by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Blacks were righteously outraged at two horrific killings, but were then urged to stand down when a lone Black man exacted his own retribution on Dallas police officers. When activists escalated their protests, the powers-that-be and the Black Misleaders that serve them tried to change the subject to gun control. However, the problem of police shootings of Black people is not about gun control, but who controls the police.
Rulers Shocked by Dallas Attack: Black Folks Keep on Stepping
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“When murderous attack by agents of the State is a reasonable expectation, then it is totally reasonable to resist the repressive powers of that State by any means necessary.”
A week that began with the Black American psyche shocked and strained to its very limits by the outrageous police murders of Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, ended with a white mayor claiming absolution for his city and, by extension, white U.S. society in general. “We did nothing wrong. Dallas is very, very good,” Mayor Mike Rawlings told an event honoring the five cops killed by 25 year-old Black Army veteran Micah Xavier Johnson. “I am in awe of our police officers.”
President Obama nodded in agreement. He had come to preach the gospel of irresistible American progress and of moral equivalence between master and slave, and between Micah Johnson, who struck at armed members of a police department that is statistically no less lethal in its treatment of Blacks than most of its big city peers, despite all the praised heaped on its Black chief, and Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston. “We know there is evil in this world. That's why we need police departments,” said Obama, who was joined at the ceremony by George W. Bush, a president infamous for waging endless war against “evil doers.”
The New York Times was eager to issue an obituary for the movement that has been percolating since a Florida vigilante gunned down Trayvon Martin in 2012. “Black Lives Matter Was Gaining Ground,” read the headline on Sunday, July 10, but “...Then a Sniper Opened Fire.” According to the twisted logic of the ruling class “paper of record,” “Mr. Johnson’s actions could jeopardize the movement’s appeal to a broader group of Americans who have gradually become more sympathetic to its cause after years of highly publicized police shootings.” Translation: The purpose of Black people’s movements is to garner white support. Therefore, protesters must stand down in deference to white sensibilities, lest they be suspected of collectively empathizing with Mr. Johnson.
“The world witnessed the young mother’s miraculous presence of mind as she streamed online to call for help for her dying boyfriend, strapped in his seat at her side.”
But Black people and their allies refused to stand down. In Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Nashville, Phoenix, San Francisco – and, of course, in greater Minneapolis and Baton Rouge, the scenes of the crimes – thousands took to the streets to express their righteous, disciplined rage. Many of these protests have continued, day after day and night after night, inspired by the remarkable example of Lavish “Diamond” Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile. The world witnessed the young mother’s miraculous presence of mind as she streamed online to call for help for her dying boyfriend, strapped in his seat at her side; alerted the community to the unprovoked nature of the attack by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, verbally confronting the killer cop and correcting his version of the shooting; and, managed to somehow preserve her own life and that of her four-year-old daughter, sitting in the back seat. The crazed and cursing cop kept his weapon trained on Castile, Reynolds and little Dae’Anna, the whole time.
Reynolds’ steely, heroic composure can only be understood in the particular context of a U.S. criminal justice system whose mission is to contain, control, terrorize and criminalize Blacks as a people. This mass Black incarceration regime has been in place for two generations. Reynolds was born into it, and knew deep down and instinctively that what occurred last Wednesday could reasonably be expected to happen to a Black couple and their child who were doing nothing wrong. She exhibited the kind of courage and control that no one should be required to possess. Reynolds bore the common burden that is inflicted by the U.S. State on 40 million Black people. When murderous attack by agents of the State is a reasonable expectation, then it is totally reasonable to resist the repressive powers of that State by any means necessary.
The Minnesota cop’s lawyer maintains that “the shooting had nothing to do with race and everything to do with the presence of that gun” – the registered gun Mr. Castile told the officer he legally possessed, and which he never reached for or touched, as Ms. Reynolds explained in her emergency call to the world. The cop is preparing a defense based on the police formula: Black Man + Gun = Death.
“No matter what gun laws exist in a jurisdiction, possession of a gun by a Black person – or the rumor of a gun – is a capital offense everywhere in the United States.”
It is the operative equation in every jurisdiction in America. A homeless man who had been begging Alton Sterling for money reportedly told police that Sterling had a gun on his person, thereby authorizing his execution under the formula – although Sterling never brandished a weapon at the two Baton Rouge police and was immobilized when repeatedly shot point blank, after which the weapon was removed from his pocket.
No matter what gun laws exist in a jurisdiction, possession of a gun by a Black person – or the rumor of a gun – is a capital offense everywhere in the United States. The problem of police shootings of Black people is not about gun control, but who controls the police. When President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus attempted to throw gun control laws into the mix, last week, they were trying to change the subject.
