There is a movement rumbling through the streets of this country. There is sustained organizing, national and local collaborations that are enduring the grueling work of refusing to allow extrajudicial Black death to continue to be hushed up, accepted as normal.
There is debate occurring, and at times, rigorous examination of the current conditions that have produced outrage and misery. We are collectively grappling with the hypocrisy at the root of what it is to be “American” and what it is to be Black on the soil of this settler colonial land. The continued onslaught of death forces into view the chasm between the myth of American exceptionalism and the reality of our blood-stained streets.
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In Chicago, the Let Us Breathe Collective is continuing to lead an occupation across the street from the notorious police torture site, Homan Square, where over 7,000 people have been disappeared. Today marks Day 21 of the uprising against Homan Square, aptly called #FreedomSquare.
Today also marks the 31st day that Black Lives Matter activists in Los Angeles have occupied LA’s City Hall, calling for the firing of Charlie Beck for leading the most murderous police force in the United States.
In this historic moment, we are challenged as a movement to define what systemic change could actually look like. What are the steps necessary to permanently end the police and state violence that will undoubtedly continue to produce death and misery?
New York City’s response to protesters of police violence earlier this month sheds light on these questions. On the second day of an occupation of City Hall Park, coordinated by the anti-police violence organization, Millions March NYC, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his resignation. Immediately, Mayor Bill de Blasio named his successor, NYPD veteran, James P. O’Neall, and vowed a seamless transition. This situation both exemplifies the pressure police forces are facing nationwide to respond to increasing public demands to end police violence, and also reflects the superficial nature of municipal governments’ response to this outcry. Merely replacing figureheads does not get to the root of the problem of police violence, such as Chicago’s replacement of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy with Eddie Johnson. The victory lies only in the fact that the state has been forced to act as a result of persistent public pressure. It is not, however, evidence of systemic change in any form or fashion.
The easiest thing the state can do is replace figureheads and call that change. Officials will do this, however reluctantly, while providing a counter-narrative stating that the relationship between the community and police is mending. They are also avidly working to create false equivalencies in order to end public resistance. For example, some officials claim that police are “also under attack” and therefore, need hate crime legislation — an argument which posits that there is a historic oppression linked to policing — which is, of course, absurd. Policing is a profession. Police officers take off their uniforms and badges when their shift is over, like doctors, or nurses, or Starbucks baristas. They are not an oppressed class of people.
The police, in their current formation, will not stop killing us. The Baltimore police killed a 23-year-old mother, Korryn Gaines, in her house and shot her 5-year-old son on August 1. A few days prior, Chicago police had shot and killed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal. Reportedly, witnesses have claimed that they saw police officers turn off their cameras before shooting him; however, official reports state that the body cameras simply “didn’t work.” And the family of 16-year-old Pierre Lourry, whom the Chicago police shot on April 11, 2016, has still not received the police report about the shooting.
The police will continue to murder us extrajudicially because that is how the police in the United States are currently organized to function. They are taught to shoot first. They are taught to operate as if they are at war with the Black and Brown communities, immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, the sick and anyone who does not immediately lie down into a form of submission they deem acceptable. And they are protected heavily by the collective bargaining agreements brokered by the Fraternal Order of Police.
US policing will remain violent and continue to be militarized until a movement large and powerful enough forces the state into restructuring. Currently, the Obama administration is preparing to re-authorize the military weaponry to local police departments that was halted after the Ferguson uprising. The weaponry will include grenade launchers and armored tracked vehicles. There is no doubt that there will be more Philandos, more Korryns, more Pauls. The violence of the state will not end by way of the next election cycle. Only the collective power of the people can force an end to this violence — the collective power of our very selves forging a movement capable of stopping the violent apparatus that continues to wage war on our lives.
The Movement for Black Lives platform, released by over 50 organizations on August 1, 2016, seeks to set forth clear demands to enable Black life to be lived without threat of state terror, murder or subjugation. It advocates for the intentional restructuring of society to end the system’s most brutal current components. With six categories, the platform expands the definition of freedom to encompass a vision of a future that addresses historical oppressions rooted in the founding of the United States as not only a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy, but also as an imperialist settler colonial nation. These definitions are important because they make visible the traumas that maintain the status quo: those of continued Indigenous subjugation and invisibilization, the international exploitation of our diasporic family abroad, and the role of US imperialism in maintaining global power. We can never forget that the populations killed at the highest rates by US police are our Indigenous brothers and sisters. This continued murder and exploitation must be seen within the continuum of genocide that is constantly erased and ignored as a necessary function of settler colonialism and legitimization of the American empire.
The Movement for Black Lives platform provides a necessary contribution to how we, as members of this movement, can focus our fight on toppling the oppressive structures and systems that made possible the murder of Korryn Gaines inside her own home, under the excuse that she had outstanding traffic warrants.
When we say that the police are waging “war” on our communities, it may be a bit misleading. “War” presupposes a time of peace that existed within this paradigm and suggests an alternative normal mode of functioning. We know that there has never existed an alternate safe epoch of Black life under US capitalism. Black wage theft, terror, murder and rape under slavery; the white supremacist violence used to destroy Reconstruction; the subjugation enforced under Jim Crow; and the current policing and prison nation under which we now exist all speak to the evolution of Black subjugation at the hands of the American empire. Therefore, to “End the War on Black Lives,” as the Movement for Black Lives platform states, is really to completely reconfigure Black livelihood and by proxy, all livelihood on this land. It is to take up again the serious and ultimately revolutionary question of what real post-slavery “Reconstruction” would mean. This is a vital and necessary task and the only way we will begin to craft a future on this land that does not necessitate the murder, death and misery of the many in order to benefit the few.
We refuse disillusionment at the pathetic farce of democracy the national elections attempt to portray. It is by our own hands and our own minds that we will have to study, create, debate and fight to figure out how we will make a world and a country that enable our existence to flourish. Our resilience has never been in question. What remains important and undetermined is whether we will build a movement capable of understanding the details of how our current system works to maintain itself — and capable of working to dismantle the system’s nooses from our necks.
It’s important to study the Movement for Black Lives policy platform — to discuss and debate it. We should view this as a living document with which we can build, edit, explore and/or create other proposals. This means that the increasing number of us who are called to be a part of the fight to end Black oppression in this country will have to challenge ourselves to make connections with other parts of our community that we have not yet connected with or have not yet been called to actively organize. We will have to enter into conversation and struggle with everyone in our community. That means being in the factories talking to workers, being in fast food restaurants with employees fighting for a livable wage, being on the corner, on the block, in the hood, in the laundromat, in the barber shop. We must build a mass movement that encompasses the reality of who we are, that contains class consciousness and deepens our understanding of how class oppression combined with white supremacy is the deadliest beast we have historically fought against. We must make these connections intentionally, in order to politically understand the social forces necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of ending the current policing system, and by necessary inclusion, the system that demands that such violent state apparatus exist.
We are creating our future together, and we are rejecting all preconceived notions of what we can and can’t do. We built up this country’s infrastructure through our blood, sweat, tears and death and, we will create our freedom. We are striving to create the world in which our children and children’s children will be able to live without threats of police murder, poverty, unemployment and lack of access to education and health care.
We have no choice but to resist because we cannot breathe and we cannot live in this current state. Ours is an actual fight for the right to live. We are the true right-to-life movement. Our lives matter, and we have the right to exist on this land unmarred, unthreatened and free of terror.