As people begin to ask themselves how we can make this movement sustainable we must take into account the various layers of our struggle. We must make sure that we are working towards more than just momentary change, but for true liberation of all black people. The usual route of playing the game of respectable politics needs to stop. Organizations and community leaders are beginning to take it upon themselves to speak for the movement. With their list of demands, their lectures on the proper way to protest and the condemnations they give of all uncontrolled actions that have been taking place. Their solutions are focused on policy change that is dependent on institutional will. It is important that as black people we make sure that our political tactics are not being dominated by white supremacy.
As we all know, no justice was found for the Brown family or the community that watched Darren Wilson murder Michael Brown in cold blood. Instead, we’ve seen Darren Wilson rewarded, profiting off of murdering the young black teenager. After, we saw the same failure of justice in New York with the documented murder of Eric Garner. The failure of the prosecution shifted the debate on whether or not police cameras would help skew back against police brutality. This however, did not stop Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti from purchasing 7,000 body cameras for the notoriously violent LAPD.
It should be clear now that our problem in this country is bigger than these two grand juries alone failing to prosecute these police officers. It is bigger than these incidents – there is a pattern of systemic abuse by a justice system that has continued to fail, time after time, death after death. The debate in regards to police violence against black lives is more complicated than the binary of reform versus abolition. The problem is this white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchical system, and there is no amount of “die-ins” that will change that.
The Justice System
There are currently 2.5 million black people being incarcerated. Police use simple infractions to target and profile blacks. The justice system works as a funnel for the prison industry. If the justice system is a funnel, then the role of the police is to obtain property for the justice system to funnel. I apologize for the triggering language as referring to black lives as property, but its important to realize that prisoners become exactly that, property of the state.
Now, white supremacy and anti-blackness would like us to believe that it is our own fault that got us in those prisons in the first place. That we are genetically created to steal, sell drugs, rape, and murder. This along with a constant barrage of images that are reflected in media, Hollywood, and the music industry. In reality the United States government has been criminalizing being black ever since they decided to transition us from plantation slavery to wage slavery.
The government whose legal system put certain laws in place with the intention of criminalizing blacks specifically. The most known example of this is with the disparitybetween the sentencing of rock cocaine versus when it is in powder form. Rock cocaine which was once 100-to-1 ratio was changed to 18-to-1 in 2010. What has recently been confirmed but was known by communities affected by this assault, the illegal substance was purposely being placed in their communities by both the Reagan administration and CIA. The effects of that certain operation deployed by the Reagan presidency are still present in the black community today.
George Stinney Jr., was 14 year old who was wrongfully sentenced to the death penalty for beating two white girls in the racist state of South Carolina. The state, 70 years later, has now decided to exonerate him. What’s the point of exoneration after 70 years of being wrongfully murdered? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is not an isolated example of blacks being executed for crimes they did not commit, lets not forget Troy Davis.
I explain all of this to convey that it is naive to believe that a justice system that has been consistently waging violence against our community could ever be trusted to give us the justice that we deserve. The constitution and these laws were not created for us, it was born opposed to us, and the laws were created to solidify white supremacy and anti-blackness – how can we trust an institution that saw us a 3/5-ths as human?
Police Reform vs. Abolishing the Police
This conversation is more nuanced than an either or argument, even though I have framed it in such a way. When discussions are had on this it is discussed usually around what is attainable. Now, if you’re only talking about superficial institutional reforms like body cams, special prosecutors, and community advisers, then sure, you can achieve any legislation that does not threaten the current practices of the police. But if you are talking about real institutional reforms which would have an effect on the power of the police state, such as: defunding and demilitarizing, which I agree that if we are going to talk about reform then we should start there; then the question I must pose is: do you believe the United States government, one of the most militarized empires in the world, will allow their domestic military to be pacified? I also ask the same to those who believe that we can abolish the police without abolishing the whole governmental institution.
