My name is Ben Sweet and I am a staff member at Bard College. (more…)
Taína Asili is a Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, bandleader, and activist. She performs with la Banda Rebelde and her music is a fusion of Afro-Latin, reggae, and rock sounds. (more…)
This is for my kids in the ghetto
who feel like they don’t belong
in a world that’s far too shallow,
content on annihilating us all.
“Dirty nigger!” or simply “Look! A Negro!” I came into this world anxious to uncover the meaning of things, (more…)
Little one, please wait for the rain.
Maybe, in a classroom, we forget that people are actually dying. It is worth repeating: people are dying. Behind statistics are individuals and it is easy to lose sight of those particulars in trying to make honest generalizations. But I see my kin, friends, and loved ones in these statistics, not numbers. Waking up each morning to a new name is real. It is real because I know my own vulnerability to this thing we call police brutality. I want my peers, those who my not be as vulnerable, to feel the realness I feel.
Though they are not susceptible to the same kind of violence that I am, I want them to look at every black life lost with empathy and understand the magnitude of that loss. In an academic setting we can quickly become voyeurs — onlookers unto the grief of another — and this is something we need to consciously avoid. We must make it a point to recall the names of lives lost. Once this phenomenon of black death at the hands of police becomes just another every day occurrence, then we’ll have fully failed to extend humanity to one another. If we care, we need to be able to actively engage, not just intellectually, but empathetically too. On voyeurism, Aimé Césaire writes, “And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear.”
A constant loop of uncensored footage of the brutalization of the black body can lend itself to treating this tragedy as a spectator sport. Despite this, it’s necessary to check ourselves so as not to become numb to the value of a human life. When you hold the subjects of your study or inquiry, in this case Black Americans, at arms length you sterilize our pain for your consumption. I resist this. I’m not willing to read publications that exploit images of black death for their journalistic practice. Black people aren’t living or dying for shock value. The suggestion that you must explicitly see a black murder to understand it is a tragedy only reinforces the fact that our humanity is always at stake in the public eye. This voyeurism does nothing to undo this history and currently reality of abuse. It only proves your detachment from our lived experience. I don’t need an academic text to understand that this country is anti-black. Racism is more than a unit within a syllabus for me. Some students cannot separate inequality studied from inequality lived because this has always been our experience. This is not to discount the ways that academia can be used to dismantle anti-blackness, but to remind us of the ways that academia can distance itself from its subjects in ways that treats them as objects.
So much of this epidemic is seeing black people as non-human. I think this begins in our language. Namely, the use of language that criminalizes black victims and fails to see black people as humans first. Like any other person, living or dead, black lives lost deserve to be called by name. Also, in order to honestly talk about anti-black police violence, we need to acknowledge the ways that it affects all black people and challenge exclusive language. This means not making narrow statements like: black men are dying, because this centers men and negates all of the black women dying at the hands of police as well. This means using photographs that humanize black victims and show them as they lived, not died. This also means demanding justice before the fact. Yes, it is important to mourn. Grief needs to be felt, but how do we engage with black people who are alive and exist in our communities?
Being giving our resources, money, times and selves shows that we are willing to engage beyond the classroom or television. I can’t help but feel disillusioned and withdrawn from a country that is constantly killing people that look like me without consequence, but there is still work to do. And learning though important, is not enough. All of this theory fails without practice.
After all, we aren’t here to gain knowledge if it only distances and detaches us from those who we are learning about.
Image by Carrie Mae Weems
On Thursday, October 29th, Ramsey Orta spoke to the students of Bard College about his long and turbulent experience with the judicial system after filming the brutal murder of Eric Garner (at the hands of police). Consequently, Orta has been sentenced to 4 years in prison.
He begins this sentence today, Monday, October 3.
See what he had to say here.
Featured image by Sabrina Sultana.
