The Assassination of Sandra Bland and the Struggle against State Repression

During the struggle in South Africa black activists who were captured by the state had a strange habit of jumping to their deaths from the windows of jails and court houses whenever the authorities would turn their backs. In the U.S. the method of suicide black prisoners appear to choose is death by hanging, that is when they are unable to pull a gun from an officer and shoot themselves in the chest while handcuffed behind their backs.

In Waller County, Texas, Sandra Bland, a young black woman from Illinois, an activist with black lives matter, who was, according to friends and family, excited about her new job in Texas is stopped for a minor traffic, beaten, jailed and found dead two days later in her cell. Her death labeled a suicide by the Waller County Sheriff Glen Smith.

Because Sandra Bland was an activist who advised others about their rights and the proper way to handle a police encounter, no one is accepting the official explanation that she took her own life.

What does seem clear is that Sandra was a woman who understood her rights and was more than prepared to defend her dignity. However, for a black person in the U.S. defending one’s dignity in an encounter with the police is a crime that that can lead to a death sentence, or in the parlance of human rights, an extra-judicial execution by state agents.

While many are calling for something called justice for Sandra Bland, we would be doing Sandra and all those who have had their lives taken by the agents of repression a disservice if we didn’t place this case in its proper political and historical context.

A psycho-analytic analysis of the dynamics involved with Blands’ gender and blackness could easily conclude that Bland was perceived as an existential threat to the racist male cops who pulled her out of car. Being a conscious, “defiant” black woman she probably disrupted their psychological order and meaning of themselves by her presence and willingness to defend her dignity.

However, as interesting as the individualized analysis and expressions of the psychopathology of white supremacy might be, the murder of Sandra Bland has to be contextualized politically as part of the intensifying war being waged on black communities and peoples’ across the country.

And because the state is waging war against us and will be targeting our organizations, as an activist, organizer and popular educator, Sandra’s murder must be seen as a political murder and receive sustain focus as such.

Coming right before the Black Lives Matter Movement gathering in Cleveland, Sandra’s murder dramatically drives home the ever present dangers of not just being black in a culture of normalize anti-blackness, but the vulnerabilities associated with being a black activist and especially a black woman activist.

Historically the tyranny of white power has always had its most dehumanized expressions in relationship to black women. The unrestrained and unlimited power of white supremacist domination converged on the captive bodies of black women during slavery and has symbolically and literally continued during the post-enslavement period of capitalist/colonialist subordination of black people in the U.S.

However, from Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Claudia Jones, Fannie Lou Hammer through to Assata Shukur, Elaine Brown, Jaribu Hill and countless others, revolutionary black women held-up the sky and provided the vision of liberation over the ages.

When the South African government began to target black women activists, the popular response was that now the racist government had “struck a rock.”

This week, under the leadership of black woman activists, much of the resistance movement to the escalating violence of the state will gather in Cleveland to engage in reflection and planning. Sandra Bland will be on the minds of those activists as well as Malissa Williams who found herself at the receiving end of 137 bullets fired by members of the Cleveland police department that ripped apart the bodies of her and her companion Timothy Russell. And the activists will certainly highlight the case of 12 year old Tamir Rice who was shot point blank two seconds after police arrived on the scene where he had been playing with his toy gun in a park near his home.

Yet, the assassination of Sandra must be seen as a blow against the movement. That is why the BLM must struggle to develop absolute clarity related to the political, economic, social and military context that it/we face.

The struggle in the U.S. must be placed in an anti-colonial context or we will find ourselves begging for the colonial state to violate the logic of its existence by pretending that it will end something called police brutality and state killings. The settler-state is serious about protecting white capitalist/colonialist power while we are still trapped in the language of liberal reformism demanding “justice” and accountability.

Those demands are fine as transitional demands if we understand that those demands are just that – transitional. Authentic justice and liberation will only come when there is authentic de-colonization and revolutionary power in the hands of self-determinate peoples’ and oppressed classes and social groups.

