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Respectability Politics, Revolution, and defending Black, Brown, and Indigenous life

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On July 7 Philander Castile’s mother provided a prime example of respectability politics when it comes to the black experience. While the state was denying obvious facts of foul play, Facebook played their almost expected role as accomplice in covering up police murders. Castile’s mother said, “He’s not a thug, he’s very respectable.”

There are millions of families impacted by excessive police violence, my own included, however I wonder about the dynamics and teaching that has been provided to us in order to tow-the-line with this misconduct and murder.

I imagine that Tevin Louis‘ family felt the same way. Tevin was 19 when he was charged for the murder of his friend Marquise Sampson. This friend was in fact shot by a police officer. Antonio Dicarlo admitted to shooting Marquise, but because of the felony murder rule – if an official source (in this case the arresting officer) can link your behavior as a contributing factor in getting another person killed it makes you culpable.

eric garner

A Staten Island grand jury ended the criminal case against a white New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man (Eric Garner) led to the man’s death.

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Without an indictment of Darren Wilson or the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner – I am angered and numb. My heart has been broken and still my mind is looking for answers and next steps. Justice would not magically appear for people of color with the indictment of either man. However, the consistent denial of our humanity demands a response from the state and from us.

As a woman with an incarcerated father I regularly question if the system was set up to equally protect us all and to equally set us up for success. Would there be such a thing as poverty crimes if we all had an equal chance? Although his last crime committed landed him a life sentence, the ways in which his criminal activity escalated started there.

When I hear #blacklivesmatter, I think of my dad, my cousins, and my uncles who have or are currently serving time in Michigan penitentiary’s. Without severe policy changes and proper implementation, they wont be given the chance to recover from the trauma experienced and the harsh punishments for their crimes.

I think of the women in prison being raped by prison guards and the women spending their hard earned dollar to support children, the elders in their family. Can we organize to make their lives matter too? Can we organize to make sure that those who support loved ones in prison have lives that are supported and validated?

Collectively, we need to understand that the tools used to discredit and remove the humanity of Michael Brown, and others, are a part of the mechanics of war. The language selectively used by the state to mask racist policies and practices, such as the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty – prevent many people from seeing the web of deceit that people of color experience in this country.

MIchael Brown, fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer.

MIchael Brown, fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer.

Globally agents of the state use rape and the murder of children to demoralize communities.  Our own military, among others world wide, have been accused of such actions and rarely held accountable. Knowing this I cannot expect the United States judicial system to act in just ways. The over protection of the police department does not mirror the safety the community needs. If people were as highly protected by the system

War is a coordinated long term conflict between both state actors and non-state actors (the people). The oppressed in this country did not start this war and we do not want war. I believe we want peace. Either peace or violence will bring our children or our ancestors back.

The question of nonviolence is difficult for people in these circumstances. Nonviolence assumes that those who are against you have a conscience. Stockley Carmichael (a.k.a. Kwame Ture) said it best in his Black Power speech at UC Berkeley in 1966. He urged us to ask ourselves if those in power can condemn themselves. Meaning, can they see the harm they are causing?

Stokely Carmichael's Black Power speech at UC Berkeley in 1966

Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power speech at UC Berkeley in 1966

Can the powerful (earned and unearned) bear witness to the pain and destruction they cause by poor leadership and a lack of cultural understanding? History tells us no, but I’m hoping that isn’t the case for much longer.

Ture asks us to consider the actual possibility of those in power who have created a system to benefit themselves to shift their perspective to be a less murderous and deceitful one. I do not believe the conscience of the state includes accepting the humanity of people of color, immigrants, women, formerly and currently incarcerated, the LGBTQ community, people with different abilities, and more of us (too many really to name).

