An insightful analysis about the US police brutality and killings of black citizens.
By Hatem Basian, via Turkey Agenda
The Ferguson verdict will be added as a generational marker in America’s long racial history and the inability or lack of intention to end the plague of racism. While Michael Brown’s case rightly received national and international attention many more African Americans suffer the same deaths at the hands of police daily, but remain nameless and faceless in our collective consciousness. In today’s America, on average police kill a black man every 28 hours and, only on rare occasions, charges are brought against officers and it is extremely extraordinary to have a court or jury convict the officer.
Rodney King, Eula Love and Amadou Diallo are forgotten signposts on America’s entanglement with racism and the constant willful denial of the serious problem of police deadly use of force and shifting the blame to the victims. The policing approach to African American communities has developed over centuries and it is not only a recent problem. For sure, the epistemic framework for policing originates in the slave institution with focus on the total control of black bodies; regulating movement within and outside the plantations and extreme legally mandated punishment to prevent rebellion and challenge to the existing order.
Policing African American communities can be traced all the way back to slave patrols, which, according to Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Kevin Berends “had three primary goals: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, escaped Africans; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter African armed revolts; and (3) to maintain a form of discipline for Africans who were subject to vigilante summary execution, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules or just ran afoul of any white person.” After the Civil War the slave patrols were incorporated into police departments without ever altering the basic assumptions relating to African Americans and the need to control and discipline the population.
The control and violent structure can further be understood by bringing in colonial discourses into it and contextualize the local as a sub-set and possessing epistemic continuity with the global. Certainly, Malcolm X in the early 1960s spoke of black communities as constituting the “internal colonies”, which was a very important and correct base of analysis on how African Americans are viewed and managed within the global north. In the external colonies the same mode of control and domination is instituted with the goal of driving maximum political, economic and social benefits from it while controlling the colonized brown bodies and confining their movement.
Violence is paradigmatic in colonial structures because it is based on achieving total control toward a population that is deemed to be inferior/subhuman i.e. animal-like and thus responds only to force and power. In the same way as an animal is trained to respond to the command of the trainer who uses the whip to induce fear and then provide treats when a positive controlled response emerges from the animal. Violence in both plantation and colony is the preferred tool for inducing cooperation and bringing about total control and domination.
White supremacy, a global phenomenon, normalizes violence by making it a constitutive and productive paradigm shaping the relationship in the internal and external colonial. African Americans epistemologically are reproduced in this colonial discourse as mere biological sub-human material that has not yet emerged out of the hulls of slave ships into servitude of the modern civilizational project. Indeed, America’s inner cities are the epistemic hulls of modern internal colonial slave ships navigating the oceans of un-being and sub-humanness.
Many factually point out that black on black violence takes more African American lives than police use of deadly force or white on black violence. This statement is uttered daily by countless news talking heads, politicians and embedded intellectuals who are engaged in systematic obfuscation and reductionism of the real and sustained causes of violence in African American communities at home and communities of color in the global South. Indeed, the intention is to shift blame and direct attention away from the structural and systemic aspects of violence directed at African Americans and people of color at home and abroad. Today, we are focusing on Michael Brown’s case but the history of violence directed at African Americans is deeply intertwined with America’s history itself and defines the social, political and economic relationships over the past 500 years.
Furthermore and on the question of terminology, by using and insisting on the term black on black violence the public discourse affirms the racial categorization of the crime as the only defining character for the violence and not the act itself. The blackness of the person is what drives the crime and not the motive. Consider, when whites commit crime and they do so against other whites the ascription is not their whiteness that drove the crime, rather a mere report on the crime itself and what happened.
More critically, is the question as to the causes of higher rates of black on black violence or for this matter colonized population exhibiting the same symptoms. For the racist, the answer is an obvious one and it is to be located in black, Native, African, Asian, Muslim, and Latino nature that reproduces this irrational violence and what is needed is an intervention to civilize them and a global rehab project to alter the biological/evolutionary defects witnessed daily.
Racist violence is akin to chemotherapy directed at a supposed cancer present in the inferior races. Thus, the problem is not in colonial violence or discourse, internal and external, rather for the racist it isto be located in the targeted populations themselves. Interventions, Whiteman’s burden, and ‘shock and awe’ are framed positively by the racist because they are intended to help civilize the savage. But if they are killed, permanently disfigured, or maimed in the process one indeed should not be taken into account just like a doctor administering a deadly medicine to cure the sick patient.
Blacks in the ‘new world’ have been living under a violent structure since the day they were captured and transformed into a commodity to be sold and bought. If one wants to locate the present violence in America’s inner cities then no need to go beyond a clear and unmistaken analysis of the torture, dehumanization, objectification and commodification of tens of millions of African Americans generation after generation until the present day. The racist offers theology, pseudoscience, culture, or any other new fashionable dumbing down contemporary coffee shop hypothesis to explain away ‘black’ and ‘colonized’ violence, but never looking at the violent structure that became productive in plantations and colonies alike.
