Why We Won’t Wait (Double participation)

Published November 29, 2014 by djlwsu

Why We Won’t Wait

by ROBIN D.G. KELLEY

Wait. Patience. Stay Calm. “This is a country that allows everybody to express their views,” said the first Black president, “allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust.” Don’t disrupt, express. Justice will be served. We respect the rule of law. This is America.

We’ve all been waiting for the grand jury’s decision, not because most of us expected an indictment. District Attorney Robert P. McCulloch’s convoluted statement explaining—or rather, defending—how the grand jury came to its decision resembled a victory speech. For a grand jury to find no probable cause even on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter is a stunning achievement in a police shooting of an unarmed teenager with his hands raised, several yards away. Distilling 4,799 pages of grand jury proceedings to less than twenty minutes, he managed to question the integrity of eyewitnesses, accuse the 24-hour news cycle and social media for disrupting the investigation, and blame alleged neighborhood violence for why the removal of Mike Brown’s body from the pavement had to wait until morning. McCulloch never indicted a cop in his life, so why expect anything different now?

Some waited hoping for a miracle; most waited because they knew a crisis was brewing. The white folks in St. Louis and surrounding municipalities, as well as the state of Missouri, used the waiting period to prepare for war. Residents bought more guns and ammunition, stockpiled on plywood to cover store windows, installed alarm systems and window bars, stocked up on food and water. Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, calling up National Guard forces from across the state and beyond, training the state militia for riot control and counterinsurgency. The federal government has dispatched FBI agents, some presumably undercover operating inside protest movements. As I write these words, all forces are being deployed against protesters and the Black community more generally, and the governor has requested more National Guard troops.

Meanwhile, as we waited for the grand jury’s decision, a twelve-year-old Black boy named Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police in Cleveland because the officer mistook his toy gun for a real one. Tamir was playing outside of Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center, one of the few public facilities left that provide safe space for children.

As we waited, Cleveland cops took the life of Tanisha Anderson, a 37-year-old Black woman suffering from bipolar disorder. Police arrived at her home after family members called 911 to help her through a difficult crisis, but rather than treat her empathetically they did what they were trained to do when confronted with Black bodies in Black neighborhoods—they treated her like an enemy combatant. When she became agitated, one officer wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her while a second officer pinned her “face down on the ground with his knee pressed down heavily into the back for 6 to 7 minutes, until her body went completely limp.” She stopped breathing. They made no effort to administer CPR, telling the family and witnesses that she was sleeping. When the ambulance finally arrived twenty minutes later, she was dead.

As we waited, police in Ann Arbor, Michigan, killed a forty-year-old Black woman named Aura Rain Rosser. She was reportedly brandishing a kitchen knife when the cops showed up on a domestic violence call, although her boyfriend who made the initial report insisted that she was no threat to the officers. No matter; they opened fire anyway.

As we waited, a Chicago police officer fatally shot 19-year-old Roshad McIntosh. Despite the officer’s claims, several eyewitnesses reported that McIntosh was unarmed, on his knees with his hands up, begging the officer to hold his fire.

As we waited, police in Saratoga Springs, Utah, pumped six bullets into Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old Black man dressed kind of like a ninja and carrying a replica Samurai sword. And police in Victorville, California, killed Dante Parker, a 36-year-old Black man and father of five. He had been stopped while riding his bike on suspicion of burglary. When he became “uncooperative,” the officers repeatedly used Tasers to try to subdue him. He died from his injuries.

As we waited, a twenty-eight-year-old Black man named Akai Gurley met a similar fate as he descended a stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. The police were on a typical reconnaissance mission through the housing project. Officer Peter Liang negotiated the darkened stairwell, gun drawn in one hand, flashlight in the other, prepared to take down any threat he encountered. According to liberal mayor Bill DeBlasio and police chief Bill Bratton, Mr. Gurley was collateral damage. Apologies abound. He left a two-year-old daughter.

As we waited, LAPD officers stopped 25-year-old Ezell Ford, a mentally challenged Black man, in his own South Los Angeles neighborhood and shot him to death. The LAPD stopped Omar Abrego, a 37-year-old father from Los Angeles, and beat him to death.

And as we waited and waited and waited, Darren Wilson got married, continued to earn a paycheck while on leave, and received over $400,000 worth of donations for his “defense.”

