FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Everywhere is War

I Can’t Breathe by Joni Sarah White.

Everywhere is War
By Bob Marley

Until the philosophy
Which hold one race superior and another
Inferior
Is finally
And permanently
Discredited
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war

That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the color of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes
Me say war

That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all
Without regard to race
Dis a war

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained
Now everywhere is war
War  . . .

War in the east
War in the west
War up north
War down south
War war
Rumors of war  . . .

And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory

Of good over evil

Good over evil, yeah
Good over evil
Good over evil, yeah
Good over evil

Bob Marley, Rest in Power, reduced to lyric, words of consequence and self determination that have accompanied our collective journey since it began. At times, its vanguard has been the spoken word. At others, the pen; and, yes, more often than not, the rock, the mask, the gun has led the way. There is no singular correct or acceptable megaphone of resistance for those historically who have said enough. Defiance is dictated not by the aim of those who struggle but by the reach and tactic of those they fight. At times, sweet words and chant have triumphed while at others, tears and smoke and blood.  But, rest assured, power concedes nothing without struggle. It never did and it never will.

Like a chorus of obedient social referees, pundits of all pedigree and purpose, the political and the pompous have tripped over one another the last few days as they race to be the first and loudest to dictate to hundreds of thousands in the streets, in this country, what is and what is not acceptable protest. All that has been missing from this stew of politically correct is announcing to the world, from statehouses and zoom alike, is the mascot… some of my best friends are …

There is nothing sui generis about rebellion. Its paradigm has generated definition and debate for time immemorial from those whose names have long outlived their imprint upon the times in which they lived… and often led. There is nothing complex about rebellion.  It finds its legitimacy in the natural marrow of those who agree to step back from complete self determination with the expectation that this transfer of personal power to the state will, above all else, be met with full equality and due process. Simply put, it’s known as the social compact. It has long been the linchpin of state power, the legitimacy from which it derives that command or loses it when, like any contract, its breach outlives its defined and agreed to purpose.

At its core, the social compact reflects a long customary willingness of people to cede fundamental aspects of personal freedom to government in exchange for institutional concern and support for their health, safety and equality.   This largely unconscious cede is very much a fragile connection, however, one that maintains relevance and purpose only so long and so far as people feel invested in the machinery of state, its credibility and its integrity.  When those institutions that carry historically fail, people instinctively reclaim their limited loan of independence. For some, a legislative voice is the echo of that loss as they pursue traditional electoral process in an effort to regain a sense of equity and purpose. Others withdraw to the safety of their solitude finding comfort in isolation, hopeful and committed to the folly that political leadership will gratuitously meet their task if for no other reason than to hang on to personal posture and gain. Then stand those who have never found comfort or security in the notion that a loss of liberty necessarily means more freedom.  It is to them that we owe much… naysayers of blind political faith who have earned the scorn of institutional liberals who, with ease, turn blind eye to the obvious… opting instead for the witting embrace of surreal political caste.

Future Now by Joni Sarah White.

Long ago compliance to comfort and denial was swept away by those who welcomed dare to the convenience of silence. There was, for example, a guy, a man named Paine, an author and revolutionary with Common Sense who with ferocious pen rejected any social compact that vested total, unilateral and endless power to a throne be it delivered from legacy birth or the voting booth. To Paine, the social compact’s aim was to protect the rights of each individual who entered into it:

“A man, by natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause; and so far as the right of mind is concerned, he never surrenders it. He therefore deposits this right in the common stock of society, and takes the arm of society, of which he is part, in preference and in addition to his own.”

Never one to bind each new generation to the straps of the previous, Paine went further:

“There never did, there never will, and there never can exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of  the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the end of time or of commanding forever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it. Every age and generation must be free to act for itself, in all cases, as the age and generation which preceded it.”

Sage vision and powerful words by a pamphleteer-philosopher who rejected the Presidency turning, instead, caution to the wind as he returned to England and then to France where his words inspired yet another revolution. Though iconic, Paine’s voice has not been singular in the historical debate over the social compact in a country built of repression and rebellion of theft and talisman of vision and violence. These expressions speak to an inherent, ever-present, tension between an individual’s drive to climb a mountain they chase and the state’s demand it control the nature of that journey… always, of course, because it’s in their legislated best interest. Others have tasted the acidic strain between ideal and fidelity.

To liberated slave Frederick Douglas…

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

To abolitionist John Brown, pursuit of personal principle was above all else the defining expression of one’s poise:

“Be mild with the mild, shrewd with the crafty, confiding with the honest, rough to the ruffian, and a thunderbolt to the liar. But in all this, never be unmindful of your own dignity.”

Legendary Apache leader Geronimo summed up, like few others, the interconnect between resistance and outside stare.

“I know I have to die sometime, but even if the heavens were to fall on me, I want to do what is right. I think I am a good man, but in the papers all over the world they say I am a bad man; but it is a bad thing to say about me. I never do wrong without a cause.”