Recently, the head of the police union in New York, declared war on both the Mayor of New York, and the black community. The way I like to look at government is that it is made up of various factions, each with their own interests at play. The police force, who currently has a closer relationship to the government of Israel than the current presidential administration, has become it’s own international entity. William Bratton has ensured the militarized autonomy of the police through years of training and relationships built with one of the world’s largest weapons suppliers, Israel. The police have acted with impunity and have been one of the largest standing mafia-type organizations in the United States and they will not give that power up willingly.
Let’s not forget that the “cops and the klan go hand and hand” either, so what happens to all those weapons even if we are to disarm or abolish the police? Do they get locked away in some facility where only the community led commission has some magic key? No, they go into the hands of those former officers and into their own private militias. Fusion reported, “184 state and local police departments have been suspended from the Pentagon’s ‘1033 program’ for missing weapons or failure to comply with other guidelines. We uncovered a pattern of missing M14 and M16 assault rifles across the country, as well as instances of missing .45-caliber pistols, shotguns and 2 cases of missing Humvee vehicles.”
Also, what about the privatized police who are not under institutional control? When talking about the police state we must first understand why it exists — to enforce white supremacy and protect capital. Whether or not these are governmentally funded forces is irrelevant, the reality is that there will be someone to enforce these power structures.
White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness
White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness is about power, it is about domination, and it is instilled into every factor of the world we know. It is so infectious that even for someone with black skin it takes more conscious effort to not replicate it than it does to perpetuate it. It is because of this that it is important that we understand our own internalized anti-blackness and white supremacy, and begin to question and deconstruct what that looks like.
This is important so that we do not continue to perpetuate those things onto each other. We see that happening a lot now with rhetoric from liberal blacks who when talking about white on black murder say, “we should be fair, more black people are killed from black on black crime”. Apologism for this white supremacist police state is not helping our community, neither is the constant attempt to dilute the black in this resistance. We have seen #BlackLivesMatter turn into #AllLivesMatter (this is reference to what most presume to be just a hashtag stating that their lives matter, and not related to the organization). We’ve also seen, specifically here in Los Angeles, too many white people taking a lead role in organizing protest. There is this idea that we cannot do this alone, that police violence is everyone’s problem, and so everyone should be working on this. This approach, ignores the larger systemic issue at play, that these black lives are not just being murdered because we have trigger happy police, but it is because we live in a white supremacist society that devalues black lives.
Black autonomy is key, our rebellion must be ours and ours alone. Yes, there are allies who also have a vested interest in changing the current power structure; the success of their struggle does not necessarily mean the success of ours. Anti-blackness is the foundation of this country. All other races either benefit or are punished for it depending how close they are perceived to be to blackness. White supremacy is not something exclusive to just the European race, but that white supremacy is perpetuated also in other non-black cultures as well. We see anti-darkness amongst other communities of color as well. I make a distinction from anti-darkness and anti-blackness, because you can still be of dark skin and still perpetuate anti-blackness. This is why the quick reaction to unify under all colors, and as just humans is lacking the critical understanding necessary to achieve anything more than a band-aid to a gushing wound.
For that, and many other reasons, white people should NEVER lead or organize resistance of any sort. Especially not black resistance in which they are the benefactors of both white supremacy and anti-blackness. Allowing white people to organize black resistance makes as much sense as allowing the police to dictate how you protest against police brutality. There is an enormous amount of entitlement, and again white supremacy for a white person to even think they should be organizing around black struggle. There is also a certain amount of internalized white supremacy where we believe white people should be allowed to be included to organize amongst our spaces.
Do not allow your oppressors to organize you, they will have you running around in circles, making sure your tactics hold no true threat. Because black liberation comes at a cost to their privileges.
You can’t have a conversation about unity and coming together when some still have chains on their feet. It is the structure of white supremacy and the institutionalization of white supremacy that has allowed for the lives of black people to be murdered by police every 28 hours, and that has allowed it to become a normalized occurrence in this country for years.