You see, we’ve been waiting for dozens, hundreds, thousands of indictments and convictions. Every death hurts. Every exonerated cop, security guard, or vigilante enrages. The grand jury’s decision doesn’t surprise most Black people because we are not waiting for an indictment. We are waiting for justice—or more precisely, struggling for justice.  We all know the names and how they died. Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt D. Meyers, Jr., John Crawford III, Cary Ball Jr., Mike Brown, ad infinitum. They were unarmed and shot down by police under circumstances for which lethal force was unnecessary. We hold their names like recurring nightmares, accumulating the dead like ghoulish baseball cards. Except that there is no trading. No forgetting. Just a stack of dead bodies that rises every time we blink. For the last three trayvonsgenerations, Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart, Eula Love, Amadu Diallo, Oscar Grant, Patrick Dorismond, Malice Green, Tyisha Miller, Sean Bell, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Margaret LaVerne Mitchell, to name a few, have become symbols of racist police violence.   And I’m only speaking of the dead—not the harassed, the beaten, the humiliated, the stopped-and-frisked, the raped.

Meanwhile, Governor Jay Nixon, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the mainstream press and every state-anointed Negro leader lecture Black people to stay calm and remain non-violent, when the main source of violence has been the police. Mike Brown’s murder brought people out to the streets, where they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. State violence is always rendered invisible in a world where cops and soldiers are heroes, and what they do is always framed as “security,” protection, and self-defense. Police occupy the streets to protect and serve the citizenry from (Black) criminals out of control. This is why, in every instance, there is an effort to depict the victim as assailant – Trayvon Martin used the sidewalk as a weapon, Mike Brown used his big body.   A lunge or a glare from a Black person can constitute an imminent threat. When the suburb of Ferguson blew up following Mike Brown’s killing on August 9, the media and mainstream leadership were more concerned with looting and keeping the “peace” than the fact that Darren Wilson was free on paid leave. Or that leaving Brown’s bullet-riddled, lifeless body, on the street for four and a half hours, bleeding, cold, stiff from rigor mortis, constituted a war crime in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was, after all, an act of collective punishment – the public display of the tortured corpse was intended to terrorize the entire community, to punish everyone into submission, to remind others of their fate if they step out of line. We used to call this “lynching.”

War? Yes, war. The immediate and sustained resistance to the police following Mike Brown’s murder revealed the low intensity war between the state and Black people, and the disproportionate use of force against protesters following the grand jury’s decision escalated the conflict. To the world at large, Ferguson looked like a war zone because the police resembled the military with their helmets, flak jackets, armed personnel carriers, and M-16 rifles. But African-American residents of Ferguson and St Louis proper, and in impoverished communities across the country, did not have to endure tear gas or face down riot cops to know that they were already living in a war zone—hence Mike Brown’s and Dorian Johnson’s initial trepidation toward the police.

Past and present police violence in the area gave Brown and Johnson good reason to fear Wilson. The prosecution turned what may have seemed like a reasonable act of self-defense on the part of a startled and angry eighteen-year-old kid into an “assault of a law officer in the first degree.” That Wilson feared for his life was all he needed to justify lethal force. But it is the instructions to the grand jury toward the end of the three-month-long deliberations that deserve our attention. After asking jurors to judge Wilson’s actions against Missouri statute on police use of deadly force, the assistant county prosecutors, Sheila Whirley and Kathi Alizadeh, suddenly announced that after “doing our research” they learned that the statute had been superseded by a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In lieu of the decision and the old statute, Whirley wrote up a description of how the law applies when an officer can use force when making an arrest. When a grand juror began asking questions for clarification, Whirley explains that the old law “is not entirely incorrect or inaccurate, but there is something that is not correct, ignore it totally.” She then indicates that they will rely on the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner (1985), “not that that matters much to you. . . .   We don’t want to get into a law class.”   She went on to focus on the self-defense instruction.

But just a quick glance at the decision reveals that the ruling was intended to limit the use of deadly force, arguing that killing a fleeing suspect constitutes an intrusive “seizure” potentially violating 4thAmendment protections against being deprived of life. If a suspect is not armed and dangerous, the use of deadly force is not warranted and thus the seizure of life is not reasonable.

Whether we call it a war on drugs, or “Operation Ghetto Storm” as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement dubs it, what we are dealing with is nothing less than permanent war waged by the state and its privatized allies on a mostly poor and marginalized Black and Brown working-class. Five centuries in the making, it stretches from slavery and imperialism to massive systematic criminalization. We see the effects on our children, in the laws that make it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults; in the deluge of zero tolerance policies (again a by-product of the war on drugs); in the startling fact that expulsions and suspensions have risen exponentially despite a significant decline in violent crime. Crisis, moral panics, neoliberal policies, racism fuel an expansive system of human management based on incarceration, surveillance, containment, pacification, lethal occupation, and gross misrepresentation.

