You never know what act goes too far or when a people have had enough. No one could have predicted the incident that sparked the 1965 Watts rebellion in California or lit the fire that exploded into the 2014 Ferguson uprising in Missouri.
In Watts, it was an officer shoving Rena Price, the mother of Marquette Frye, the motorist arrested for reckless driving. In Ferguson, it was several things. On Aug. 9, an officer let his police dog urinate on Michael Brown’s memorial. The following day, 150 police wearing “riot” gear provoked demonstrators during a peaceful nighttime vigil.
The murder of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis detonated a powder keg of hurt, sorrow and anger. In doing so, it has poised us at the dawn of a new day.
Whoopi Goldberg revealed the violent record of Officer Derek Chauvin on “The View.” He has been involved in three shootings and has a dozen complaints. Somewhat puzzled, she asked, “We keep seeing this, so what are we missing as Americans and human beings?”
In answer to Goldberg’s question, we’re missing the moment. The context is different this time. Donald Trump’s vile rhetoric and vicious policies have agitated and empowered the most violent servants of white supremacy, public and private.
On July 28, 2017, in a speech to law-enforcement officers, Trump urged police to abuse suspects. As Trump uttered his anti-human-rights sentiments, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, his attorney general at the time, was nullifying numerous consent decrees with police departments. His predecessor, Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s chief law-enforcement officer, had initiated these agreements. Although the number of police killings of black people has remained roughly the same, the heinousness of the killings appears to have escalated.
In August 2017, Trump justified white racist violence in Charlottesville, Va. In the wake of white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr.’s decision to use his car to murder Heather Heyer and injure a dozen protesters, Trump claimed, “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
Trump is responsible for helping to create this environment and is totally responsible for inflaming it.
The killing of Floyd and its aftermath represents a biopsy of U.S. racial oppression. His murder illustrates the malice white America holds toward black people. A significant sector of U.S. white nationalists and white supremacists intend to massacre us. Moreover, they constitute more than 5, 10, 15 percent of the white population. They closely approximate Trump’s base, constituting 43 to 47 percent of the white electorate.
Furthermore, to paraphrase Fannie Lou Hamer, black people are “sick and tired” of being slaughtered by police and white vigilantes. The murder of Floyd was the last straw. His blatant murder, combined with the execution of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home, the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, and the government-facilitated devastation of the African American people by COVID-19 has ignited a reservoir of resistance.
And let’s be clear, the fire this time does not feel like a Black Lives Matter Yippie- or ACT-Up-inspired political theater designed to prick the conscience of a nation. Malcolm X told us long ago, the U.S. has no conscience where black folk are concerned.
It’s different now.
Floyd’s murder offers the proverbial teaching lesson. Its aftermath signals a hot summer. His execution was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When you combine his slaying, Taylor’s, Arbery’s lynching and skyrocketing unemployment with the government’s role in COVID-19’s genocidal assault, it’s harder to lie to yourself. The U.S. means us harm. It always has.
What lesson should we to extract from the contrast of the police’s treatment of heavily armed white militia members who stormed Michigan’s capital with the Minneapolis police’s firing tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets at unarmed, “predominately peaceful” black demonstrators?
Self-sufficiency, self-defense and self-determination are the new watchwords surging through black communities.
We forgot Robert F. Williams’ declaration more than 60 years ago. After Lewis Medlin, a white mechanic who broke into a pregnant Mary Ruth Reid’s home and brutally raped her in front of her five children, was exonerated within minutes of his “trial,” Williams declared, “Negroes have to defend themselves on the spot when they are attacked by whites.”
Through the mists of history, Williams’ words and legacy are resounding throughout black communities. Days after the white militia “protested” the “tyranny” of health regulations, six armed black and Latinx men and women escorted African American representative Sarah Anthony into Michigan’s Capitol. Echoing Williams, Anthony stated, “When traditional systems, whether it’s law enforcement or whatever, fail us, we also have the ability to take care of ourselves.”
Self-sufficiency, self-defense and self-determination!
In the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Ga., where Arbery was lynched, the protests differ from the marches that have characterized black-led demonstrations since the murder of Michael Brown. This time, in a neighborhood bursting with Trump-Pence signs, the demonstrators were armed.
It’s different this time. In Minneapolis, black people have again been pushed into a chaotic undisciplined spontaneous rebellion. Unfortunately, this may become the norm this summer. However, in Lansing, Mich., and Brunswick, Ga., organized black militias have emerged. This is also a rising trend.
It will be different this time. If the U.S. government will not protect us or punish our assailants, private or public, we must, as Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) urged, become “the authors of a new justice.”