My penpal, Lacino Hamilton, just sent me this article he wrote (here’s his last one I posted) after watching the national protests against police on TV. He and I agree on essentially every issue, so if you want to read more of his published work, this is a link to his articles on Truthout. As always, I have not edited or changed any of his writing for this post.
I am fed up with President Trump’s resurgent nativism, racism, and misogyny. I acknowledge he is an incurious person who is grossly under-informed. But are his tweets helpful right now? “When the looting starts the shooting starts.” I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was unaware of the racist origins of that saying. During times of national crises the president traditionally tries to be a unifier, tries to be a healer, “the consoler in chief,” not a provacator.
I admit the protests are not elegant, but neither was Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd until he died. At this point protests are not even about George Floyd. His murder was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Which is why blaming increased levels of anger and commitment on “outside agitators” rather than on the mammoth problems of state appropriation of community competencies and police violence is a clear indication of either not caring, or confusion about the extent of police violence.
Media descriptions have been filled with selective emphasis on the more sensational elements: large scale demonstrations, looting, buildings burning, paramilitary policing including the imposition of curfew, and mass arrest. But if America is to understand the meaning of all this, America must understand what is happening. The protests have an underlying drive, a basic logic: relying on so-called peaceful tactics and cajoling political units to stop police from brutalizing and murdering black people does not work.
What is so compelling about nonviolent tactics as to justify continued allegiance to them when they have done little prevent police from routinely treating black people live black lives do not matter? Tens of thousands of sad, hurting, and angry people, black and white, in cities all across the country, have poured into the streets, sick-and-tired-of-being-tired after a video goes viral hearing people in positions of power feign how bad they feel about steadily worsening conditions of policing in black neighborhoods.
It does not make a difference if someone only cares after the fact, or because they want the protests to stop. Those same people do not seem to care that despite undeniable progress for many, racism refuses to fade, along with the deeply embedded policing practices that support it. Indeed, the racism that made the criminalization of blacks go hand in hand with the “zero tolerance” or “broken windows approach” to policing, is far from dead. What many designate as “racial progress” is not a solution to that problem. It is a regeneration of the problem in particularly perverse form: police have the power to get away with murdering black people, particularly black men.
Black people in America are oppressed in every sense of the term. Black people need to actually go beyond protest, which do not constitute a program, and develop functional machinery that is able to eliminate police abuse and murder which, strictly speaking, make up the total situation in America. This is what’s required if protests and demonstrations are to be relevant to the needs of black communities.
Protesters cannot be complacent. They must seek to expose and cut away those aspects of America that oppress black people. If for no other reason, protesters cannot accept the constraints imposed on them, nor be modeled after what is acceptable to those doing or complicit with what happened to George Floyd.
The function of protests must be to create enemies of oppression, enemies of racism, enemies of institutions that have to be told that state sponsored abuse and murder is wrong. This is a transformative task which requires protesters to be totally autonomous and self-governing, to turn protests into political bases for organizing the black community, and beyond.
This is exactly the kind of activity that protesters should always have in the forefront of their thoughts—what is next? All mass action, rather it is spontaneous or planned, must be based not only on what is happening at that very moment, but how to build dialogue and create space and opportunity to meet this condition—no matter how large or militant it or they may be—is almost certainly doomed to failure. Organize.