While crowned by some, perhaps many, for his dutiful obey to non-violence Martin Luther King reminded us that

 “…a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Malcolm X opined . . .

“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”

These words of resistance are not mere abstract sentiment of an academic circle podcast for the detached and unaffected to debate as if their target has not repeated itself over and over and over and can, by magical ignore, somehow be reduced to isolated anomaly. To the contrary, they confront a hardscrabble road of a history that has demanded silence and obedience from those against whom it has all too often extracted the ultimate pain and punishment born of race and little else.

There is no uniform shout. Nor is its march a singular one… the product of inherited skin and pain alone. Today, all over this country, young white women and men have joined their family of color in announcing in a clear, unified and unmistakable voice that the social compact is shattered… a vehicle of power and promise for but the chosen few.  For the cynics who dispatch the motivation of those who, themselves, have not felt the sting of racial hate and divide, legendary anarchist Emma Goldman, spoke long ago of a bond sculpted not by the individual but the rejoice of the collective:

“It requires something more than personal experience to gain a philosophy or point of view from any specific event. It is the quality of our response to the event and our capacity to enter into the lives of others that help us to make their lives and experiences our own.  In my own case my convictions have derived and developed from events in the lives of others as well as from my own experience. What I have seen meted out to others by authority and repression, economic and political transcends anything I myself may have endured.”

Long ago the social compact provided hope in the United States for a better destiny one built of equality and justice. An essential part of that historical narrative is the guarantee that a host of fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights would be more than an abstract tease but, rather, constitute a core warranty of various liberties to be embraced and protected by the state for generations to come.

In its best of light we have long seen many of these rights sacrificed to the mantle of political expedience. Increasingly subtle erosion has become a full-on assault by the state on the reproductive rights of women, on the LGBTQ community, on equal protection and due process, on immigrants, refuges, religious diversity and political speech and association. In its worst of glare, for time immemorial lives have been taken by the state for no reason other than the color of one’s skin.

This past week twenty-eight cities from coast to coast were shuttered by an unprecedented curfew, one reasoned to reduce  “violence” but in reality designed to tamp down on mass dissent demanding an end to state attacks on communities of color and social justice. Just days ago hundreds of peaceful protestors bearing signs and song in front of the White House were attacked by a rampage of federal officers firing tear and pepper gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades, knocking demonstrators and reporters alike to the ground. All in an effort to remove them from ear and eyesight of the President as he swaggered along to posture in front of a closed church as so much a cheap prop, with upside down Bible in hand.

The streets of this country are filled with a cry of conscience not heard in more than half a century. It is a powerful united, demanding voice whether arched by passive resistance or pushed, in the eyes of some, by unsettling militant response. Yet, to ignore its shout or to reduce its legitimacy on the basis of its means of message is to guarantee history will once again repeat itself, adding to an already unbearable timeless graveyard of those entombed by race, and race alone.

The social compact is broken. It has become time worn and tattered; a failed march of madness, one that speaks yet of lofty ideal, but acts daily with the uncontrolled darkness of systemic hate and violence, its list of victims . . .  endless.

Death by Police

ERIC GARNER-JOHN CRAWFORD III-MICHAEL BROWN-EZELL FORD-DANTE PARKER-MICHELLE CUSSEAUX-LAQUAN MCDONALD-GEORGE MANN-TANISHA ANDERSON-AKAI GURLEY-TAMIR RICE-RUMAIN BRISBON-JERAME REID-MATTHEW AJIBADE-FRANK SMART-NATASHA MCKENNA-TONY ROBINSON-ANTHONY HILL-MYA HALL-PHILLIP WHITE-ERIC HARRIS-WALTER SCOTT-WILLIAM CHAPMAN II-ALEXIA CHRISTIAN-BRENDON GLENN-VICTOR MANUEL LAROSA-JONATHAN SANDERS-FREDDIE BLUE-JOSEPH MANN-SLAVADO ELLSWOOD-SANDRA BLAND-ALBERT JOSEPH DAVIS-DARRIUS STEWART-BILLY RAY DAVIS-SAMUEL DUBOSE-MICHAEL SABBIE-BRIAN KEITH DAY-CHRISTIAN TAYLOR-TROY ROBINSON-ASSHAMS PHAROAH MANLEY-FELIX KUMI-KEITH HARRISON MCLEOD-JUNIOR PROSPER-LAMONTEZ JONES-PATERSON BROWN-DOMINIC HUTCHINSON-ANTHONY ASHFORD-ALONZO SMITH-TYREE CRAFORD-INDIA KAGER-LA’VANTE BIGGS-MICHAEL LEE MARSHALL-JAMAR CLARK-RICHARD PERKINS-NATHANIEL HARRIS PICKETT-BENI LEE TIGNOR-MIGUEL ESPINAL-MICHAEL NOEL-KEVIN MATTHEWS-BETTIE JONES-QUINTONIO LEGRIER-KEITH CHILDRES JR.-JANET WILSON-RANDY NELSON-ANTRONIE SCOTT-WENDELL CELESTINE-DAVID JOSEPH-CALIN ROQUEMORE-DYZHAWN PERKINS-CHRISTOPHER DAVIS-MARCO LOUD-PETER GAINES-TORREY ROBINSON-DARIUS ROBINON-KEVIN HICKS-MARY TRUXILLO-DEMARCUS SEMER-WILLIE TILLMAN-TERRILL THOMAS-SYLVILLE SMITH-ALTON STERLING-PHILANDO CASTILE- TERENCE CRUTCHER-PAUL O’NEAL-ALTERIA WOODS-JORDON EDWARDS-AARON BAILEY-RONELL FOSTER-STEPHEN CLARK-ANTWON ROSE II-BOTHAM JEAN- PAMELA TURNER-DOMINIQUE CLAYTON-ATATIANA JEFFERSON-CHRISTOPHER WHITFIELD-CHRISTOPHER MCCORVEY-ERIC REASON-MICHAEL LORENZO  DEAN-BREONNA TAYLOR-GEORGE FLOYD.