The martyrdom of Sandra Bland and all that came before her and who will follow – and there will be more – demands this level of clarity. We did not ask for this war. But we understand history and our responsibilities to our history of resistance and our radical vision that we can be more than we are today.

Our enemies want us to think that they are invincible but we know their secrets and know that they can be defeated. All we have to do is to be willing to fight.

No ‘Je Suis Charleston’?: The De-politicization of Black Oppression

Where are the international marches of solidarity with African Americans? The statements from world leaders condemning the terrorist attack and calling on U.S. Authorities to crack down on the white nationalist terror networks developing in the U.S.? Where are the marches in white communities condemning racism and standing with black people? Why no ‘Je Suis Charleston’?

The fact that these questions are not being raised by most people speaks to the adroit way in which the propagandists of the U.S. state, with the corporate media in lockstep, successfully domesticated and depoliticized the murderous attack in Charleston, South Carolina.

First, President Obama, as the government’s chief propagandist, defined Dylann Roof, the white nationalist assailant, as a pathological, hateful loner who had easy access to guns. The words “terrorist” never crossed his lips or the lips of any other officials of the national government.

Then, the state and corporate media followed-up this framing with a fascinating slight-of-hand stunt: instead of focusing on the domestic security threat posed by violent, racist right-wing extremists groups in the country, the old trope of gun control – along with a new twist, removing the Confederate flag – became the new focus! The implication was that by removing the Confederate battle flag – a symbol of white supremacy and the defense of slavery – from public buildings (no one bothered to explain why, if this was the rationale for removing the Confederate flag, there would not be a discussion around the need to reject the national flag also), that would somehow move the country towards racial reconciliation, much like electing a black president was supposed to do.

The effectiveness of this propaganda effort paid off just a few days after the attack. The domestic and international press gave full coverage to the spate of “terrorist” attacks that took place in three different counties but missing from that coverage was any connection and mention of the terror attack in Charleston.

However, it was at the funeral of Rev Pinckney, the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murdered by Dylann Roof, where the concluding act of the governments’ obscene efforts to co-opt and deflect the pain of the attack played to a world-wide audience. President Obama turned in one of his best performances of a life-time of performances for white supremacy. His eulogy was a masterful example of his special talent to embody an instrumentalist “blackness” while delivering up that blackness to the white supremacist, U.S. settler project. In his eulogy, he couched his narrative of “American exceptionalism” in the language of Christian religiosity that was indistinguishable from the proclamations of the religious right that sees the U.S. as a state bestowed with the grace of their God.

Obama sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and lulled into a stupefying silence black voices that should have demanded answers as to why the Charleston attack was not considered a terrorist attack, even though it fit the definition of domestic terrorism, or why the Obama Administration collaborated with suppressing the 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which identified violent white supremacist groups as a threat to national security more lethal than the threat from Islamic ‘fundamentalists’.

Because of this threat and the depraved indifference to black life by the U.S. government, international attention and solidarity is critical for African Americans. Yet, by quickly deploying the Obama weapon – aligning the government with the victims of the attack but defining the attack as a domestic criminal act – the political space for international solidarity with the plight of African Americans was significantly reduced, at least in relationship to the Charleston attack.

There is another element of this story that compelled the Administration to get out in front of this issue. Obama needed to draw attention away from the fact that his Administration caved under the pressure from the “respectable” racist right-wingers in Congress who criticized the DHS report in 2009.

John Boehner, the leader of the House of Representatives, characterized the report as “Offensive and unacceptable.” According to Boehner, the Obama Administration should not be condemning “American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”

Instead of defending Secretary Napolitano and the report issued by her Department, or taking the opportunity provided by the report to educate the public on this internal threat, Obama threw Napolitano under the bus and the DHS pulled the report from its website. The unit responsible for monitoring white supremacist organizations and movements was dismantled, and the threat of white supremacist violence becoming the victim of Washington politics.

This is the mindset and the politics of this Administration and the political culture in the U.S., where the differential value placed on black life allows black life to be reduced to an instrumental calculation when considering issues of international public relations and domestic politics.

