In April, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, spoke in Chicago about why police violence has returned to the center of anti-racist activism. The text of her talk, below, was first published in Socialist Worker.
Protests on I-94 in Minneapolis following the killing of Philando Castile. Via Unicorn Riot.
Why the issue of police brutality?
Police violence against Black people is not new. In 1951, a multiracial contingent of activists in the Civil Rights Congress raised the slogan "We charge genocide" to characterize the depth and consequences of police murder and the silent complicity of the state. The preamble of their petition read, in part:
(From a meeting of Baltimore activists during the week of the curfew. Photo by Marisela Gomez)
“Last year’s uprising has created this space for my family to have this conversation. Albeit painful, its also provided us with the choice to grow from these experiences that go way back beyond the uprising.” —Daughter of a storeowner in West Baltimore, April 2016
It’s been one year since the uprising in Baltimore that followed the arrest, murder, and funeral of Freddie Gray. Mr. Gray died in police custody after a rough arrest and “rough ride”. It’s not the first time a rough ride — in which police leave a handcuffed or footcuffed person deliberately unsecured in the van, resulting in uncontrolled movement and potential injury — has accounted for the injury and death of a black man in Baltimore police custody. Following his arrest on April 12, 2015 and his death on April 19, peaceful protests occurred. After his funeral on April 27, residents of Sandtown-Winchester — Mr. Gray’s community — and others in West Baltimore affected by police brutality rose up in protest. Some protestors became violent, throwing bricks at windows, looting, and setting fire to property. The National Guard was called in, the city was placed under curfew, and tanks rolled around as if it was a war zone.
Since Michael Brown died at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, the protests in Ferguson have shone a light on major issues of today: militarization, Gaza, the police state, and the myth of post-racial America. In the media, a battle to control the narrative has shadowed the turmoil on the streets, as sources of news and opinion vie to dominate discussion. The debate develops by the hour, but the essential facts remain unchanged: Michael Brown was an unarmed African-American. In his murder are echoes of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, and many more.