The Gavel of Justice is Now in the Hands of the People

A #BlackLivesMatter Solidarity Speech

The Martinican revolutionary psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon once wrote, “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”

For many reasons. For many reasons we can no longer breathe.

In just three months over 100,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

A disproportionate number of them are Black people who have lost their lives from a virus that did not discriminate in a society that continues to. In places sometimes double and triple the rate of the general population, the Black community is weathering an assault on our lives that is unprecedented in our community’s history here. The virus has exposed all the structural inequalities that have wreaked havoc on our communities for generations.

Discrimination in health care access, provision, and quality of care. Discrimination in employment where we find ourselves in disproportionate numbers in essential workers positions that are paid the bare minimum, often not able to receive the health care we provide for others. The stories of bus drivers dying within days after infected passengers board. The lack of appropriate PPE for retail workers, again, places in the labor pool where we predominate due to the discriminations in public and higher education. The discrimination of the judicial system finding us in jails, prisons state, federal and private with no attention given to our basic health needs let alone social distancing.

It was just over a month ago that we witnessed white men and women armed to the teeth bumrush state capitols in what would be called in other countries an attempted coup for the purpose of reopening the economy. The lewd spectacle of white women holding up signs complaining that they need to go get their hair done. These, knowing full well the toll this will likely take on our community. Without concern, without regard for the death toll climbing.

Like our ancestors chained at the bottom of slave ships where we breathed the toxic air and suffocated due to lack of oxygen, here again some 400 years later, we find ourselves chained to the bottom of an economic ship that have decided to sacrifice many of us to keep it afloat.

We exist now literally gasping for air under the weight of a 500-billion-dollar bailout that went to the already rich. While many of us go deeper in debt having no ability to pay the rent.

And if that were all of the reasons, that would be more than enough.

But this society, in all its treacherous white domination, has not for a moment eased up off our backs long enough for us to catch a life-affirming breath amidst this pandemic. In what seemed like almost a daily barrage of traumatic video after traumatic video of another Black person murdered in plain sight, our stress levels as a community are most comparable to those who daily lived under direct threat of death by whip, pistol and noose. All talk of social progress must now cease. Any such talk is but an insult to the injury we are reeling from still.

We did not give life to our sons and daughters for their names to be remembered as hashtags. Seems crazy to confess that we live in a white world that only appears to care for our lives after we are dead. This past Friday was the birthday of Breonna Taylor. She should be 27 years old with the rest of her bright life ahead of her. She was murdered by the Louisville Police Dept went they burst into her home without knocking or announcing themselves. Her boyfriend opened fire (as was his right) and the police went ballistic. She died. An illegal break-in into a home that they had not meant to enter, looking for someone who didn’t even live there. Ms. Taylor was an EMT. Had been on the frontlines providing necessary medical and emergency care during this pandemic. Is there a more fitting condemnation of white supremacist reality upon Black lives at this moment?

And it would take the fires of rebellion to call the nation’s attention yet again to a racist reality that remains despite all the press conferences, all the statements, all the hashtags, all the marches, all the pleads, all the last dying gasps for mercy. Yet again, it would take the acts of violence on commercial and government property to call attention to the deadly violence against Black people. That is what it takes. For that is the only time that this nation feigns attention.

By now we have all seen the videotaped footage of four men from different backgrounds all sanctioned by the state, casually lynching a man in broad daylight handcuffed as he was. Literally watched him helplessly die as the one cop, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on his neck long after his fellow officer told him that he could not find a pulse. With his hand in his pocket looking at witnesses with the same disaffected yet gleeful gaze as his forebears did as they posed for pictures under the black bodies swaying in the southern and northern breezes. Those they just murdered.

George Floyd, how many gentle giants have fallen in our midst? His life for a supposed counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. This father had his life violently taken from him. Now I don’t know about you, but if I just used a counterfeit bill, I’m not going to sit in my car and linger there after making the purchase. But that is not the point, is it? What is the point is that the justice system that fails to charge, arrest, indict, try and convict police officers who go above the law is the point. “Equal protection under the law” is the claim. Trial by jury of one’s peers is the claim. It is the system itself that is counterfeit when it comes to Black people. What is counterfeit if not the claim of life liberty and pursuit of happiness written and signed by a man who would be president who owned 600 Africans as slaves when he signed his name to it? It is this counterfeit system that continues to make a mockery of our lives as Black people. No matter what we do or don’t do, we are at risk of finding our lives end in the same manner as Mr. Floyd, as Ms. Taylor and the countless others whose names we know and will never know.

