Sunday, September 25, 2016

Black Lives Matter

A terrible and aggravating scene once again played out this past week in Tulsa, Oklahoma where another black man, Terrence Crutcher, was shot and killed by a white police officer, Betty Shelby.
The unfolding events leading to the killing of Terence Crutcher captured live by webcam and police helicopter videos showed an unarmed black man with his hands raised walking away with slow unsure steps from the police woman who had pulled and pointed her gun at him.

The reports are that Terrence Crutcher’s car had been parked in the middle of the road, when the police woman, responding to another call about domestic violence spotted it. The details are sketchy, but suggest that she had wheeled round soon after the call, and accosted Crutcher to move his vehicle out of the road. The “big, black man” stayed silent, was apparently terrified about the nervous policewoman who most likely issued a series of orders to which this black man, apparently responded in what he considered the most unthreatening and safest of ways.

He raised his hands, turned his back, and walked slowly to his car not uttering a word either in response or in self-defence. This is the dilemma of blackness today in America: black children are told to show their hands whenever they are stopped by the police, particularly white police officers; to keep their hands on the wheel if they are driving, not move it, and remain in the car, and to not talk back. Terrence Crutcher may have been following these standard rules. He stayed silent. He raised his hand, and turned and walked slowly to his car, apparently in order not to feel “threatening” to a police officer; particularly a white police woman. Yet, his silence and mere presence threatened this police woman.

Crutcher was in that moment in a lose-lose situation. If he talked back, he would get shot. If he stayed silent he would get shot. He was black and therefore dangerous. What is not clear is why his suv was parked in the middle of the road. Cars do break down. Did his car break down? Was he in need of help to move it? There was clear evidence that he had wound up the glass of his door, and was clearly out of the car. The most rational conclusion was that he was a man in need of help with a car that had broken down. What happened next is increasingly familiar.

A CNN report with a footage of the events showed this single black man alone quickly surrounded by a battery of white police men who had all pulled a gun, all crouching in the manner of hunters around a wild and dangerous animal, and they were all clearly ready to do harm.
And it is clear that what they saw at that moment was not another human being – but a dangerous beast – whose mere presence, even with his hands raised felt threatening. This fact is made clear from the recorded voice of the police Helicopter patrol hovering above, recording the event.

The voice said, “this man is not obeying commands,” and described him as “a big, bad dude.” This is the distant voice of a white police officer observing from the sky. To him, the big, black man was a “big, bad dude.” He had not met Terrence Crutcher, whom his twin sister later described as “a brother,” “a father” and “enrolled in Community College, to make us all proud” in touching tribute. Yet from that far removed space, all what the white police surveillant could see was “a big, bad dude.”

This big black man, apparently alone, unarmed, frightened and surrounded by a pose of armed white police officers got to his car, and was first tasered by another police man, and then shot by Ms. Betty Shelby, whose husband, ironically was recording the entire absurd theatre from the police helicopter.
In the footage released by the police and showed by CNN, we could only see Terrence Crutcher drop down dead. For more than two minutes he was left on the ground.

No emergency medical attention was given to him. It was to satisfy that he was truly dead that medical attention was paid him. The Helicopter had also swerved almost as though to obscure what happened next. Police report later tried to pin an accusation that Mr. Crutcher was on PCB, and that he might have tried to reach into his car to take a gun.

But when it became clear that his car’s windows were rolled up and that there was no gun in his car or on his person, the story released by Officer Betty Shelby changed: it was that she feared for her life. “I have never been more frightened.” How could an unarmed black man surrounded by about five white police officers all armed still elicit so much fear? It is irrational. But nothing is rational about racism.

And it is at the core of all the shootings of black people, particularly black males by white police officers. In the same week, Charlotte North Carolina erupted into a paroxysm of sustained protests against the brutal killing of another unarmed black man Keith L. Scott on Tuesday by police in a parking space marked “Visitors” outside what has been described as an “unremarkable apartment complex.”

The unrest in Charlotte compelled the Governor of North Carolina to declare a state of emergency and bring out the National Guard. Here is a link to a video report of the protests by the New York Times reporter in Charlotte.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/us/keith-scott-charlotte-police-shooting.html?_r=0 .The protests in Charlotte mirror the rage that also shut down cities like Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana recently, following black response to these killings of black male, which is now assuming epidemic dimensions.

What seems like a selective annihilation of black male by an institutional system of racism that has been preserved in the culture of American policing was aptly described by the New York Times article as “a recurring, seemingly inescapable tape loop of American tragedy” and it is covered and made instantly available on social media with its ersatz but powerful forms of imagery and invocation. Social media brings it all in neat summaries into our hands.

This “tragedy” that has seen the killings of innocent black boys playing with BB guns to the cold murders of the likes of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, just fifteen minutes on the I-4 from me, and brutal police killings of the likes of Terrence Crutcher, has generated what has become a powerful movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement by black youth who see the threat to black lives as part of America’s unresolved racist ontology.

It is quite true that the United States has come a long way in pushing back on racism, but it is still sadly, awkwardly trapped in that terrible culture that contaminates and contains the black person as part of the irreconcilable “other” or that “other” that constitutes the unheimlich of American culture.
Those like us who are raising teenage black children – particularly “cocky” black boys – feel the hairiness of this situation that places our sons on the gunsight of some trigger happy policeman licensed to kill. The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought this issue to fore, and it is in the tradition of all black protest movements, from the anti-slavery abolitionist movement, to the anti-colonial movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and the Civil Rights movement. The movement for democracy and liberty has been instigated by black lives from the moment Haiti broke free from French imperialism, and fought for her freedom. These movements have always generated global black solidarity.

What we find odd and indeed odious today however, is that not a single African country has made a statement in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. The African Union which considers the black Diaspora one of the regions of African citizenship has never made a statement compelling the US government to stop the killing of black people. Nigeria, the so-called “African giant” is of course both a nut case and a lost course. Its Foreign policy is weak and imprudent. Of course, increasingly, Nigeria has no weight to pull. But the US government has always told African nations what to do about democracy and Boko Haram.

It is about time that countries in Africa like Nigeria intervened on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, and offer powerful solidarity to support their cause and call the US government to take greater measures in protecting the lives of black people, especially the endangered black male. This is a categorical imperative.

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