By Roman Johnson
“There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.” – Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)
“I always thought of myself as a reporter.” – Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
In every turn in Keith Lamont Scott’s case, and the protests around the country preceding his murder, there have been conflicting reports of how black people, and people of color in general, have been killed by police. Unsurprisingly, scores of police murder cases of black and brown people follow the same disturbingly insulting racialized scripts that the American public uncritically accepts. The conflicting story narrative is a tool of the white supremacist project that criminalizes black men and women, even post-death.
Media companies are creating, along with police departments, illusion-images which criminalize blackness and bolster the racist narrative that blackness, and by extension black bodies, are violent. For instance, media companies perpetuated black criminality by echoing the line of the Charlotte Police Department even as the video by Scott’s wife surfaced referencing that her husband was disabled and showing police officers escalating the situation. The reality is that Scott’s blackness was weaponized, and that in the frenzied aftermath spurred by violent. white imaginings trying to reconstruct Scott according to a racist narrative, embodying blackness is enough to become a harbor of bullets. Scott’s murder was pinned on a black police officer who was put on administrative leave (paid) while the actual killer, who is a bald-headed white man according to an eyewitness who saw the shooting, walks free.
Once the original story airs, the media instantly tries to defame the victim. Even when there is no evidence to render the victim’s humanity (read: innocence) dubious, there are determined attempts by the media to malign and discredit the possibility of character existing (although even if they actually were an illicit-drug user, that is not a plausible reason to kill them).
Immediately after Lamont’s murder, an organized protest followed. Justin Carr, one of the protestors, was shot by a police officer according to Rosa Clemente, and several other eyewitnesses, but a black man was blamed instead. Even after black and brown people are found hanging dead, or pooling in their own blood, they are pinned as the cause for their own murder by police. Projecting the old racist trope of superhuman ability and strength, many police departments have claimed black and brown women and men shoot themselves to death handcuffed, running through bullets like they are made of the stuff of monsters like Michael Brown, Alexia Christian, Victor White, Jesus Huerta, and others.
When the dominant narrative of corporate media promotes lies, it is our responsibility to trust the voices of the oppressed. Resisting white supremacy is a conscious choice. Being conscious, we have to recognize the patterns of white supremacy—defame, smear, isolate, and blame—in relating to the criminalization of queer bodies (black, brown, trans, etc.).
Here are 4 steps to resisting these narratives:
- Read closely the evidence to render the narratives the media puts out about today’s protest movements, especially the work of different chapters of Black Lives Matter, whose members span across racial/gender/ethnic/sexual-orientation/nationality boundaries.Conflicting stories tend to be vague, brief, and accuse some deplorable subject of being violent or having the potential to be violent because of drug-influenced behavior predicated on racialized associations of particular drugs with certain groups (e.g. PCP, marijuana, crack-cocaine, etc.) This happens because the media is a part of what Angela Davis calls “the prison-industrial complex” as it creates the images for mass-consumption aimed to feed white supremacist notions into the minds of the public and nurture the “racialized assumptions of criminality.”
- Believe the narratives of people closest to the crime scene over police accounts because typical media platforms leave out their perspectives. It wasn’t until days after that the perspective of Keith Lamont Scott’s neighbors came out and gave light to the perspective offered by the Charlotte police department and media companies. A good way to deflect against the doubt-peddling the media does is to explore if people who are native to the neighborhood have their voices weighed as equally as people paid to report, and who abruptly leave as soon as the camera shuts off. We must be weary of people who use the pain of marginalized people for resource gain.
- Ask yourself the following question, “Were there corporate media employees, or a member of the paramilitary complex, who were actively involved in shaping the foundations of the story?” There is an increasing movement by people working for both paramilitary and corporate media enterprises to turn the violence against queer bodies into money making machines.Unfortunately, both members of corporate media and paramilitary employees (e.g. police) have provoked violence to discredit social justice movements that challenge the status quo. According to Angela Davis in her book Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement, with militarism comes the need to introduce racist ideas and a hyper-surveillance society. Ultimately, this is a reflection of a fascist ideology which seeks to mute liberation movements.
- Choose alternative media first, especially media produced by local companies of color and other networks which offer more nuanced, and less sensational coverage of the genocide happening to queer people. In order to counter white supremacy’s strategies of defaming, smearing, blaming, and isolating, we have to use our own intellectual and physical resources.
As we begin to find unacceptable the destruction of queer bodies, real interrogation of how we are represented will ignite. Like an elder once told me, we must love ourselves enough to challenge people who wish to harm us, because, as Audre Lorde once said, our silence will not protect us. We remain strong in the face of white supremacy as we reimagine our own power, strength, and beauty.
- Davis, Angela. 2016. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
- Hill, Marc Lamont. 2016. Nobody: Causalities of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. New York: Atria Books.
- Johnson, Roman. 2015. “Challenging White Supremacy: The #UnitedWeFight We in Ferguson.” BPFNA- Bautistas por la Paz. Retrieved: http://www.bpfna.org/about-us/news/2015/09/09/challenging-white-supremacy-the-unitedwefight-week-in-ferguson.1707873
Roman Johnson is a PhD candidate in Medical Sociology at the University of Alabama, a fellow at The Watering Hole, and loves to see black people alive. He knows your silence or educational attainment won’t save you.