Saturday, August 9th, 18-year old Michael Brown was shot dead by police after what they called a “struggle over the officer’s weapon”. Witnesses claim Brown was no threat to anyone and was simply walking in the road when officers told him to “get the fuck on the sidewalk”. Despite this he was shot 8 times by an officer only days before he was scheduled to start college. Sunday night, August 10th, crowds gathered in protest of the shooting and for justice to be served. A riot soon broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, a town about 20 miles north of St. Louis. There protesters were confronted by nearly 150 police in riot gear who engaged the crowd with tear gas.
As expected, the media has chosen to largely ignore the death of an 18-year old black man and instead focus on the loss of property in the riots. Several outlets reported on the ‘violent nature’ of the riots regarding slogans shouted such as “kill the police” and the looting of several local stores. None of them seemed to recall the 8 bullets which murdered an unarmed black teenager. Although, the American media has never been good reporting on facts regarding racial inequality or social disparity. For example, they won’t report the fact that black unemployment is twice that of whites. Or the fact that black poverty rate is nearly three times higher than whites. Or the fact that black people are incarcerated at 6-times the rate of whites (often for the same or related crimes).
What were the protesters in Ferguson actually protesting on Sunday night? More than the death of an innocent black man, they were protesting the very disposability of the Black Body. The disposition of ‘ontological death’, meaning what constitutes a ‘full person’ (by any interpretation) is not recognized in the black population of America by the prevailing social institutions. So little significance does the Black Body hold that the media would rather talk about broken windows and burned out corner stores than the death of a living, breathing, human being.
The murder of Michael Brown was not a coincidence nor is it unrelated in the scope of American history. It must be contextualized in a long and ongoing lineage of violence against the Black Body and specifically that national oppression of Black peoples which works on behalf of the racist white supremacist capitalism of the United States. Michael Brown wasn’t the first innocent Black man to be murdered by racist pigs and he won’t be the last if we cannot change the course of the future. There is a war being waged right now against the most basic existence of an entire population, and it’s happening on your street. The systemic oppression of the black population is integral to the very development of the United States as has been observed historically. Black people were and still are the free labor, they were and still are the most poor and vulnerable, they were and still are the ‘societal excess’ by which every ‘symptom’ of capital accumulation could be blamed upon.
The war against the Black community and all people of color is an ‘American war’ in the most authentic sense of the phrase.
Similarly, the riots which enveloped Sunday evening were not isolated or even senseless acts of violence. Taken within the scope of racist national oppression and resistance to it we can understand rioting as the most basic response to overwhelming and repressive circumstances. You can’t boil a man and not expect him to scream. The angry response of a systemically oppressed community is not only entirely understandable but certainly something to be encouraged. In fact, the tactic of any revolutionary is to harness this ‘energy’ from the masses into a constructive campaign for radical education and dual power. Condemning the most oppressed among us for expressing their social frustration would be the most cynical and detached approach to the situation.
The fact our society is more willing to condemn the destruction of property before the death of a Black man speaks volumes as to the sort of change we need.
What about the police? What about the violence against them? Passive observers will often note that “violence only begets violence”. However, this assumes there is a “zero-level” of violence which is the natural environment of any following action. This, of course, is entirely false. The oppressed of any community (racial, national, gender, etc.) exist on a social plane of consistent violence against them as they ‘actually are’. Everything ‘they are’ is considered contemptible and treated as such. Nothing could be more exemplary of this than what is considered the “criminalization of the Black Body” wherein police have come to see every Black person as a criminal and the very ‘image’ of a criminal is personified in the Black Body. Therefore, violence against the police, against the oppressors and their allies, is always a violence of liberation. A simple reaction to the violence that is already being put into motion; violence that has been put into motion against Black people, in specific, for hundreds of years.
As it exists in our current social order, police are the repressive apparatus of the State in its most material form. They are enemies of the people by their very occupation; an occupation founded solely on the reproduction of an oppressive social order under the vague guise of “protection” and “justice”. Therefore, violence against the police should not be condemned, but violence in general should not be condoned either. Rather, we should direct violence against the oppressors in a constructive way; violence which is part of a cohesive ‘plan’ towards liberation. Violence which both empowers and educates the (revolutionary) subject in question. Otherwise we risk letting ultra-violent elements take hold which are also enemies of the people, albeit on a different plane. First and foremost, we need to advance the correct ideas of the masses. Give a theoretical and thoroughly historical basis to the practice at hand. In this way, we can encourage practice which is both expressive and constructive and avoid paths which are either ultra-violent or infected by liberalism.
So what is the first step forward?
Joining the popular call of the oppressed and exploited, we must demand justice for Michael Brown. However, this is not ‘only’ justice for Michael Brown. This is justice for Trayvon Martin. This is justice for Rodney King. This is justice for every black person murdered by the racist police state. This is justice for every Black person kept a slave in the prison system. This is justice for every Black person who has to endure a lifetime of racism and systemic oppression only for ‘being Black’.
This is the kind of justice our racist and white supremacist bourgeois society cannot offer. A society built upon the enslavement and genocide of non-whites can offer nothing but slavery and genocide to non-whites. We must fundamentally transform our social order into something radically different. Something so radical wherein the very distinction between communities of white and non-white, oppressor and oppressed, are entirely eliminated. A social order built upon justice for the oppressed and liberation for the exploited. Wherein working and marginalized communities hold within themselves all power and self-determination. Wherein national oppression, criminalization, and alienation are nothing but heaps on the “dustbin of history”. This is the only future where we can find true justice for Mike Brown.