Thoughts on What Comes Next After Ferguson (A.F.)–Part 1

The police murder, no the summary execution, of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri shortly after midday on August 9, 2014 has to be the final straw. The murder of unarmed young black youth, especially young black males, in the United States is a national pandemic. The executions of Michael Brown, following upon that of Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant, and many hundreds or even thousands more from the last year; testify bloodily to the delusion behind liberal declarations that the Age of Obama is the beginning of a post-racial era in the U.S. Similarly, the deaths of these young people of color mocks the recent Pharrell Williams statement to Oprah on the arrival of the “New Black” who doesn’t see race because:

“The new black doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The new black dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on.”[1]

Indeed the very context behind that statement cannot avoid the omnipresence of melanin pigmentation as the phenotypical coding for the racial caste system under American white supremacy. Pharrell Williams dwells in that rarified air as one of the wealthiest African-American entertainers in the country, and it is disheartening that he eschews solidarity with young black brothers and sisters whose only crime is that they happen to have been born black in America and suffer the full weight of this America’s deeply racist society. What is especially dismaying about the articulated feelings of Pharrell, likely shared by some of the other sadly small number of African-Americans who have real wealth and economic security, is that their laughable assertion of a “New Black” heralding a post-racial American society gives cover to white America’s indifference and hostility towards black life. For not only is the routine, oft-unprovoked, and deadly violence American police forces nationwide mete out daily to persons of color, especially youths, a pandemic; the status quo mocks every pious assertion (almost always from white persons from varied walks of life) invoking the American civic religion and its rhetoric of American exceptionalism. For there can be no pretense of liberty, justice, and equality for all—real or imagined—so long as the police act like fascist stormtroopers at the tip of the blood-soaked spear of white supremacy directed at inherently precious black life. And neither should such delusional and mendaciously platitudinous be spoken without immediate challenge and condemnation anywhere so long as this murderous status quo continues, even should a faint facsimile of it continue. Both the statistics and the context behind them are utterly damning.

 

The best, and yet still incomplete, statistics on police homicides of black males come from the FBI. The most recent FBI figures from 2012 are gathered monthly from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies at the state and local levels and then compiled into the Uniform Crime Reporting System. The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) likely undercounts officer-involved homicide because that category is treated differently from a normal homicide; the killing of a felon “in the line of duty” by a police officer receives the designation of “justifiable homicide” (though it is also important to note that this classification is not used by the courts).[2] A supplemental homicide count, called the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR), involving fewer than the 18,000 plus agencies which supply raw figures for the UCR. The FBI ordinarily does not publish the full results of the SHR, but criminologists agree that the SHR data strongly suggests that UCR figures for officer-involved homicides are only a bare minimum. The FBI’s UCR listed 426 “justifiable homicide” victims for 2012 implicated 631 officers in the deaths: a clear indication that many victims received shots from multiple cops. The 426 figure breaks down such that 1/3 of the victims are black, despite the black population in the United States only being 12% of the total population.[3] The data further suggests that most white victims at the hands of officers likely are killed when police are intervening in an ongoing domestic disturbance; Hispanic and especially black police victims disproportionately skew younger and disproportionately involve young men of color who are unarmed.

 

Numerous non-governmental organizations and community groups have combed through news reports and police records in many U.S. cities; and their efforts have overwhelmingly supported observations that the FBI datasets are woefully incomplete, especially when counting black victims of police shootings.

 

One such group, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a nationwide antiracist and anti-police brutality organization, conducted a study covering the first six months of 2012 finding that one black person dies at the hands of security or law enforcement every 36 hours—with the rate likely to be much higher given more systematic data collection.[4] The introduction to the July 2012 report of MXGM previewed findings later in the report demonstrating that the “use of deadly force against Black people is standard practice in the United States, and woven into the very fabric of the society.”[5] Until recently, these routine and extrajudicial[6] executions have rarely received coverage from the national corporate media. Even when these heinous acts do receive media attention; the context of systemic racism, national oppression, and structural inequality that suffuse the 21st century experience for the average Black American are nearly always ignored.[7] The mainstream media instead repeats a familiar refrain singing:

 

“The praises of the police and read[ing] from the same script that denounces the alleged ‘thuggery’ of the deceased. Sadly, too many people [mainly white people—both those who are actively racist and others completely indifferent or oblivious to the gratuitous and unjustified violence against blacks] believe the police version of events and the media’s ‘blame-the-victim’ narratives that justify and support these extrajudicial killings.”[8]

 

In contrast to the FBI statistics mentioned earlier in this essay, MXGM research subsequent to the July 2012 report credibly suggests that the rate of the murder of black, mostly unarmed, civilians at the hands of law enforcement, security, and/or vigilantes like George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn is much higher. This subsequent research appearing in the MXGM report “Operation Ghetto Storm” indicates a nationwide average death rate for black civilians by police as one death every 28 hours.[9] This more comprehensive report indicts the entire political system of the United States, as the facts of violence against blacks demonstrates that the United States maintains one of the most repressive societies in the world. In fact, the “rates of extrajudicial killings [in] the U.S. rival only those perpetrated against the Indigenous peoples of Palestine, Mexico, Guatemala, and the Amazonian region, [as well as] African-descendants in Brazil and Colombia.”[10] Genuine and vibrant democratic societies do not, the report says, spend a combined 50%+ of their government budgets on militaries, law enforcement and prisons.

 

The embarrassing dissonance between, on the one hand, America’s democratic rhetoric and self-image, and the continued structural racial violence, on the other, has long figured into American policymaking. Specifically, the persistence of racial violence which remained codified in law through Jim Crow-style apartheid threatened the credibility of U.S. international diplomacy even at the height of American power at the conclusion of World War II. This persistent racism stems largely from the fact that the U.S. was the first and still is the most powerful modern European settler-colonial project [with the former Afrikaaner-ruled apartheid South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), British Kenya, colonial Angola, French Central and West Africa, Mauritius, French Algeria, and the ongoing Zionist settlement of Palestine being other prominent historical and contemporaneous examples]. The civil rights movement, which the returning expatriate[11] literary figure and public intellectual James Baldwin dubbed the Second Great Slave Rebellion,[12] only succeeded in rolling back the formal apartheid system of Jim Crow in the states of the old Southern Confederacy. African-Americans received some rights via the legal enforcement of anti-discrimination cases under Commerce Clause protections, educational reforms based on Brown vs. Board of Education, and the passage of national legislation. The most important legislative actions included The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, The Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, and The Fair Housing Act of 1968. Additionally, beginning late in the abbreviated John F. Kennedy (JFK) Administration, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) belatedly yet dramatically awakened to the gravity of the problem of southern white violence against black civil rights protestors during the 1961 Freedom Riders protests. Subsequently, federal government reaction reached its apex with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s aggressive civil rights program attached to the Great Society. Most narratives discussing the U.S. civil rights movement emphasize domestic actions, especially the visionary civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as well as heroic non-violent public protest.[13] Yet, from the end of World War II all the way through until the beginning of the 1980s; the maintenance of the national image abroad and the need to use American prestige to curry favor during the long Cold War played a decisive role in pushing the U.S. federal government to act against domestic U.S. racial apartheid. As noted historian and Black Internationalist Gerald Horne has observed:

 

“Above all, one cannot begin to understand U.S. foreign policy during this century without contemplating race and racism, just as one cannot begin to understand the ebb and flow of race and racism in this nation without contemplating the global context.”[14]

 