The result?

For all intents and purposes, the tragedy in Charleston is over, closed out on a song written by a captain on a slave ship in 1779 and sung over 200 years later by a black man still in the service of white supremacy.

Closing the historical circle: White Terrorism at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

“…It is time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time we have to let the same world know we’ll blow their world sky-high if we’re not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.” (Malcolm X)

Two hundred years ago, it is quite likely that Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African who managed to purchase his freedom and co-found the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, met in the relative safe space of that church to plan the slave rebellion that marked his entry into history. Set for June 17 1822, his audacious plan was to free as many Africans as possible, commandeer a ship from the Charleston Harbor and set sail for the free territory of Haiti, which had defeated Napoleon’s army and established itself as the first African republic on the planet. After Vesey was betrayed and his plot uncovered, local whites burned the church to the ground, only to be rebuilt again by the Africans of Charleston.

In what can be seen as a metaphor for the African American experience in the U.S., almost two centuries later, Dylann Storm Roof, a militant white nationalist, stood up in the sacred space of Emanuel AME church on June 17, the anniversary of Vesey’s planned rebellion and unleashed a murderous attack on a small gathering of Black worshippers.

This latest outrage followed on the heels of the execution of Walter Scott by a Charleston police officer a few months ago. The video of the Scott murder and the constant images of brutal cops behaving with an air of impunity as they murder and beat Black men, woman and children across the country have generated a growing sense among African Americans, even the pro-American apologists, that Black people are under a racist siege.

Yet, for Dylann Storm Roof, the Black people in that church were the aggressors and he was the defender of white civilization, the “American” way of life and spirit that President Obama praised in his speech in Selma. Obama pushes the liberal version of the white nationalist narrative of inclusiveness and integration into the U.S. settler project by the subordinate racialized peoples., But Roof and many other white settlers are committed to upholding an unaltered view of the U.S. shared by the “founding fathers,” who established the U.S. as the first racist republic in history.

Roof is reported to have said that black people are rapists and are taking over HIS country. While it is easy for everyone to condemn and even pathologize Roof for his views, an honest assessment of the racialized discourse used to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions would reveal an ideological consistency between Roof’s fear and loathing of the non-European “other” and the messages conveyed in recruitment posters for the U.S. military that depict soldiers waging war in far-off places to protect OUR freedoms in the U.S. Military propagandists know that the representation of the “non-white other” informs the imagination of most Americans when they think of foreign threats to the “homeland.”

A new generation of African Americans are slowing coming to the conclusion that it does not matter if it is the streets of Bagdad or Ferguson — they/we are the enemies, who, as Roof said, must be stopped. The irrational, violence-prone racialized “other” occupies a permanent space in the consciousness of so many in the U.S., which is why it has been so easy to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions and campaigns of political subversion, from Iraq to Venezuela.

Sermons have already started condemning violence in the U.S., while the U.S. continues to send arms to known Islamic extremists in Syria, provide logistical and political support to the Saudi’s brutal and illegal war in Yemen, arm and train neo-Nazi fascists in Ukraine while militarily pivoting to Asia – and no one in the corporate media will call it hypocrisy.

Obama and the ruling class in the U.S. are not concerned with violence. Obama just wants to make sure that the violence is state-sanctioned. While he moralizes about gun violence and the availability of weapons, he continues to allow massive military arms to be passed from the federal government to police forces through the government’s 1033 program. And the fact that the U.S. is the biggest arms merchant in the world is information that Obama will never share with the public.

Quotes by Dr. King about the need for a non-violent response to the racist assault we are under in the U.S. are once again being pulled out. The Dr. King quotes they don’t repeat, however, are those about the U.S. being the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. And they certainly will not remind the people that Dr. King argued that the only way the U.S. might hope to cure itself of the maladies of racism, materialism and militarism is through a radical restructuring of society. No, we won’t hear that Dr. King, and few will know about Vesey and his connection to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. But we know Malcolm, and Malcolm’s words bring the clarity we need today to close the circle of struggle.