“In Self Defense,” A.B. Frost, Harper’s Weekly (October 28, 1876)
(1934) W.E.B. Du Bois, “A Negro Nation Within a Nation”
The colored people of America are coming to face the fact quite calmly that most white Americans do not like them, and are planning neither for their survival, nor for their definite future if it involves free, self-assertive modern manhood. This does not mean all Americans. A saving few are worried about the Negro problem; a still larger group are not ill-disposed, but they fear prevailing public opinion. The great mass of Americans are, however, merely representatives of average humanity. They muddle along with their own affairs and scarcely can be expected to take seriously the affairs of strangers or people whom they partly fear and partly despise.
For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders that this attitude was the insensibility of ignorance and inexperience, that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro. Accordingly, for the lat two decades, we have striven by book and periodical, by speech and appeal, by various dramatic methods of agitation, to put the essential facts before the American people. Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.
A Report from Occupied Territory, James Baldwin, The Nation (July 11, 1966)
You will note that there is not a suggestion of any kind of appeal to justice, and no suggestion of any recompense for the grave and gratuitous damage which this man has endured. His tone is simply the tone of one who has miraculously survived—he might have died; as it is, he is merely half blind. You will also note that the patch over his eye has had the effect of making him, more than ever, the target of the police. It is a dishonorable wound, not earned in a foreign jungle but in the domestic one—not that this would make any difference at all to the nevertheless insuperably patriotic policeman—and it proves that he is a “bad nigger.” (“Bad niggers,” in America, as elsewhere, have always been watched and have usually been killed.) The police, who have certainly done their best to kill him, have also provided themselves with a pretext derisoire by filing three criminal charges against him. He is charged with beating up a schoolteacher, upsetting a fruit stand, and assaulting the (armed) police. Furthermore, he did all of these things in the space of a single city block, and simultaneously….
This is why those pious calls to “respect the law,” always to be heard from prominent citizens each time the ghetto explodes, are so obscene. The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.
Last week, a group of legal experts ruled the November 2014 police shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice “objectively reasonable.” Rice was shot as he sat in a local park, near the recreation center where he frequently played, holding a pellet gun. When officers responded to 911 calls that a “guy was sitting in the park pointing a gun at people,” they did not know that 195-pound Tamir Rice was only 12….
It is entirely unreasonable for a young boy, someone’s child, to end up dead at the hands of law enforcement when he did not objectively pose a threat. He was a child playing with a toy. In a park. That is what children do. There was nothing unreasonable about his activities. He was playing with a gun openly in an open-carry state. He was playing with his gun in a gun-driven national culture that does not think the killings of innocent college students or little children warrant more robust gun control laws.
The plot of one of our iconic American movies, “A Christmas Story,” is about a nine-year old boy wanting nothing more for Christmas than a “Red Ryder air rifle.” In the film, the adults in his life repeatedly warn Raphie, the protagonist, that he’ll “shoot his eye out,” with the weapon. Many adults who saw Tamir Rice the day he was killed warned him to be careful with his toy gun, too. The adults in Tamir Rice’s life weren’t worried that he would harm himself, but rather that the police would “reasonably” assess the 12 year old to be a dangerous criminal.
The legal murder of Tamir Rice, Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is where my own questions begin: Is our tolerance for the lethal violence of the police rooted in the fact that lethal violence in our society is relatively common? Put differently, murder in America is much more common than in other developed countries. Is this how we have made our peace with that fact? Our world is, in some real sense, more dangerous. In recognition of this, have we basically said to the police, “Do what you will?” And in the case of Stand Your Ground, has this “Do what you will” ethic even extended to the citizenry? And if that is the case, then is there a line that can be drawn from Tamir Rice to Walter Scott to Sandy Hook to Trayvon Martin?
The Paranoid Style of American Policing, Ta-Nehisi Coates
When policing is delegitimized, when it becomes an occupying force, the community suffers. The neighbor-on-neighbor violence in Chicago, and in black communities around the country, is not an optical illusion. Policing is (one) part of the solution to that violence. But if citizens don’t trust officers, then policing can’t actually work. And in Chicago, it is very hard to muster reasons for trust.
When Bettie Jones’s brother displays zero confidence in an investigation into the killing of his sister, he is not being cynical. He is shrewdly observing a government that executed a young man and sought to hide that fact from citizens. He is intelligently assessing a local government which, for two decades,ran a torture ring. What we have made of our police departments America, what we have ordered them to do, is a direct challenge to any usable definition of democracy. A state that allows its agents to kill, to beat, to tase, without any real sanction, has ceased to govern and has commenced to simply rule.
Who will fight when the cops run in guns blazing without regard or care for the lives they have been called to protect and serve?
The answer is no one. No one will fight for us. And when we fight for ourselves, they kill us for that, too. When we stand up and decry injustice, our rage becomes the pretext for even more state-sanctioned violence, repression, and disenfranchisement.
We’ve said it all before. At this point, White Americans know the racial refuse of this nation is a stinking, rotting sore. But far too many of them continue to walk around acting, as the country folks of my youth would say, as if their shit don’t stink. For those of us who view Black lives as something more than the incidentally odoriferous fertilizer for white supremacy, the stench of rotting Black flesh is almost too much bear.