Gerald Horne may be the most prominent current historian marking the intersection of foreign affairs, international relations, and race issues; but, although his tradition of Black Internationalism had lapsed in recent decades, the themes in Horne’s work have had earlier incarnations even if these themes did not receive systematic treatment. Figures from across the African Diaspora have been incisive and even prophetic in elucidating the themes of race and international relations. Work from W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, C.L.R. James, James Baldwin, Franz Fanon, and Walter Rodney has provided a strong, if not always properly recognized, foundation for research. Even the economist Gunnar Myrdal recognized in the years after World War II how much racism impeded postwar prospects for real material progress in human development. The global foundation for a more internationalized conception of African liberation, including African-Americans in the U.S., now exists and urgently needs expansion in light of what the events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought back into mainstream consciousness. Such a revived internationalized conception represents the most important plank systematizing global struggles against the persistent and ugly realities of white supremacy. And despite the granting of formal legal rights to persons of color in the United States, continued structural socio-economic inequalities and systematic police violence and judicial oppression directed towards black youth both urgently require action. Like past struggles against entrenched racism, the current post-Ferguson political moment requires an organized international effort in defense of black peoples facing off against white supremacy.

 

In Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 I will be examining more specific dimensions of internationalizing the struggle for real political justice in the emerging post-Ferguson moment. Part 2 will look at the impact of African decolonization movement and its impact on both the prosecution of the Cold War and the closely related developments in the Civil Rights movement that overthrow the formal U.S. Jim Crow regime. Part 3 will examine the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, and how solidarity between black South Africans and African-Americans ultimately led to the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as President. Part 4 will examine the rather severe and often-overlooked failure of white liberal politics in America focusing specifically on the era beginning with the presidency JFK and continuing until that of Barack Obama. And finally, Part 5 will weave together the relevant themes to propose a concrete strategic vision and specific tactical steps.

[1] Brian Ives, “Howard University Professor Isn’t Super Impressed with Pharrell Williams’ ‘New Black’ Comments,” Radio.com, June 18, 2014, http://radio.com/2014/06/18/howard-university-professor-isnt-super-impressed-with-pharrell-williams-new-black-comments/ (accessed August 21, 2014).

[2] Dara Lind, “What we know about who police kill in America,” Vox , August 21, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/8/21/6051043/how-many-people-killed-police-statistics-homicide-official-black (accessed August 21, 2014).

[3] Dara Lind, “What we know about who police kill in America,” Vox , August 21, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/8/21/6051043/how-many-people-killed-police-statistics-homicide-official-black (accessed August 21, 2014).

[4] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), “Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security, and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers, January 1 – June 30, 2012,” Report of the “No More Trayvon Martins Campaign” (July 2012). Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07_24_Report_all_rev_protected.pdf. (accessed August 21, 2014).

[5] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), “Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security, and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers, January 1 – June 30, 2012,” Report of the “No More Trayvon Martins Campaign” (July 2012). Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07_24_Report_all_rev_protected.pdf. (accessed August 21, 2014).

[6] My italics.

[7] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), “Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security, and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers, January 1 – June 30, 2012,” Report of the “No More Trayvon Martins Campaign” (July 2012). Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07_24_Report_all_rev_protected.pdf. (accessed August 21, 2014).

[8] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), “Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security, and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers, January 1 – June 30, 2012,” Report of the “No More Trayvon Martins Campaign” (July 2012). Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07_24_Report_all_rev_protected.pdf. (accessed August 21, 2014).

[9] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Viglantes, Annual (www.mxgm.org, 2012), Page 3. Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Operation-Ghetto-Storm.pdf (accessed August 21, 2014).

[10] Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Viglantes, Annual (www.mxgm.org, 2012), Pages 3-4. Also accessible online at http://mxgm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Operation-Ghetto-Storm.pdf (accessed August 21, 2014).

[11] Although I used the term “expatriate,” it is important to note that James Baldwin—both in print, essays, and in recorded interviews—was at pains to stress that in many respects the African-American who flees the United States for Europe or other foreign countries was not an “expatriate” in anything remotely like the same way.

[12] Claire Burch, The James Baldwin Anthology, performed by James Baldwin, U.C. Berekley Campus, Berekley, 1979. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7Of0Abi10A (accessed August 22, 2014).

[13] See John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 9th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2010). See also the trilogy authored by Taylor Branch. Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1989). Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1999). Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68, Reprint Edition (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007).

[14] Gerald Horne, “Race from power: U.S. foreign policy and the general crisis of “white supremacy”,” ed. The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), Diplomatic History (Blackwell Publishers) 23, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 438.

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