Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Eric Garner in New York didn’t have to die. Before some of you begin to respond with “they shouldn’t have gotten arrested,” being arrested has never meant an automatic termination of life. Okay, Gray and Garner both engaged in activities that violated the criminal law. Is there a new standard in America now that says a violation of the criminal law automatically results in the dissolution of an individual’s life? Well, in the cases of Gray and Garner, the police officers involved in their murders acted as if the answer is yes.
Are the murders of Gray and Garner all about race? No. Race did play an important factor but what happened to them is just as much about class and gender. First, let me disabuse some of the false notion that just because there were a few black cops involved in Freddie Gray’s murder this effaces any connections between race and his death. Black people are just as much capable of internalizing and employing racist ideology as anyone else. Too often, when many blacks ascend to positions of power, they allow power to cause them to willing abandon their relation to the history and cultural experience of black people in America. Historical and cultural amnesia can result in a black person becoming just as racist, discriminatory and dangerous as any white supremacist. Therefore, miss me with the faulty argument that race cannot be substantively involved in Gray’s murder.
In both cases, a racial and racist discourse informed the police officers involved. Most police officers across the country are doing a great job protecting and serving Americans. A small, yet significant percentage of police officers have declared open season on black males. The majority of these black males being murdered by unscrupulous white police officers come from low-income backgrounds. For these white officers, they see this intersection of race, gender and class in the context of poor black males as dangerous. Poor black males are disposable and burdens to society in their eyes.
All black boys and men’s lives matter. Yes, all lives matter. Right now, too many police officers fail to see the value of the lives of black males, which is why serious social, political, and civil and human rights activists should continue to emphasize that black lives matter. Unfortunately, the “all lives matter” campaign incongruously leads to black lives, especially black male lives, getting lost in the “all” of the “all lives matter” campaign.
If you don’t want to see anymore Ferguson and Baltimore riots in any other areas across the nation, then it’s imperative for a small percentage of corrupt and racist police officers across the nation to discontinue unjustly murdering unarmed black males who don’t pose an imminent threat to them. Both black-led peaceful protests and riots in areas affected by unmerited killings of black males is increasingly engendering new black resistance movements. Although peace is a significant dimension of these new black resistance movements, retaliatory violence and vandalism are painful and costly aspects of these movements.
No longer are numerous black people across the nation succumbing to docile acceptance of unwarranted killings of their black boys and men. Many are communicating that they will meet unwarranted police murders of black lives with collective outrage and vandalism, and some are expressing that they will take the lives of white officers as a form of recompense for killing unarmed black males. These new black resistance movements are best encapsulated and delineated by Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die.” In the poem, McKay posits that if black people are going to die at the hands of their white oppressors, then they will die fighting back zealously and aggressively. Black people have never been weak—don’t expect this to ever change! If necessary, many blacks will continue to take justice into their own hands until their collective lives are valued much more.
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison