No Exceptions

A young black man was shot by a private security officer last night in Canfield, the same apartment complex in Ferguson, MO where Michael Brown was killed. I don’t know the details of why he was shot – I didn’t know when I tweeted this thread decrying yet another police shooting in Canfield and I still don’t. I work far too much to keep up on breaking news 24/7. But immediately after tweeting this, the angry losers of the internet began swarming me to gloat. Apparently the man who was shot had a gun, and he wouldn’t put it down. Apparently he was an unsavory character. Apparently blah blah blah. 

But since so many people – both right-wingers and ‘hey-I’m-reasonable-but-I-don’t-get-why-you’d-condemn-this-shooting-when-it-seems-like-this-guy-was-actually-bad’ types – have asked, I’ll explain. When people on the left say that that we think it’s unacceptable that black people – and poor people of every race for that matter – get shot by the police every day, we actually believe it! People getting shot by cops is unacceptable, categorically.

I know a guy who’s a public defender in Roxbury, Boston’s perpetually disinvested in and majority black neighborhood, and he talks about this more clearly than anyone else I’ve met. He’s black, and he says that sometimes his more “respectable” (middle class, often white) acquaintances will ask him how he, a strident civil rights advocate, can bring himself to defend clients guilty of mundane, unglamorous, or downright despicable crimes.

You know how he responds? He says look, that’s civil rights work too. My people are the people in this neighborhood. That includes drug addicts and petty criminals. I don’t care what someone allegedly did: it is an injustice to put poor black people behind bars and it is an injustice to charge them court fees and it is an injustice that they get arrested for doing what white people do but doing it in public because they can’t afford a house to do it in. It’s an injustice that they’re stopped for no reason and that makes it an injustice when police stumble across a crime too. Getting incarcerated is unjust, it doesn’t rehabilitate anyone and it destroys this neighborhood. So I’m proud to keep any and every one out from behind bars, there’s nothing shameful about it.

Right-wingers and racists will see this guy and anyone who agrees with him – myself included – as the enemy, defending the guilty. But when a country’s past, present, and future are categorically weighted in favor of the police and a broken, unjust system of mass incarceration and racial violence, I don’t actually care if a specific black person fucked up, committed a crime, or brandished a weapon. It’s correct to say ‘police, not to mention private security officers, shouldn’t shoot people.’ They shouldn’t be so trigger happy. They shouldn’t have so many guns in the first place. An apartment complex shouldn’t hire private security forces. The people at Canfield in Ferguson shouldn’t have to see another young member of their community felled by an officer. The black and poor shouldn’t be residentially segregated in the first place. I could go on indefinitely but you get the picture.

If the right-wing’s true believers have a virtue over the empty opportunism of the center, it’s a willingness to stick to their beliefs. But those of us on the left aren’t without principles either. The main difference is that our solidarity lies with the oppressed, no matter what.


what’s needed

This is scary, and it’s absolutely right to be upset and afraid. But if you aren’t involved in political organizing, now (okay, if not today, tomorrow) is the time to start. The only way out is through and if I feel any reassurance, it’s only because I know so many people who work tirelessly to fight like hell for all of us. They have my back and I have theirs.

But those of us with legal cases from or visibility in anti-police brutality organizing are few in number and so fucking vulnerable – there are still people locked up for arrests that happened at anti-racist marches or events, and so many more paying fines and serving probation. Beyond that are the millions more behind bars for being black, being brown, being poor. They need us and we need them.

Check out all the orgs in the Movement for Black Lives coalition, also DSA/ISO/SA. In Boston, talk to Mass Action Against Police Brutality, the Boston Coalition for Police Brutality, Boston Feminists for Liberation, or Youth Against Mass Incarceration. Join up with Black and Pink if they have a chapter where you are. Join, support, and build unions.

We need all the help we can get.

And for the record, the Democrats continue proving how useless they are. Clinton and Obama can wish Trump all the luck in the world but you know we aren’t waiting a minute to start organizing against him and everything for which he stands.

thanksgiving dinner

When I got home tonight, I watched a video of police leaving Laquan McDonald, a black kid, to die in the street. Then I read that the cops shot him sixteen times in fifteen seconds, and that a prosecutor took over a year to decide that the murder of this kid might be a crime. I sat in horror for a minute, awed at how terrible and mundane this all is. After wondering at such a sick juxtaposition of responses, I put my jacket back on and headed to the McDonald’s up the street from me because I’d barely eaten all day.

When I got in line to order, the two guys in front of me were buying a small tea and a small coffee with change, no bills. We got to talking and they asked me what I do for work. When I replied that I’m doing a PhD in sociology, they had about as many research ideas as I did when I was first admitted into the doctoral program (one had a whole set of questions about “back to Africa” movements over time and empirical questions of who, where, when, and how many African Americans have actually moved to Africa – I told him I’d look into it in case I run into him again).  When I added that I’m studying at Northeastern, they ran down the history of Northeastern’s expansion into Roxbury with greater detail than I could in the urban sociology course I currently get paid to help teach.

Our orders were held up because one of the McDonald’s employees had a breakdown and started yelling at his coworker “I’m a human being” over and over again. I don’t know what happened to him, his manager ushered him out of sight after the third time he yelled that. As we waited, one of the guys chatted with the remaining employees, moving between Spanish, French, Creole, and Portuguese as he spoke to different workers. I can understand a tiny bit of each of those languages, so I tried to follow as he switched from one to the next, but his skills proved far beyond my comprehension level.

When my fries came, I said goodnight to the two guys and walked out of the store. They both stayed: they’re homeless and had nowhere to be. I only know because we talked about how it’s too bad this McDonald’s closes at 11, it’s already cold out and it’d be a lot easier if homeless people in the neighborhood could stay there through the night, even if it meant wasting money to buy tea and coffee every few hours.

Occasionally, the depths of the horrors going on around us merit a moment of exposition. Then, we move on to doing what we can about it, or we don’t.