While the two cops who were allegedly murdered by one black man allow for war to be publicly declared on the black community. For the mayor to state that the whole city will be in mourning. Where were the cities mourning when their city’s police officers killed Eric Garner? Were the cities mourning when their justice system failed Esaw Garner? You cannot take the issue of race out of this struggle, when the reason why we struggle is because of our race.
The conversation of the value of black lives has been centrally focused on black men. It would be presumed that only black male lives are being murdered at an astounding rate. But, because anti-blackness affects ALL black people, we are also seeing the alarming rate of black trans and black women’s lives being killed as well. Which we’ve failed to produce the same sort of call to action as there has been for black men. It is important that we understand that as black people we are all being attacked by white supremacy, but some are being attacked by white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy as well. Black trans women have been murdered, raped, and attacked more than trans women of other races. This needs to be as much of a black concern as cis black women, who are also being beaten, raped, and murdered.
Unfortunately, the movement currently has failed in that, even as black women are leading protests. We hear often of the mothers or the wives of Michael Brown or Eric Garner, but what do we hear about the family and love ones of Deshawnda Sanchez and Aiyana Jones?
There is a reason why they keep releasing Ray Rice videos, why although black women have been seeking justice for Bill Cosby’s violence for decades the media only now wants to pay attention. Our movement’s Achilles heel is the failure to address how black femmes are treated in our community. Violence against trans and cis black women are being committed by everyone, but if we’re going to talk about true black liberation then violence from black men must be seen as a treasonous attack on our people. It is important that black resistance be one that is intersectional and one in which we resist against perpetuating those various forms of oppression amongst each other.
Because we do exist in a capitalist society it is important to realize how class plays into each one of our different experiences of white supremacy. Being a rich black person does not afford you liberation, although some “new blacks” my falsely think so. It only permits you a longer chain.
I have noticed that a lot of the race erasure and not all-cops-are-bad rhetoric that I’ve been hearing has been coming from blacks of higher class. It makes sense, both poor and rich black people are pulled over by police for being black, both are ticketed and harassed for being black, but the difference is that the rich black person can easily pay off their ticket. While the poor black person is unable to pay for the ticket is then hit with a warrant, which later leads to arrest. The experience with the justice system is different when you are able to afford some of the master’s tools.
Capitalism works with white supremacy to break unity amongst blacks. This individualistic approach to living allows few blacks vouchers of white privileges, all which can be revoked and taken at any moment of time. As capitalism is a system of exploitation, our ways of seeking empowerment cannot be through gaining wealth. Individual wealth does nothing to further black empowerment. Sure black wealthy types may use their wealth to further help out their community but there is no longevity in that, the problem is institutional.
Wealthy blacks who are wanting to opt into the uprisings that have been taking place must know that they need to understand how their wealth allows them to benefit from black oppression and how some of their suggested safer tactics are informed by that. When wealthy blacks talk about protection of property and condemn acts of rioting and looting they must understand that they themselves are looking at that from a place of privilege. This is not to erase the fact that as black people no matter what class you are we all struggle, it is just to acknowledge the various layers of our struggles and that others struggles are harder. As we begin to talk about what we want for our community, an economic system that places values on needs of individuals without being dependent on tying it to some sort of economic value insures a fruitful sustainable black society.
All of the forms that we’ve been examining above are various forms of hierarchy. Hierarchy is in opposition to liberation. This is why we need to re-examine the way we understand movement building and how resistance will be envisioned. A liberated person has no leaders, and a movement aiming towards liberation must be leaderless. We should be empowering ourselves, each other, and working together horizontally in our revolt.
The idea that what this movement needs is more leadership is false. Leaders can be compromised, and can be bought. The movement needs to be like wildfire, breathing life into each flame that springs up.
We have been dictated to our whole lives, controlled, and told what to do, the idea that this same violence needs to be replicated in our practice of resistance is ridiculous.
Bobby London is the alias of a writer living in LA, who hosts a radio show on KPFK Pacifica Network by the name of On Resistance. He recently covered the #BlackLivesMatter uprisings for both KPFK’s News and his personal blog.