We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.
~~~Frantz Fanon, Provocateur.
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
~~~Martin Luther King Jr., Outside agitator.
Can liberals even hear themselves?
Yes, yes, all the liberal commentators, observers, and political operatives rightly point out that Trump incites violence with his lies and his threats and his racist dog-whistles, including calling demonstrators “thugs” and warning (with a sly and evil wink) that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
But then their narrative goes—predictably—wrong: protests against the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police are legitimate, say the commentators, observers, and political operatives, and “effective,” but a rebellion against the system of oppression (including systemic police violence) that led to the murder is inappropriate and will “never work.” Who are these people? And how do they know “what works”? Colin Kaepernick courageously took a knee years ago, and it was powerful and important, but did it “work” in their terms? Why would anyone look to the powerful for guidance on strategy and tactics? Note the framing: not a lynching by armed agents of the state, the latest in a pattern of serial-assassinations and a continual series of state-sanctioned murders, but an isolated incident. The cop in Minneapolis was a “bad apple,” they say, but this is entirely upside down: the whole barrel is rotten, the cop culture corrupt, the code of silence a license to kill, and, sure, there are likely a few random “good apples” in there, but the good apple is the exception, not the rule.
Listen up: do not tell oppressed people and the victims of white supremacy how to experience their pain, or how to protest injustice, or what to demand of the ruling class.
Oh, and furthermore, according to these commentators and operatives, the larger rebellion and the “violence” is the work of “outside agitators” with an “agenda.”
“Outside agitators,” according to the guardians of the apartheid system, were the cause of every demonstration in the 1950’s and 60’s, and the charge hurled at every Civil Rights activist and organizer. Martin Luther King Jr., was denounced daily as an outside agitator by Governor Wallace, Bull Conner, Lester Maddox, and the Chicago Tribune. How those outside agitators made it from Minneapolis to LA to NYC and back in a day remains a mystery(!).
The truth is that the lynching of George Floyd was a catalyst, but the rage boiling over, and the demands being hurled at power, are deeper and wider. As Malcolm X said in a different context: Chickens coming home to roost. This moment is a result of years of neglect, racist dehumanization, exploitation, marginalization, and oppression. We are now experiencing a crisis, a series of crises really, swirling into a widening vortex: the crisis of Trump (which is bad enough on its own), the health crisis of Covid19, the economic crisis (40 million jobs gone), and the crisis of the militarized police occupation of Black communities. Any one of these would be catastrophic in itself, but together they create a four-headed monster, connected by white supremacy.
The mood on the street is angry, yes, and energetic. The demand is justice—and in this case, justice must be understood as a verb, active and dynamic, not a noun—and the cry from the streets is, No Justice, No Peace. So in Chicago, and all over the country, public education, public health, pubic housing, public libraries, public transportation are being defunded and privatized, gutted and hollowed out, while police budgets are bloated and growing—note that hospital workers are begging for protective equipment here, while the cops show-up in the most expensive and most elaborate gear ever seen. The police are deployed everywhere for one central reason: to manage the crisis of predatory racial capitalism. One-third of Chicago’s budget for the cops. One-third!
This is a moment of reckoning. No one knows where it might go, but words matter: this is a rebellion, not a riot, a popular uprising where every assault, every grievance, every choke-hold and looting of people’s lives is on the table. Dilapidated housing and failing schools, disappearing jobs and rotten health care, and George Floyd, yes, and Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, and on and on.
Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
~~~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.