The Black community of Ferguson and adjacent communities experience war every single day, in routine police stops, fines for noise ordinance violations (e.g., playing loud music), for fare-hopping on St. Louis’s light rail system, for uncut grass or unkempt property, trespassing, wearing “saggy pants,” expired driver’s license or registration, “disturbing the peace,” among other things. If these fines or tickets are not paid, they may lead to jail time, the loss of one’s car or other property, or the loss of one’s children to social services. The criminal justice system is used to exact punishment and tribute, a kind of racial tax, on poor/working class Black people. In 2013, Ferguson’s municipal court issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants to a population of just over 21,000, generating about $2.6 million dollars in income for the municipality. That same year, 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of traffic stops in Ferguson involved black people, this despite the fact that one in three whites was found carrying illegal weapons or drugs, while only one in five blacks had contraband.

And yet, defenders of the status quo always deflect critiques of state violence by citing the number of intra-racial homicides in low-income Black communities. Who can forget former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s recent quip to Michael Eric Dyson on “Meet the Press”?: “White police officers wouldn’t be there [in black neighborhoods] “if you weren’t killing each other.” Racist bluster, to be sure, but such assertions have succeeded in foreclosing a deeper interrogation of how neoliberal policies (i.e., dismantling the welfare state; promoting capital flight; privatizing public schools, hospitals, housing, transit, and other public resources; investing in police and prisons,) are a form of state violence that produces scarcity, environmental and health hazards, poverty, and alternative (illegal) economies rooted in violence and subjugation.

Ironically, Giuliani’s vitriol makes a compelling case for the failure of modern law enforcement. If the police are charged with keeping the peace and protecting citizens, but instead have contributed to the “epidemic” of violent deaths, then a case can be made for the complete withdrawal of the police from Black and Brown neighborhoods. The police are trained for combat and often regard the youth in low-income communities of color as potential enemy combatants. This is why the killing of “innocent” Black men in dark stairwells, Black women with kitchen knives, or little boys brandishing toy guns are not accidents.   Cops patrol these areas with their weapon close at hand; behind every shadow lurks a suspect, and in war it is kill or be killed.

In light of Missouri’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, calling for the withdrawal of the police—even temporarily—is a reasonable demand for people terrorized by state violence and feeling particularly vulnerable over their safety. They want law and order, but the police have shown a consistent disrespect for the law, flagrantly violated the Constitution, and operated with little to no accountability. Instead, the police operate as a rogue outfit, their actions create disorder and fear. Furthermore, failure to indict effectively exonerates the police force, providing a pretext for the police to ramp up violence and repression in response to the legitimate expression of anger and frustration over the government’s failure to protect Black lives and ensure justice. It is already happening in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision, as riot police invade the headquarters of Hands Up United as well as designated safe spaces.

The young organizers in Ferguson from Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United, and the like, understand they are at war. Tef Poe, Tory Russell, Montague Simmons, Cheyenne Green, Ashley Yates, and many other young Black activists in the St. Louis area have not been waiting around for an indictment. Nor are they waiting for the much vaunted Federal probe, for they have no illusions about a federal government that provides military hardware to local police, builds prisons, kills tens of thousands by manned and unmanned planes without due process, and arms Israel in its illegal wars and occupation. They have been organizing. So have the young Chicago activists who founded We Charge Genocide and the Black Youth Project, and the Los Angeles-based youth who make up the Community Rights Campaign, and the hundreds of organizations across the country challenging everyday state violence and occupation. They remind us, not only that Black lives matter—that should be self-evident—but that resistance matters. It matters because we are still grappling with the consequences of settler colonialism, racial capitalism and patriarchy. It mattered in post-Katrina New Orleans, a key battleground in neoliberalism’s unrelenting war on working people, where Black organizers lead multiracial coalitions to resist the privatization of schools, hospitals, public transit, public housing, and dismantling public sector unions.   The young people of Ferguson continue to struggle with ferocity, not just to get justice for Mike Brown or to end police misconduct but to dismantle racism once and for all, to bring down the Empire, to ultimately end war.

Robin D. G. Kelley, who teaches at UCLA, is the author of the remarkable biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009) and most recently Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012). He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence.

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6 comments on “Why We Won’t Wait (Double participation)

  • While I was reading this article I kept on thinking “why”. Why did the police have to use force when there was no harm to them. Why did they leave his body for a whole day. Why do they want to scare other colored people. Why did Darren get away. I kept on thinking on how many people, like President Obama, kept telling the black community to stay calm and not show violence when they were intact scared and fighting for justice. All of these lives have been lost because another race wants to be superior and the way that they show it is by scaring other races and killing there families. They say that black are the most violent people when in reality it is the police and government and any other thing against black people and communities.