“People are still putting energy on things that won’t matter outside this thing that we call a bubble. And I call it a bubble because there’s no such thing as political correctness in the real world; there’s no such thing as trigger warnings in the real world. For better or for worse, these are the things we have to deal with when we leave this campus… ignoring or not speaking about these issues is going to be the process of us not being prepared to deal with these confrontations when we do get to the real world. So, these microaggressions… you bring them up as a minority and you give off this notion that you’re angry and need to cheer up… Like, I was the token black guy in my high school, so I’ve grown accustomed to it… I get that you don’t want to deal with that sort of stuff all the time, but I think we need to realize that this is really just temporary, and we should try to make sure that we’re all prepared for the real world. So, we need to start talking about these issues before we leave.”
Over the past couple of days, reports have resurfaced of a June 22, 2016 police crime in Atlanta, Georgia, which resulted in the unwarranted murder of 22-year-old Deravis Rogers. Suspicion that Rogers was guilty of crime, which in turn, lead him to be shot, was consistent of practically every media account of the incident. This presumption allowed for a range of speculation by the public in regard to whether or not his murder was justified.
Because it is apparently so incredibly difficult to believe that an officer could have killed an innocent young black man. As if it had never happened before. As if it isn’t a regular occurrence that is being widely protested nationwide. As if race isn’t a factor. As if it’s easier to just concoct some sort of absurd justification for why this sort of injustice ensues, rather than acknowledging that our country is in crisis.
The genocide of the black community by law enforcement under the perilously ambiguous terms of United States Law may be a hard pill for non-black people to swallow. But persisting with this sort of resistance is only going to further enable the killing of black persons in America (and, due to our strong ‘Western’ social influence, potentially globally).
According to Rogers’ killer, off-duty officer James R. Burns (whose identity wasn’t even released in original reports of the incident), someone had been seen breaking into a vehicle by an off-duty officer who called for backup. Burns, arriving at the scene after the call, posited that he had observed Rogers fleeing away, prompting him to fire his weapon. However, not long after his account, it was revealed that Burns’ testimony was not consistent with the details of the shooting. Burns was fired on July 1st by Atlanta’s Chief of Police George N. Turner, claiming that he had violated departmental procedures and that the shooting was an unnecessary and excessive use of force.
He was clearly in the wrong. He is a murderer. And yet, there are still no charges being brought against him. Yet, many people would still rather not acknowledge the truth.
In fact, one of the first videos of the account that surfaced was entitled “Man escaping from scene of car break-in is killed by Atlanta police”. Now, while I’m no linguist, I do I understand the crucial nature of semantics when attempting to provoke human emotion. A title such as this one – without any other details about the case – makes me, as a reader, believe at least two things:
- That this man has committed at least a minor crime, and was guilty by virtue of his inclination to “escape”, and
- The murder of this man could have been for a particular reason.
Additionally, a more recent written report from July 12th which fully acknowledged that “Burns’ actions that night were found to be unwarranted” ALSO felt the need to point out that Burns “has no record of prior disciplinary actions”, while Rogers “has a troubled past that includes encounters and arrests with law enforcement. In 2014, he was convicted of two counts of entering autos and sentenced. In addition, he has faced previous charges of entering auto and drug charges, according to court records.”
Even when black people are innocent under circumstances of injustice that have ensued against them, they are still – in some way, shape or form – portrayed as menaces to society by the media; whether that be done through the choice of photo provided when such crimes are publicly reported, or the manner their unofficially eulogies are composed. And this is why, on behalf of everyone who refuses to acknowledge this problem, I proclaim in sorrow:
Dear Deravis Rogers,
And the countless other black persons taken by not “senseless”, but premeditated violence:
I am sorry you had to be taken from your loved ones so soon.
I am sorry that the color of your skin made you the target of an inherently oppressive system.
I am sorry that you never stood a fighting chance.
I am sorry this had to be your fate.
I am sorry that this has been the fate of so many other black people, and will most likely to be for quite some time.
I am sorry that even as a victim, they still try to paint you as a villain.
And I am sorry that all I can do is raise my voice to those who do not want to hear me.
I am so, so sorry.
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