In the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson there has been a week of civil unrest. This is includes, but is not limited to, blockaded highways, mass transit interruptions, buildings burned, and large mobilizations of protesters. In light of this unrest, and the knowledge produced by organic intellectuals (see report below), the following claims should be taken in earnest:
First, Mike Brown was lynched
Second, police terror in the United States is genocide.
I am not being dramatic; I’m not just trying to grab your attention. I don’t mean these claims metaphorically or rhetorically. If only I was. Rather, I mean these phrases sincerely and I think it is time for academics and philosophers to use them earnestly too. It is time for all of us to use them unapologetically and without equivocation. It is time to use them as the framework for our analyses unapologetically and without equivocation.
Mike Brown was lynched. The fact that his murderer was an officer of the law does not work against the claim of lynching. Indeed, it the essence of the claim.
After the civil war slavery was abolished in the public realm and ushered into criminal law and punishment. We can thank the 13th amendment for that. The fallout of this sleight of hand is complex, breaking off into many different areas like the rapid forming cracks of a dropped mirror. But for the sake of clarity, let us trace one of those cracks.
It is, in some sense, a historical metonymy. The slave catcher hunts down the fugitive slave. The deputy and police officer hunts down the unemployed black freeman for convict labor. The semi-legal vigilante hunts down the black citizen to violently enforce both community mores and laws. The police occupy economically devastated neighborhoods, hunting down suspected criminals using “stop and frisk” techniques and “predictive policing models.” In all of these instances, the law has the absolute right over the life and death of the black community and wields it without fear of reprisal. This is the essence of any racist state.
The march of history does not negate what comes before. Rather, it builds on it otherwise. It iterates and moves by vicissitude. Darren Wilson’s function in the community of Ferguson is that of the slave catcher, the vigilante, and the police all at once. His murder of Mike Brown is extra-juridical because the law disavows it. Mike Brown’s murder is invisible to the law as murder and as such outside the law. The deed of his murder becomes legally erased. His murderer is freed from even the possibility of guilt of that deed. It is a second life for Wilson; it is a second death for Mike Brown.
This is not because of the particular circumstances of the case. Rather, this is true because it was a lynching. Lynching is outside of American law because it is its unacknowledged center. The law cannot put itself on trial, especially when addressing the race making violence that founds it. Everything else follows from that.
The fact that this violence has moved into the bureaucratic caverns of the criminal justice labyrinth does not make it less racist. Rather, it only demonstrates the racist nature of the criminal justice system, and the brazenness with which the institutions in the this country have embraced the logic of dehumanization.
Police terror in black and brown neighborhoods is genocide. Yes, genocide.
This claim does not originate from me. Rather, it was the basis of a report presented to the UN by the Chicago youth organization We Charge Genocide. This report centered on police brutality in Chicago. For those who do not know, Chicago is city marred by a history of redlining and police torture (Jon Burge). It is a city beset by the same rust-belt problems as St. Louis. And its segregated and economically devastated neighborhoods often act as open air prisons for those who cannot afford transit fare. Many youth I work with have barely been out of their neighborhoods, for example. It is a city where black youth protest by calling out the names of those lost to police terror. It is a city where the youth actively call for the abolition of the police.
Here are some facts from the report they presented to the UN. In 2011 there were 25,111 youth arrests in Chicago. 77% of the youth arrested were Black. In 2012, it was 79%. Black citizens are 10 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a White Citizen. From 2009-2013, 75.3% of all police shooting victims were black. Add to this the fact that the youth sent to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center for 2013 were 97% black and brown. Chicago Public Schools are 90.8% Black and Brown. This is to say nothing of the numbers of youth and adults subjected to the degradation of stop and frisk policies in poor black and brown communities.
Also from the report:
“Three police cars arrived on the scene, and police jumped out of their cars with guns drawn, and Roshad ran. Police chase Roshad through an alley onto the back porch of a house. Several people heard Roshad say, “Please don’t shoot, please don’t kill me, I don’t have a gun.” People saw him with his hands up when the police shot Roshad 5 times and killed him…[P]olice said Roshad had a gun and had pointed it at officers from the second floor of the porch. Yet people who saw it said he did not have a gun, and told police he didn’t have a gun. Furthermore, police only claimed they found a gun 3 hours after killing him. When people gathered to protest afterwards, police were cruel, violent and threatening.”
There are hundreds of “Mike Browns” a year. These lynchings occur in a context of police terror. Yes, terror. These occupations are part of a low intensity warfare against poor black and brown communities, also known as the “war on drugs.” This occupation is racially motivated and results in the extra-juridical murders of black and brown youth, many of whom experience a second death. Their names only kept by those close to them and the radical youth who revive their names in protest.
This is neither the first time the charge of genocide has been made, nor the first time it has been presented to the UN. In 1951:
“Out of the inhuman black ghettos of American cities, out of the cotton plantations of the South, comes this record of mass slayings on the basis of race, of lives deliberately warped and distorted by the willful creation of conditions making for premature death, poverty and disease., It is a record that calls aloud for condemnation, for an end to these terrible injustices that constitute a daily and ever-increasing violation of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide…
…We shall prove that the object of this genocide, as of all genocide, is the perpetuation of economic and political power by the few through the destruction of political protest by the many. Its method is to demoralize and divide an entire nation; its end is to increase the profits and unchallenged control by a reactionary clique. We shall show that those responsible for this crime are not the humble but the so-called great, not the American people but their misleaders, not the convict but the robed judge, not the criminal but the police, not the spontaneous mob but organized terrorists licensed and approved by the state to incite to a Roman holiday.”
Black and Brown communities are occupied by a violent force. This occupation reduces the opportunities of their life course, employment, housing, education, their life expectancy, and sense of physical safety. It increases their chances of incarceration, forced separation from family and community (diaspora), extra-legal murder, mental illness, unemployment, involvement in child welfare agencies, and eviction. This is not partitioned out equally. It is starkly distributed along the axis of race. It is time we called it what it is.
The lynchings and terror, which are enacted in areas of extreme segregation, are part of the project of Mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is a historical form of trauma. It is a both a repetition of the nation’s founding in the violent dehumanization of black slaves for the absolute extraction of surplus value and it is also a source of traumatizing violence in the present. As Michelle Alexander and Angela Davis, among others, have demonstrated, Mass incarceration is the latest iteration of the new world project of racism. It is the newest form of controlling, incarcerating, and retaining the right over life and death of the Black population in the United States.
The question that emerges clearly, for me at least, is which side are you on?