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  • As I was reading this article I couldn’t believe the amount of shooting that have recently happened. I find it even more disturbing that the officers involved in the shooting of black youth were not punished for shooting and killing a child. I’m sure if the role was reversed and the officer who fired the gun was black, and the child who was shot had a lighter complexion and whiter in color, there would be more of an effort to hold the officer accountable for his actions. As a child we are raised to believe are police are hero’s and are our friends, and it’s sad to come to the realization that it’s the police who have committed these horrific events. In the cases I read in the article they mentioned that not only were the officers using unnecessary force to restrain the suspect but also in some cases made the situation worse. An example of this is in the death of Tanisha Anderson a 37-year old Black woman who was suffering from bipolar disorder. After they wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her, another officer held his “knee pressed down heavily into the back for 6 to 7 minutes, until her body went completely limp.” In my eyes the police who were called made the situation worse and because of their actions after putting the cuffs on, they are the ones who are responsible for the death of Tanisha Anderson. Had they simply just put on the cuffs Tanisha Anderson may still be alive. The police need to be held accountable for what they do in uniform, no matter the race of the alleged suspect.

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  • Teenagers are future of this country and they are dying without any reason. Our criminal justice system is killing the future of this country. This country created racism and passing into generation. Black people are not violent. They are violent because of unfair justice system. It is human nature to get violent when people don’t get justice. Our system doesn’t sever people of color equally. Teenager like Michael Brown are killed without a reason. Our criminal justice system enhances our judgment against black community. Let me tell something, our country is scare of black people because of wrong presumption we put into them. For example in article Tannish Anderson black women who had bipolar disorder. When she was arrested two police officers cuffed her to death. We know officer didn’t mean to kill her but the stereotypes of “criminal”, “felon” play effective role in black people life. What if Tannish Anderson was white would have die, what would a police do? The answer is obvious they would go easy on her

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  • I was very shocked to see the amount of shootings that took place in such a short period of time. It is clear that many police departments around America need to be fixed from the ground up and move past the assumption that all black people are violent. Growing up in the suburbs I never ran into situations like this and never really researched them until after the Trayvon Martin incident. Although it was not the police that shot him, the justice system really screwed him and his family. It’s a shame that many cops can get away with just killing black people, of any age, just because they can somehow make up a bullshit story to justify it. There is no reason at all to shoot a 12 year old child of any race because of a fake gun. The police departments in big cities need to be cleaned up and it is ridiculous. It really hurts me a lot because I am a black male that wants to be in law enforcement but it is hard to even want to with all the injustice my race receives and all of the crooked, racist cops in this world. Yes, maybe all the violence will slow down because of huge killings like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but while we waited they have not and that is something we as Americans need to come together and fix. Not all black people are violent, which is true, but we also should have never put that thought inside someone’s head. We have to work better as a race to wipe our reputation clean and maybe we will actually be in the post-racism era.

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  • Reading articles such as this are very frustrating for me, being the daughter of a police officer. People always have such negative, harsh, disrespectful things to say about the police, but would be the first to cry out for help and need the police to do their job when the time is necessary. I know and understand that I have a biased opinion because of my upbringing, but it makes me mad to see people attack the police so heartlessly without true deep thought that they are just doing their job to protect the greater community. I am not condoning that all actions by all officers are correct, but for a large majority of the time they are doing what is best in the situation to ensure safety. The media pounces on the opportunity to create a high-profile story in which they are able to generate views because of the white on black crime. There are numerous white people that get killed, but it is never blown into the news because that wouldn’t be as interesting of a topic to shed light on. Instead, black people are in a sense “targeted” because of how oppression has been prevalent throughout history, allowing for more and more fuel to be added to the fire of racism, ultimately placing the blame on police. In this current situation of Mike Brown, what is looting and burning down buildings as protest doing to help the situation? Of course now police and others will have to use some type of force because they have to protect others that aren’t participating in illegal activities such as these. My dad has to work the protests that occur in downtown Seattle, where protestors were shooting fireworks down onto him and other officers, in which they weren’t allowed to retaliate. How is any of this helping bring justice to the death of Mike Brown? No matter the circumstance, police departments will be made the enemy in any situation throughout the country. Never do you hear in the media about all of the good the police do on a daily basis; instead, they will continue to be the “problem” or “suspect” in these situations as opposed to maybe considering analyzing the “victim.”

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  • I feel that situations like this are hard to comprehend for most of society, including myself. When having discussions about police brutality and right from wrong it his hard to get all of society due to opinions and biasses one may have. I do not at all condone the events that are explained within the article however it is important for society to understand that the police are here to protect us and the greater community. Before taking this class and even reading this article I would have just jumped to the conclusion that the police were in the wrong and that it is never ok to take such harsh a severe of actions as it is explained within the article. However, after having discussions in class I have learned to view both sides of each perspective and then come to a conclusion of what you think for yourself.

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