When I Die, I’m Still Black

Half a century has passed since the day Martin Luther King, Jr. stood beneath the Lincoln Memorial and spoke of his dream, a dream of people dedicating their lives to equality. As MLK said, “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” But what has happened and is happening to black people in America is a terrifying nightmare of discrimination and degradation that finds expression every day and every hour. This is the “American dream”: The dream of a nation whose police have become bolder and bolder in targeting black bodies and can kill with impunity a person of color whose very humanity has been called into question by a discriminatory culture.

We could list the names of many victims here – from Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York to Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana – from 2014 to 1930 and back to the days of slavery.

According to FBI calculations, from 2007 to 2012, white police killed an average of at least two black people per week, and in sum, the number of victims during that time exceeds 500. But police violence is only one of many aspects of a racist justice system that exploits blacks. Many African Americans have been imprisoned in the war on drugs, the result of which has been nothing more than [a confirmation of] negative stereotypes against black communities, as if by their skin color alone, they are criminals.

By referring to statistics and numbers, we can make these inequalities a little more palpable. Thirteen percent of African Americans are drug users, but 46 percent of people imprisoned for drug-related crimes are black. Those on the front lines of the war on drugs are the same people who immerse themselves in black communities so they can easily arrest them and prove to city officials that they are helping to fight crime, just as the officials want. Darren Wilson – a police officer who shot and killed a black teenager in Ferguson – gave testimony, published by the grand jury, regarding Michael Brown, which can shed some light on the extent of systematized police racism. In fact, the only point at which Darren Wilson’s testimony is believable is when he questions Brown’s humanity – that is, his literal status as a human being. According to Wilson’s testimony, Brown was like a beast or “a demon,” whom nothing could stop, and who could only be put down with a bullet to the head.

But what is the cause of these shootings? Not all of the blame can be laid at the police’s doorstep and these cases so easily closed. The issue is a system that promotes racism and leads police to commit such atrocities. Inequality in the U.S. has reached its highest point in the history of this nation. Not only are the wealthy unwilling to pay taxes, but they also claim we are living in a post-taxation society. General Electric, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Verizon are all exempt from taxes – and in this economy no less! And yet, a black man named Eric Garner is killed essentially for illegally selling cigarettes and not paying taxes. The unemployment rate among African American youth is 35 percent. In this regard, the only money that changes hands between the people and the government is through the mediation of the police and prison. In the past two decades, three-quarters of the people who were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes were jailed on drug-related charges.

The disgrace of the astronomical prison population in the U.S. is that it is really a way to hide the unemployed. On the other side of the coin, it is also an income generator. Traffic fines are the second largest source of income for the city of Ferguson. In 2013, the Ferguson police issued tickets to 32,975 people out of a population of 21,135, which generated around $2.6 million for the city. Police are handing out fines for harmless violations that many people cannot afford to pay. When these fines go unpaid, the police put out a warrant for the individual’s arrest and send him or her to jail. In 2013, 92 percent of vehicle searches and 86 percent of vehicles pulled over belonged to blacks. Yet, reality paints a different picture: One in three white people in America is carrying either drugs or an illegal weapon, while among blacks, it is one in five.

The important point for understanding this issue is that police discrimination does not happen in a vacuum, and at least in part is directly linked to the economics of black communities. In recent years, both federal and state governments have been slowly closing down public schools, welfare homes, treatment centers and general hospitals. On the whole, the budget for social programs in black neighborhoods has been drastically reduced. They have decimated the jobs in the public sector – jobs that were the source of income for many middle class African Americans – and then have done away with support for the unemployed, who have no income or a very limited income. And what was the result? A great flood of blacks who could not participate in the job market or who, if they did participate, were only in the margins.

It is well-established that these factors have denigrated black communities in the eyes of the police, the same police who earlier wrote off African-Americans as criminals and considered that to be their sum and total existence. As a result, this police method has morphed into a sort of public policy, which only complicates the solutions proposed by politicians, since their plans never go beyond research studies and vague calls to carry out justice.

However, the current protest movement taking hold in different U.S. cities could advance some clearer goals, goals like passing a federal law for dealing with cases plagued by racism or implementing legal repercussions for police officers who are accused of murder – real follow-up procedures, not formalities. Police shootings of black Americans have grown into an epidemic that is spreading day by day. In the state of Utah alone, police are responsible for 15 percent of all [police] murders in America. Now, Darren Wilson’s acquittal by the grand jury could embolden police officers to kill more unarmed black men with impunity, unless the peoples’ protests can take the weapons out of officers’ hands.

In such circumstances, politicians like Obama and Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general, on the one hand and mainstream media on the other, have encouraged blacks to remain calm and refrain from violent action, even though the source of the violence has been the police, not unarmed blacks. In the eyes of many journalists and analysts, the merciless killing of blacks by the police and suppression of protests in various U.S. cities cannot be called violence. Violence for them can only be found in one place: the destruction of public property and looting.

Now that there’s been no end to the string of shootings with black victims, the American people have poured into the streets, and police have welcomed them with tear gas and plastic bullets. But police violence is subsumed into the realm of police and military heroism, and all that remains are tired justifications like “maintaining order” and “self-defense.”

This is why in all of these recent cases, despite the testimony of eyewitnesses and footage [of the incidents], the victims were made out to be the attackers in a way that is almost comical. But the reality is that neither Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown or Eric Garner were armed; they were simply breathing and that was enough for the officers who murdered them to consider them a threat.

It is this type of imaginary threat that turns everyday life for American blacks into a war zone. If Ferguson looked like a war zone to the outside world because of its tanks and M-16s, African Americans in Ferguson and poor neighborhoods throughout America know – even without the tear gas and plastic bullets – that they are constantly navigating a battlefield.

In this plagued society, Mike Brown and Eric Garner have only just died, but tomorrow, there will be another. These deaths are not a result of incidental aberrations in the system, but rather, they are a part of the system itself, a typical, quotidian occurrence. In 1968, before his assassination, MLK said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” It seems it is dark enough now.

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1 Comment

  1. As a citizen of the United States , I must once again emphasize the CLASS connection here to the extraordinary oppression of black Americans. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union , the world seems to have forgotten the meaning of CLASS STRUGGLE. The U.S. ruling class would like to make it almost impossible for ordinary working class people of every race, ethnic group and nationality even to IMAGINE a world much different from this enduring nightmare of global capitalism. Socialist Internationalism once cried: ” Workers of the world unite ! “. Today right wing fanatics here would like us to accept the possibility of nuclear attack on Iran. For an old guard socialist workers who embrace the Islamic faith have more in common with workers who embrace Christianity or the Jewish faith than they do with advocates of a smothering theocracy anywhere.
    Only MASS ACTION-peaceful protest- can save the world now. Just what do you think a Republican Senate and a Republican House in the U.S.A. are planning for the world ?
    ( http://radicalrons.blogspot.com/ )

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