If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Claude McKay, If We Must Die, written immediately following the Red Summer of 1919.
Salim Muwakkil is a popular radio talk show host in Chicago. He is also a prolific and perceptive writer for In These Times magazine. And, he is therefore considered something of a go-to guy, an eminence grise` in all things black in Chicago.
Muwakkil opened his radio show Saturday night (May 23) just after the horrific “not guilty” verdict came down in the criminal case of yet another white killer cop of black lives. This time the scene of the non-crime was – yet again – Cleveland. This same city, of course, was only a few months ago roundly excoriated by the Justice Department for delighting in blatantly racist double and triple standards as it meted out its virulently violent version of street justice to its black citizenry.
This is also the city where the case of yet another white Cleveland killer cop of a 12-year-old black boy, who wielded a toy pistol in a park across the street from his home, was still being “investigated.”
Amazingly, Muwakkil allowed that he would not devote much time to this latest police outrage because discussion of the “international scene” had for too long been crowded out by the relentless (and implicitly now normalized) occurrences of police abuse and killings of blacks throughout the country. And so, Muwakkil spent most of his opening monologue (30 minutes) offering his take on ISIS and recent events in the Middle East.
And, sure enough, Muwakkil’s predominately black callers-in followed suit, only referring to the latest Cleveland police killing tangentially or in passing, even as they opined about and thoroughly analyzed almost every other political, social, cultural, and economic issue under the sun.
I sat stunned, outraged, and frustrated before my radio.
Here we are again. Yet another good ole boy white killer cop has mercilessly, deliberately, brazenly snuffed out the lives of yet another unarmed Black couple. And, as is predictable as the rising of Old Sol in the East tomorrow morning, this killer in blue has walked away absolutely “Scott free” of any accountability for a depraved and wanton act of cold blooded murder.
This time it was not a crusty white supremacist-imbibing prosecutor (Ferguson), nor an all-white or white-sympathizing jury (“grand” or petit), but a transparently white supremacist judge who sprung the white killer cop.
You see, Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell did not see, could not see, refused to see that after a 22-mile car chase by over 100 of Cleveland’s Finest and 137 shots fired by those selfsame cops, Officer Michael Brelo’s super-leap upon the hood of a car containing two homeless and unarmed black people and killing them by firing 49 bullets through the windshield (after reloading, of course), did not meet Ohio’s “legal” standard for any degree whatever of murder, manslaughter, “felonious assault,” battery, or even plain old negligence. Again, who needs a racist prosecutor or a white-leaning jury, when a white supremacist-disposed judge will do as well if not better?
It is the reaction of Black people that concerns me here, though. If a “conscious” and heretofore stalwart “race man” like Salim Muwakkil can chalk this latest killing up to being just another day at the office, then the question of black folks’ insult level must be raised. Yes, Ferguson and Baltimore erupted into righteous and fiery indignation – finally – in the face of the murders of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively. And protests around the country over the continuing drumbeat of police killings of black people have been ongoing.
And, as per usual, immediately after this newest Cleveland “verdict,” all of the so-called “Black leaders” – Malcolm X’s old guard “Negro leaders” – rushed to the nearest TV camera, and as if on cue urged Cleveland’s (and the nation’s) restless black natives to remain peaceful in their protest against what is looking more and more like a slow genocide against this nation-state’s black populace. Many of these cops have had it up to here with our complaints about mass incarceration, police brutality, and the like. They have consciously decided to skip all of those cumbersome steps and simply shoot any “out of order” black face (or back) they encounter.
Ah, but Jesse Jackson thinks President Obama should offer a comforting word or two about this matter Cleveland (as opposed to ordering his newly minted attorney general, the appropriately named Loretta Lynch, to follow the example of the young and fearless Baltimore City state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby, and indict the hell out of all 100-plus cops involved in the murder of these two innocent people). To be sure, Lynch and the FBI have indicated that they will take a “closer look” at this killing.
But given Justice’s recent track record in police brutality cases nationwide, Black people everywhere should begin to think about circumventing all political leaders and taking matters into their own hands.
Black people need to know that “peaceful protest” against racial injustice in this nation-state is a relatively new phenomenon. That is, “back in the day” – following slavery and right up to the modern Civil Rights Movement – black men and women, North, South, East and West routinely resisted – by force of arms – white racists’ attempts to harm them and their families. Indeed, it was during that period when the term “race riot” entered the political lexicon – meaning white racist mobs attacking black people and their property from coast to coast.
But Blacks did not sit idly by and watch or humbly beseech their tormentors to quit killing them. They stood their ground. They united in order to better resist an, yes, fight back. And, when necessary, they died rather than submit to never-ending degradation and dehumanization.
And so the question stands: What more will it take to convince Black people that peaceful protest just is not working, has never worked; and wasn’t designed to work? Rather, peaceful protest is meant to mollify, to co-opt, to denude and emasculate any real demand for change.
Black folks have, once again, arrived at a critical juncture in our long and tortuous sojourn in this nation-state. We have managed to survive, even occasionally thrive, in the face of every conceivable obstacle that this white supremacist culture and ethos has deployed against us. We must finally recognize and acknowledge that our continued survival does not now and never has been contingent on the good will, good intentions, and well meaning of the masses of white folks.
Those masses have shown us over and over and over again what they think of us. They have also shown us what they respect and will only respect: As most of our parents taught us, “If somebody hits you, hit them back!” Otherwise, you risk becoming their doormat, flunkie, and permanent scapegoat.
Herbert Dyer, Jr. is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Herb may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.