They are also cynical liars and hypocrites. North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield, the current chairman of the Black Caucus, called a diversionary press conference the day after the armed assault on the Dallas police, attempting to link the gun control debate to both the police killings of Castile and Sterling and Micah Johnson’s retaliatory killing of cops: “Republicans, what on earth — why are you recoiling and not giving us a debate on gun violence?” The legislation the CBC and Obama support is irrelevant to the question of police violence against Blacks, or the Black response to that violence.
What is relevant to the discussion is Obama’s and the Black Caucus’ huge role in the militarization of local police. With the exception of Michigan’s John Conyers, every Caucus member that attended Rep. Butterfield’s press conference voted against the Grayson Amendment that would have halted Pentagon transfers of weapons and military gear to local departments when the measure came up for a full House vote in June of 2014 – two months before Michael Brown was gunned down by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri. Conyers was joined in his support for the amendment by only seven other CBC members. Thirty-two members – 80 percent of the CBC – either opposed the Grayson Amendment, or abstained, which amounts to the same thing. No wonder their notions of gun control have nothing to do with controlling police gun crimes; they are complicit in those crimes.
“Pentagon transfers to local police increased every year under Obama, reaching a ‘crescendo’ in 2014.”
President Obama made a big splash when he announced, under pressures from an aroused Black populace, that he would put restraints on federal militarization of local police, last year. However, Obama had already done more than any other president, by far, to narrow the line between soldier and cop. Pentagon transfers to local police increased every year under Obama, reaching a “crescendo” in 2014, at the very time events in Ferguson revealed to the world the militarized nature of U.S. policing. The Ferguson cops were playing with Obama’s toys. It is as silly to praise Obama for reducing Pentagon transfers to local police (from his own high levels of arms transfers) as it is to give Obama credit for winding down the Afghanistan war, since he “surged” tens of thousands of additional troops into the country before he finally brought the numbers down. In other words, Obama merely reduced his own Afghanistan troop increases, just as he reduced his own surge of weapons to local police. He’s an international and domestic warmonger.
In Baton Rouge, where hundreds have been arrested in protests over Alton Sterling’s murder, it is as if Ferguson never happened. According to a report by Prof. Bob Quigley in this issue of BAR, riot clad police are pointing lethal weapons at protesters, bystanders and journalists, deploying military-type vehicles, and conducting blanket area sweeps with no visible regard for law or civil liberties. Corporate media excuse the Baton Rouge police behavior as an understandable reaction to the Dallas police deaths. The New York Times has not asked the cops to stand down.
President Obama sings his usual song about America constantly improving itself – which is simply false. “When we start suggesting that somehow there is this enormous polarization and we’re back to the situation in the 1960s — that’s just not true,” Obama said, this weekend. “You’re not seeing riots, and you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully.” (Tell that to folks in Baton Rouge.)
“In Baton Rouge, where hundreds have been arrested in protests over Alton Sterling’s murder, it is as if Ferguson never happened.”
The times may not resemble the Sixties, but the Dallas shootings “bear eerie similarities” to Mark Essex’s killing of five New Orleans police officers and four white civilians, plus the wounding of seven other cops, from his perch atop the Howard Johnson’s Hotel, in 1973. An update from the New Orleans Times-Picayune explains that 23 year-old Essex, who had been in the Navy, was motivated by the recent police killings of two Black Southern University students.
Gil Scott-Heron, the late musician-poet, dedicated his spoken word poem “Siege of New Orleans” to Mark Essex’s day of retaliation. On his song “Inner City Blues,” Scott-Heron mixes the “Siege” with his version of Marvin Gaye’s “Make Me Wanna Holler.” (Click HERE for the video) Here are the words:
Did you ever hear about Mark Essex and the things that made him choose to fight the inner city blues
Yeah, Essex took to the rooftops guerilla style and watched while all the crackers went wild
Brought in 600 troops, brand new I hear, to see them crushed with fear
Essex fought back with a thousand rounds and New Orleans was a changing town
Rat a tat tat tat was the only sound, yeah
Bring on the stone rifles to knock down walls
Bring on the elephant guns
Bring on the helicopters to block out the sun
Yeah, made the devil wanna holler cause 8 was dead and a dozen was down
Cries for freedom were a brand new sound
New York, Chicago, Frisco, LA
Justice was served and the unjust were afraid
Because in spite of all the years and all the fears
Brothers were alive to courage found and spreading them goddamn rules around
Yeah, make you wanna holler black people and hold up both your hands and say
If Gil Scott-Heron were alive, today, Obama might put him on his Tuesday night Kill List. Two generations removed from both mass movement politics and any real discussion of oppressed people’s moral and legal right to resist, most Black folks today don’t know quite what to say about Micah Johnson’s act of self-sacrifice and revenge. But many do feel a sense of grim exhilaration.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].