Civil unrest has once more broken out in a USAmerican city; this time in Milwaukee, following the execution by police of a 23-year-old armed suspect (who apparently committed the heinous, only-recourse-is-lethal-force crime of fleeing from cops after a traffic stop).
A gas station and an auto-parts store were set on fire.
Bricks were hurled at law enforcement officers (resulting in the injury of one officer).
Police have apparently said that shots were fired (it should be point out that currently, the only firearm-related casualty has been the execution of the suspect at the hands of the police).
As I’ve seen several times when civil unrest engulfs a city in the wake of state sanctioned brutality or extrajudicial execution by cop, it is inevitable that some people will criticize the actions of those involved in the unrest (curiously, these people never aim their criticism at the actions of police that precipitate such events; it’s almost like they don’t take issue with the behavior of law enforcement officials).
“This is not how you fight for justice”
“How can you destroy your own communities”
“Blacks are destructive”
“You dilute your message by engaging in acts of destruction”
Any such responses fail to view situations like this through the appropriate lens. People need to examine why these events occur. Why would citizens in a community engage in acts of destruction? Why would they lash out at police officers? There is a reason, and-if performed honestly with a eye to discerning the truth-an investigation into the factors that lead to civil unrest should result in the realization that police forces around the nation need serious reforms. Communities of color are tired of being overpoliced. We are tired of law enforcement arresting PoC for possession or distribution of weed (especially when the same is not done to white folks). We are tired of calling the police for assistance in dealing with loved ones who have mental illnesses, only to see those very same loved ones gunned down by incompetent cops who shoot first, rather than deescalating a situation. We are pissed off that LEOs target, detain, harass, and brutalize sex workers. We angry that police continually misgender, assault, harass, and murder Trans Women of Color with impunity (while communities look on with nary a word of criticism). We are sick of being racially profiled. We’re tired of law enforcement officials pulling us over for ticketable offenses, and brutalizing us. We’re tired of being put in jail or prison and facing physical, emotional, or psychological abuse from law enforcement officials. We’re tired of turning on the news or hopping on social media and hearing that police have killed another unarmed, nonviolent suspect. We’re tired of hearing how cops have executed someone-even a criminal-who posed no threat to anyone. We’re tired of hearing that goddamn “feared for my life” excuse, which only seems to be used when the suspect is black. We are beyond sick to death of hearing law enforcement tell us that we “should comply with the orders of police officers if you want to live” (bc aside from the fact that non-compliance is not a crime punishable by execution, complying doesn’t save black lives). We’re OVER hearing police narratives that are later contradicted by dashcam or bodycam footage. We’re fucking sick and tired of seeing cops not charged for their offenses, and we’re tired of the rare occasions when cops are charged, but not found guilty.
We are so tired of all that crap and more. Our constitutional rights…our human rights, are regularly violated by agents of the state, and the people in power continue to not give a shit. Change is not occurring. At this point, I really don’t care how many scathing reports are written by the Department of Justice following an investigation into United States police departments, because positive, progressive change rarely seems forthcoming (or if it is, such change is so incremental as to be virtually nonexistent).
People-especially black folks-will continue to protest police brutality, excessive force, execution by cop, & denial of the constitutional rights of citizens of this country. Just as they have been for decades. Sometimes a flashpoint will occur-a particular situation will enrage a community to the point of unrest, as happened here. The reason for that unrest, is outrage and disappointment of the continued denial of justice for African-Americans. When we can call the police and they regularly serve and protect us. When we can trust-based on case after case after case-that justice will be delivered in the courtrooms when one of us is murdered by agents of the state. When we can exist in public and engage in the same actions as white folks and not be treated as suspects or criminals for simply *being*. Then you people will see much less civil unrest. If you’d like to get to that point because you’re tired of such unrest, the answer is simple-support policing reforms so that communities traditionally and disproportionately affected by police brutality no longer feel the crushing, oppressive boot of state sanctioned violence.
In closing, I’d like to quote the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On riots, the late civil rights leader said:
In 1875 the nation passed a Civil Rights Bill and refused to enforce it. In 1964 the nation passed a weaker Civil Rights Bill and even to this day, that bill has not been totally enforced in all of its dimensions. The nation heralded a new day of concern for the poor, for the poverty stricken, for the disadvantaged. And brought into being a Poverty Bill and at the same time it put such little money into the program that it was hardly, and still remains hardly, a good skirmish against poverty. White politicians in suburbs talk eloquently against open housing, and in the same breath contend that they are not racist. And all of this, and all of these things tell us that America has been backlashing on the whole question of basic constitutional and God-given rights for Negroes and other disadvantaged groups for more than 300 years.
So these conditions, existence of widespread poverty, slums, and of tragic conniptions in schools and other areas of life, all of these things have brought about a great deal of despair, and a great deal of desperation. A great deal of disappointment and even bitterness in the Negro communities. And today all of our cities confront huge problems. All of our cities are potentially powder kegs as a result of the continued existence of these conditions. Many in moments of anger, many in moments of deep bitterness engage in riots.
Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. 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.
I say to all of you who condemn the civil unrest in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and now, Milwaukee-if you truly want to see an end to this unrest…these riots…then stand up and do your part to fight against the conditions that lead black people to feel there is no other recourse. Lobby your senators for changes in criminal justice. Write to police departments to condemn the actions of corrupt, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, murderous police officers. Demand that cops are held to a higher standard. Call for transparency and honesty in all situations involving police violence. Patronize African-American businesses and help bring money into impoverished communities. Call out the racism in our society that leads to the perception that black people are inherently prone to criminality. Don’t let the racist beliefs of your uncle or aunt go unchallenged. If you hear something, say something. Because if you don’t…if you remain silent while black people are struggling-dying even-then you are complicit in our continued oppression.