This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths of people of color at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner’s death in July 2014. LA Johnson/NPR. See here for background on a few of these victims.

Death by Lynching/Execution

AZARIAH CURTIS-3 UNIDENTIFED BLACK MEN-MANUEL DUNEGAN-RAY PORTER, EDARD PRATER-ALBERT SLOSS-ALEXANDER HERMAN-5 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MEN-1 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MAN- ERNEST MURPHY-SAMUEL VERGE- ROBERT MOSELEY-HENRY MCKENNY-BUD BEARD-ROXIE ELLIOT-GRANT RICHARDSON-WILLIAM FOURNAY-JOHN BROWN-FRANK REEVES,-JESSE MATSON- JOHN CALLOWAY-JACK PHARR-WES JOHNSON-JONATHAN JONES- N/A PEDIGRIE-JOHN JONES-RAY ROLSTON-WILLIE BREWSTER-WILLIAM WALLACE-HOLLAND ENGLISH-MARSAL MCGREGOR-WALTER CLAYTON-3UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MEN-WILLIAM SMITH-JAMES JACKSON-4 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MEN-CO.ATTY. ALXEANDER BOYD-1UNIDENTIFIED BLACKMAN-
3 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MEN-CLEVELAND HARDING-WILLIAM JONES-JOHN STEELE-JAMES BROWN-JERRY JOHNSON-N/A THOMAS- WILSON GARDNER-1 UNIDENTIFED BLACK MAN- ADDIE MAE COLLINS-DENISE MCNAIRM (age 11)- CAROL ROBERTSON (age 14)- JOHNNY ROBINSON( age 16)- VIRGIL WARE (age 13)- JOHN KELLOG-JAMES THOMAS-RICHARD BURTON-MACK SEGARS-CHARLES HUNT-1 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MAN-WILLIAM MILLER-GEORGE HOES-PERRY SMALL- 3 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK WOMEN-N/A REID-WILLIS PERKINS-N/A STOVER-NEIL GUINN-WILLIAM WARDLEY-JOSHUA BALAAM-LEWIS BALAAM-HORACE MAPLES-ELIJAH CLARK-ROBERT MOSELY-2 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK COUPLES-SAM WRIGHT-4 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MEN-JOHN HAYDEN-WILLIAM LEWIS-EPHREIM POPE-CHARLES HUM PHREY-CHARLES BENTLEY-N/A DAVENPORT-WILLIAM POWEL-JESSIE POWEL-GEORGE HARRIS-RUBEN SIMS-ISAAC COOK-OLIVER JACKSON-WILLIAM WESTMORLAND-HENRY ADAMS-JOHN DELL-N/A FOUKAL-M. PHIFER- R. CROSKEY-WILLIE EDWARDS-BUD DAVIS- ALLEN PARKER- JOHN BROWNLEE-1 UNIDENTIFIED BLACK SECURITY GUARD-TOBE MCGRADY-JAMES WILLIAMS-JOHN MARRITT-POE HIBBLER-LEMUEL WEEKS-MOSES DOSSETT-EBEN CALHOUN-THOMAS BROWNE-GEORGE MEADOWS-RICHARD ROBINSON-EDWARD PLOWLY-WILLIAM PLOWLY-JONATHAN LIPSEY- HENRY PETERS-JOHN WOMACK

This is a very partial list of past lynchings/executions of men, women and children from the 1800’s to mid 1900’s, from Alabama alone. For a more complete list of the thousands of those lynched including in all states see https://www.ourtimepress.com/view-from-here-never-forget-the-lynchings-list/. See, also https://source.wustl.edu/2018/02/police-kill-unarmed-blacks-often-especially-women-study-finds/

 

Stanley L. Cohen is lawyer and activist in New York City.

FacebookTwitterRedditEmail