To live in such a dystopian and distorted reality where all it takes to have the life choked out of you is a phone call from an Amy Cooper while bird watching in the park. This is the walking reality of every Black person in this nation at this very hour.

It took burning buildings, it took us dancing on cop cars, it took us being maced and tear-gassed once again. Violence upon violence upon violence for organizations that claim nonviolence, that claim truth justice and the American way or whatever to stand up and stand with us. Where were you when we said, “Hands up don’t shoot?” Where were you when we first said, “We cant breathe?” Where were you when we staged die-ins at shopping malls across the country? Where were you when one of our most famous, most elite athletes took a knee for justice and was fired for it? And for those that say, I was there. How long? For how long did you stay with us? For far too long we have had the fair-weather friendships with our allies. Those there just long enough to capture some of the camera lights. So that when the record is written they can say they made a statement, they had their banner at the march. But that is only the beginning of movements for change. Change doesn’t come in the streets alone. Change comes in the court rooms, in the board rooms, in the city councils and congressional chambers. Change comes in the self-determined movement of the people themselves. That is where the real work takes place; and for far too long that work has been our burden to carry. When this society, its structure, make-up and machinery are all set in place for the benefit of the few and those who look like them most.

But now the world is watching. The oppressed all over this planet now stand with us. Recognizing our pain as their pain. And yes, even the privileged here are standing up in ways that are old and new. And we welcome all of this. In fact, this is how nonviolent revolutions indeed do occur.

And of all the places of solidarity, the one that must be held up is that of the Palestinian people. For they of all the peoples know well our pain. For the same forces that keep their knees on their necks are the same forces that train police here how to do the same to us. So we lift up the names of Iyad Halak a 32 year-old man with severe autism murdered by Israeli-border police two Saturdays past. We lift up the name of 4-year-old Rafif Qara’een shot by a stray bullet while she sat with her family for dinner on May 21st.

Their struggle is our struggle is their struggle is ours. There are no borders in the work of social justice.

Dancers from First Nations and Aztec nations moved the spirits at the site made sacred again. This is the sacred work of solidarity.

And our blood is still being spilled. Even during these protests. In Louisville, KY beloved barbecue restaurant owner David McAtee killed by those he was to known to feed freely. local police. His body left there for 12 hours.

So we carry suspicion of the police kneeling with us during the day only to tear gas us and kill us after dark.

The call for institutional racism may begin with the police, but it certainly doesn’t end there. That call must echo within all institutions, government agencies, corporations and non-profit organizations and congregations for it to be true.

Don’t let your statement be as inauthentic and half-hearted as the NFL when they failed to acknowledge Colin Kaepernick and indicate their intention to see him rehired. Don’t be like the Congressman from NY caught on the mic saying, “If I didn’t have a primary I wouldn’t care.” Don’t be like him only concerned because you have campaign.

Don’t raise funds on our pain only to walk away when the marching is done.

If your BLM statement is to ring true, then Black lives must matter at your job, your office, throughout all levels of your organization.

Do Black lives matter when it comes to hiring? Do Black lives matter when it comes to pay equity? To promotion? To program budget and program leadership?

What policies do you have in place to address the racism of the Amy Coopers in your organization? Those white women and men who feel entitled to weaponize their white privilege whenever they are confronted by Black people.

Do Black lives matter enough for your organization to actively support the calls for justice and put in the work necessary to see justice realized?

Nonprofit organizations are especially challenged at this historic moment to be as visionary as the protestors and put time, effort and energy to back up the calls for defunding the police. And for those troubled by the idea of abolishing the police, you are challenged to do the research and educate yourselves on why that call has come forward at this moment.

This is the time to clarify our position and analysis. What is most clear and undeniable is the systemic nature of police corruption and violence. It is supported and abetted by all of the institutions in the criminal justice system. For true change to occur, we must say that the DA is a cop. The State Attorney is a cop. The FBI is a cop. The Justice Department is cop. The Attorney General is a cop. And we know the biggest cop of all is in the White House.

A cop must now be understood as any institution that supports a status quo that deprives money from public schools, social welfare programs to enable police departments to maintain bloated budgets that provide them unofficial license to continue to abuse their oath and office. City Hall is a cop. The judge is a cop. And most times so is the jury.

Therefore, the gavel of justice is now in the hands of every person marching in the streets. And that is where we must remain until justice is realized in the lives of every Black person in this country.

As the leading voice of this movement, Tamika Mallory said in her impassioned speech in Minneapolis,

Arrest the cops! Arrest all the cops!

For we who believe in justice

We who have given our lives to see Black liberation realized

will not rest until it comes.

Poet. Essayist. Political Activist. Author of Black Phoenix Uprising. Learn more about his work at Osayande.org.

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