Ella Baker, who organized students to lead within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) believed that strong people didn’t need strong leaders.  She said, “give light and people will find the way.” If even known, the states misinterpretation of this shows up in our economic cat and mouse games – the commodification of higher education – and the removal of choice for average people.

elle baker

Ms. Baker played a key role in some of the most influential organizations of the civil rights movement, including the NAACP, Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Choices are about free will. The best choices are made when they serve your own interests and simultaneously create no harm for others we are born to co-exist with. Unfortunately, in our capitalistic system these choices are rarely available. We pit ourselves against one another to compete for scraps of coins that have globally lost their monetary value. We devalue our kin in order to find solace

As a community or concerned people, if we do nothing when children are being murdered are we telling them, with our lack of action, that we are willing to let them die for nothing. And if violence is the option a person or group chooses to engage in are they wrong to demand that their humanity and their children have value. Do we not all deserve equal protection under the law? I am not arrogant enough to decide that for anyone and I believe that the state cannot expect a single response to a nuanced and painful existence that people of color have in relation to this government.

I am not ashamed of the protestors for expressing their rage nonviolently. I also don’t value property the same way that I value people. Property does not equal to the life of a human being. The media seems to ignore this fact. Often times property destruction is considered the worst form of expression of rage, yet we allow police officers and vigilantes to kill children and some people don’t even make a noise or know whats going on.

I am concerned. We expected a different response from the state, instead many of us who express our anger without sanction are blamed for community instability. We know and feel a lot of things regarding the condition that marginalized groups are faced with.  Pointing fingers and allowing others to define our response will not unify us and it wont help us survive and thrive.

It’s our own emotional deception of self that makes us attack one another and blame a lack of focus or strategy on why social and legal decisions do not come down in the favor of truth and justice.

Internalized hate truncates the violence experienced within a community with the violence that is perpetrated on a community. Our struggle has been co-opted and leaders have been convinced that the violence black, brown, and low income communities experience is primarily a product of ‘our innate criminality’. If we continue to believe this one day those leaders will wake up and find themselves alone and the target of the next wave of Jim Crow laws and practices.

voter id law

The use of force by the state to destroy the lives of people of color is not a new strategy. The state uses it’s power to enforce violence that in other circumstances would be deemed illegal. This sanctioning allows some people in this country to accept it as a normal part of our collective existence. It is not. Some people don’t die when they need help and call the “authorities”, some people have physical altercations with cops and do not leave the scene in a body bag.

The white supremacist beliefs held by these northern Americas has a long history of cultural annihilation and the removal of humanity of certain groups through demonization and systemic legalization of abuse of power. Like Wilson said in his testimony to the grand jury that described Mike Brown as a ‘demon’ describing his response to being shot by Wilson.

Indigenous people in this country have been unnamed in our fight for racial justice as the truth behind the role of the European colonizers was hidden. Hidden and denied. Not until the early to mid 20th century did we see a strong resistance to this in the practice of critical pedagogy. In school is where many of us learn what was what and who we are in relationship to other people.

If you’re watching the news you may have heard of the hundreds of Tribes gathering to support the removal of operations of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, that rests on the border of North Dakota and South Dakota. President Obama made a surprising decision that asked the company, x, to voluntarily stop operations until permits granted could be reviewed. The tribal leaders would like recognition of treaties and full respect of the land – above and below and from the local to the national political leadership. The protests in North Dakota have received national attention as the company hired a security company that allow their staff to use use and the dogs bit protestors. The pipeline would go from North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is pushing for our leaders to honor the land, history, and the right of people to exercise self determination.

Native Americans during the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1964.

Native Americans during the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1964.

I believe we need to collectively engage with history, learn the script to protect ourselves. The problem is patriarchy and white supremacist ways of governing our society. These ideals have been purposefully placed in the rhetoric and ideology of the left and the right.

It is in our schools, our work environments, places of worship, television, movies, and beyond. The problem does not rest it’s burden only on the shoulders of individuals, but on the entire system itself.

Our political system is designed to maintain the status quo and the usage of laws that were never meant to be liberatory. They have been and continue to be restrictive in nature and disproportionately punitive.

We all have a role to play to dismantle the system that allows the state to take our lives. Below is a list of actions we can engage in to change things for collective liberation in the following area: socially, politically, and economically.

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Augustina Kimbra Campbell

Augustina Kimbra Campbell

Augustina is a local Bay Area writer. She lives to share the realities of our lives when co-existing. Mz Campbell has been a poet and nonfiction writer for over 15 years.