The recent murder and violence in Ferguson highlights the endemic brutalisation and dehumanisation of the black community
“Police Brutality Must be Defended.” This is essentially the message that Americans are getting from the outrageously inconsiderate response that the murder of a young person of colour –in broad daylight – is drawing from authorities. The murder was point-blank, cold-blooded gunfire.
Many are using the term “executed.” This is apt as the victim was shot repeatedly, including in the head. Adding insult to injury, the murder was committed by an on-duty policeman, and the victim was an unarmed minor, who held his hands in up the air, saying, “don’t shoot”. Police are supposed to “protect and serve” their communities. And yet, this on-duty policeman executed a young, unarmed member of the community.
With the fact that justice is not being served, and that police violence against a community in upheaval is ongoing, the simple and sinister phrase “Police Brutality Must be Defended” rings only too true. Whilst the governor officially declared Martial Law through a “state of emergency” executive order on August 16th, reports circulated of sold-out t-shirts and protests in support of the murderous officer in the nearby largely white community.
I am not using the names of the victim or the killer, and I am not using the name of the community. This is a deliberate choice, and not a cold move: the recent murder is not an exceptional occurrence. It happens all the time. Per a recent newscast by Melissa Harris-Perry, white policemen shoot and kill unarmed black men on an average of twice a week in the US. Unarmed members of communities around the country are routinely killed by the very police force that is there to “protect and serve” them. These kinds of murders happen all the time; the truth is cold. It is general. It is abstract. It is that much more real and immediate to people of colour across the country who are generalized as dangerous and less-than-human, and whose lives are abstracted as expendable.
The imbalance of power and privilege that enables police violence against people of colour to occur on a daily basis also conceals it, devaluing the lives at stake. The retaliation that the police force is exerting upon the citizens protesting the recent killing is completely baffling if one does not understand this as an intensification of routine abuse. The routine media occlusion of this commonplace abuse has culminated in ironic results: police have been treating reporters with the same oppression and brutality that they are serving the protesters.
“The First Amendment Must be Suppressed”
It is impossible to read these events and not consider the parallels in regard to the restriction of media reporting, and the dehumanization of a minority population, which are also ongoing in the Gaza conflict. It is this vision that prompts me to link the phrase “Police Brutality Must be Defended” with two more: “The First Amendment Must be Suppressed,” and, yes, “Israel Must be Defended.”
A friend and I were surprised – but not surprised – to find that the post which she wrote on her Facebook wall containing June Jordan’s “Poem About Police Violence”, was invisible to her friends. Some Facebook filter attuned to language about killing cops has rendered her post invisible. This is but one small example of the suppression of speech and the skewing of news stories in this event, not unlike what we have been seeing with regard to the Israel-Gaza situation.
Thankfully, we have other means of finding information. My experiences with tumblr have felt the least creepy, and twitter hasn’t disappointed either. A brief internet search of hashtags such as #ferguson, #policebrutality, #mikebrown, #handsupdontshoot, #iftheygunnedmedown, and many more, should yield some information for those who are interested in finding out what’s really happening.
For instance, when a curfew was declared in Ferguson, citing “lootings” as a problem that needed to be stemmed, images cropped up on social media showing community members of color convening in front of stores in order to keep them safe. Another image that has been making the rounds is of someone pouring milk into a tear-gas victim’s eyes outside of a McDonald’s, with the caption “protesters broke into McDonald’s to get milk for tear gas victims”. Beyond these responses to allegations of looting as justification for a curfew enforced by police in riot gear, one might pause to note that the word and concept of “looting” is primitivising and brutalising in its arcane resonances. It is also misleading, as James Baldwin lays out in a quote that has been making the tumblr rounds. Further, “looting” seems absurdly benign when placed in contrast with armored vehicles and relentless tear-gassing, which, by the way, is an abortifacient.
“Israel Must be Defended”
One thinks of the situation in Gaza, and the use of the word “rockets” by the Israeli Defense Ministry as bearing similar primitivising and brutalising overtones which somehow warrant a disproportionately violent retaliation. Honestly, what are “rockets,” in the face of all of the latest and most lethal war technologies that Israel has at its disposal? Nadia Abu El-Haj, in a recent article criticizes the description of the carnage in Gaza as “self-defence,” and rightly so.
This, too, is painfully reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin verdict last summer, in which George Zimmerman was indicted on grounds of self-defence as protected by Florida’s arcane “stand your ground” law. This law presumes and exercises a racist and misogynist heritage. It does not serve to protect the most underprivileged in the community, as the latter are the most devalued as humans, tied to a legacy of minority subjects as property. They form a population not protected by the rhetoric of self-defence.
As events continue to unfold in both zones of crisis, this notion of “self-defence” must be challenged. If we understand what we are witnessing to be massacres of populations that have been historically and rhetorically dehumanised by the dominant population, the notion of “self-defence” by the dominant and powerful “more humanised” aggressor is indeed deeply questionable.
Image from: http://www.ibtimes.com/ferguson-missouri-clashes-between-police-protesters-persist-1660368
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