When the slave or the colonized took the whip or the gun from the slave or colonial master’s hand they could only reproduce the violence, which they have internalized in the epistemic and constitutive relationship in the planation and colony. For sure, the master is shocked at the violent outcome because they believed all along that they have managed to ‘civilize’ the savage and brought to him/her the ‘treats’ of the good life in the same way the trainer related to the caged animal. The slave and colonized subject’s violence is the master’s own medicine that has been internalized. This more often than not tends to become more extreme in a reversal of the ‘shock and awe’ strategy deployed to bring maximum response and compliance.
Black on black/colonized on colonized violence has to be understood in relations to the racist structure that was put in place at the inception. The setting in motion of a superior and a sub-human in the slave and colonial structures results over time in an internalized devaluation and sub-humanness in the subjects themselves, which further gets played out in internal relations within the group.
When a black person looking at another black man or woman or a colonized looking at another colonized subject, the eye is seeing through the constructed and deeply internalized racial and colonial lens. Thus it reminds him/her of their inferiority and that which they are not: the superior white who is the master of the internal and external colonial. In this manner, killing another black person or colonized subject does not have the same epistemic consequences in the mind of the one committing the crime within the same group. For as far as they are concerned they are acting as the agent of the superior in eliminating the projected or historically constructed inferior.
A black on black/colonized on colonized violence is a process of killing that which reminds the self of its inferiority in the existing racial and global hierarchical structures. Just as the murdering of a black person or colonized person by the superior slave/colonial master had no consequences, the same dynamic is internalized by the subject themselves and begins to act/displayviolence in a more brazen manner because it is the only way that meaning of self-worth has been internalized and trans-historically transmitted.
The master’s power is exhibited and demonstrated through violence and an imitative and distorted sense of self-worth as a mirror opposite image of it gets reproduced by the slave and colonized. In this context, the slave and colonial institutions not only managed to dominate and control the bodies of subjects in the past but also through a mental process have been able to control present and future conduct within these communities. The perceived freedom of movement is no more than the conditioned animal that no longer needs the physical chains for control because the confinement and induced state of helplessnesshas been imprinted upon the mind.
In this process, the response to black and colonized violence is to bring in more violence and even greater deployment of ‘shock and awe’ in order to reconstitute fear and control. Notice when violence among whites takes place, be it in school or random college shootings, work place murders or war crimes it is dealt with as a unique circumstance specific to the individual or individuals involved and not projected on whites as a group or an investigation into the theology, biology or culture traits. More critically, the discussion is lead by psychologists who offer insight into the mental state of the individual, possible childhood trauma and any other factors including bullying or PTSD. What we have is an examination of causes that led the normal human being to act in an abnormal manner to cause the death of others. The approach to blacks and the colonized is illustrative since those brought to speak on the issue focus on the race, religion, culture, mode of dress, music, body size, ‘demon’ looking, drug dealing, or just walking suspiciously with a hood. None of these items can explain motives or reasons for crime since all point to a constructed racial image on the basis of which violence against communities is rationalized by that which is irrational.
As focus in Ferguson has shifted to people burning down buildings, looting and uncivilized behavior seen live on TV after the law has supposedly spoken is yet another dimension of the structure. ‘Riots’ and rebellions are the voice of the voiceless, however as a way to empty it of any context the coverage laser focus on burning buildings, cars and properties but fail to ask the important questions as to the reason behind the fires that are consuming the inner cities. Could it be biological, genetic and indicative of blacks ‘savage’ nature! If this is the case then what is needed is the animal trainer with the whip to put the ‘savage’ back in the hulls of the inner city cage. Otherwise, it will roam the streets and undue ‘civilization’ itself. The response is an internal ‘shock and awe’ to force compliance and reconstitute control at the modern inner city plantation for too much money and property are at risk to leave it to the sub-human and barbarians to determine.
Law and the legal process are born out of social, political and economic conditions. The Michael Brown verdict is an affirmation, if any is still needed, that the law is indeed blind to the structured and embedded effects of racism and the grand jury more than anything else affirmed the epistemic foundations of America’s just-us legal system. Blackness in America is ascribed with a criminal intent and even when unarmed constitutes a threat and a danger to a fully armed police officer. It is certain that Michael Brown will not be the last to be killed by a police hail of bullets since the conditions that make this possible have yet to be addressed or any attempt at scratching the surface of the problem. A real and sustained effort must be undertaken to challenge the structure at an epistemic level and bring about a reconfiguration of power relations in the society. Racism and white supremacy is vested in power and no evidence points to a change in the near future.