and violent protection of property over people? mmmmmmm probably not. can we ultimately envision disbanding police as an institution and replacing them with community mediation and safety teams? people who actually care for us (rather than viewing us as worthless criminals and animals), who develop expertise in promoting wellness (rather than cultivating seek-and-destroy mentalities), and who value life over property (rather than shamelessly trying to use petty theft to justify a young man’s murder)?
getting rid of police altogether sounds pie-in-the-sky, but it’s not totally abstract. in reality we are already practicing keeping ourselves and communities safe every single day, in large and small ways, without cops — through acts of wisdom, skillfulness, and reconciliation. this is long, deep work that needs expanding. but that’s a subject for another day.
4) seek support not primarily among “white allies,” but among your political allies, whomever they may be. if cuba could send troops to angola to fight racist south african forces (an act that earned cuba the personal thanks of Nelson Mandela), then we can also look to friends in the darker-skinned regions of the world for aid and support.
people in gaza and turkey have already been tweeting advice to protesters in Ferguson on how to deal with tear gas.
Cuban troops in Luanda, capital of Angola
5) defund weapons production and military expenditures, and invest in health care, mental health services, housing as a human right, and free, creative, comprehensive schooling. and in the meantime, develop means of resilience and resistance on the cheap. if you’re a teacher working with oppressed youth, how about crafting interactive lessons on histories of policing, and how to collectively confront a domestic invasion? (including, of course, tips on managing tear gas.)
Discretionary spending in the U.S. government
6) keep grieving, keep healing. it’s up to us to cherish ourselves and one another. privately and publicly. in company and in solitude. matters of life and death cannot be fully addressed if we don’t take sufficient time and space to mourn, to feel, to express, to show compassion and vulnerability, to be human together. as the poet karega bailey writes, “truth is, we are all one bullet away from being a #hashtag.” that is a level of collective trauma that cannot go unaddressed.
as we learn from these waves of loss and fury, i hope that our goals for combating police racism can become, on some level, quantifiable.
because losses like the life of mike brown are not.