By Hassan Henderson
There are no such things as “appropriate” responses to the violence forged against Black lives. Neither those who directly support the affairs of American imperialism nor their allies possess the moral skill-set to determine how we will get free. Pilgrims are in no position to define either resistance, ending Black dehumanization, or the ramifications of this achievement.
The american establishment, through neo/colonialism and exploitative historical processes, opposes every endeavor toward Black freedom, and thus its political system is unfit to delegate emancipation. Euroamerican empire continues to increase its material and economic wealth by exploiting the emotional and intellectual labor of Black people. It likewise establishes its political and judicial morality with the physical perversion of Black bodies distorted by narratives of Black being as criminal.
Thus, the United States’ “correctional systems” cannot be “corrected;” they will never be repaired and they will not save Black people.
On the morning of June 16, 2017, Valerie Castile confirmed this truth. Three-hundred and forty-five days following the assassination of her son, Philando Castile, she reminded us that “[t]he system in this country continues to fail Black people and will continue to fail us.”
The state ensured further assault on Ms. Castile and her family by acquitting Minnesota police officer and assassin Jeronimo Yanez of (1) “second-degree manslaughter” and (2) “endangering safety by discharging a firearm” during Castile’s execution.
American empire intends to make of Castile—among others—an example of its imperial dominance. This is for no other reason than to secure the sovereignty of white supremacy through the persecution of the greatest threat to its notion of exceptionalism: Blackness.
There has never been an isolated Black death in this country, outside the affairs of white supremacy. All Black death is consequentially linked to the physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual obstruction of Black people and our communities.
Inadequate wages, nonexistent or sparse benefits, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, wage theft, regressive taxation, unaffordable housing options, inflated health care costs, hyper-surveillance, militarized policing, capitalist/materialist overconsumption that emanate the culmination of natural disasters, and rapid global warming and the devastation of farm and food security for Black communities around the world are all weapons forged against Black people globally.
These mechanisms and those like them are deliberately sanctioned against Black lives—on purpose—propagating communities like Wilmington, Delaware as “Murder Town USA,” intentionally bringing death to Black life and wellness of Black life—by pistol, the Prison Industrial Complex, and the re/inforcement of anti-Black policy. Cash-poor Black communities are, by design, conducive for Black death at every juncture; bearing features that obstruct life and quality of life for Black people.
In the case for immediate and full emancipation, it is dignity “by any means necessary.” In No Name In The Street, James Baldwin urges that for Black folk to resist—at any length—an empire so obviously greater than ourselves is to confront our own end and the truth of our individual mortality.
Freedom is worth more than life itself.
Black freedom is Black choice to define (1) the conditions of Black life, (2) how Black lives function politically, and (3) the conditions of our non/existence. Black freedom is full agency to determine the circumstances of our political, physical and spiritual lives. It is individual and collective will and power to define what it means for Black people to survive—both in life and in death.
Castile was assassinated the day after Alton Sterling’s murder. The day after that, on July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson rebelled in Dallas. Ten days later, Gavin Eugene Long rebelled in Baton Rouge. 15 days later, Korryn Gaines was assassinated by militarized police officers in her own home, her 5 year old child, Kodi, in her arms. Kodi was shot by a non-fatal bullet.
All Black retaliation is survival in that every reaction against our oppression is a direct response to structural anti-Blackness—particularly when anti-Blackness is perpetuated against Black people by Black cops.
Although Black police officers may possess certain constitutions (i.e. darker than white skin) none of this warrants that they will fight for us. Black cops serve as agents of an inherently anti-Black and white-prioritizing institution.
Not only will Black cops not save us, they will kill us, they have killed us, and they will continue to kill Black people—directly and indirectly.
Thus, given that Black cops are in the way of Black freedom at large, they are bracketed as an obstruction—“a stumbling block”—to Black retaliation against the white supremacy they “protect and serve.” But Black cops are too the products of white supremacy. They are at once its victim and our villain. Having experienced the fantasy and power of white society, Black cops do not desire to jeopardize their position in its structure. Blackness is valued in white society according to its approximation to whiteness and the value it implores. Black cops will, however, soon discover that as they work within and on behalf of this system, it will ultimately never serve to protect them.
On April 26, 2017 Burgon Sealy Jr. shot Black police officer, Stephen Ballard, multiple times in the head—killing him.
Ballard had been investigating a report of a suspicious car in the parking lot of a Wawa convenience store in Bear, Delaware. The disillusionment of white supremacy constructs tropes of terror upon the sight of Blackness such that a car in a parking lot becomes the cause of “suspicion” solely on the bases that it is occupied by Black bodies.
Witnesses reported to have observed an “altercation” between Ballard and Sealy Jr., during which Sealy shot and killed the officer. After the shooting, police say Sealy drove approximately 15 miles to his family’s Middletown, Delaware home where he barricaded himself inside and held off police with gunfire for 21 hours before being shot dead by state forces after emerging from the home, armed.
People who claim to have known Sealy shared with certain whitewashed eurocentric media sources that “they had never seen any sign from the 26-year-old Sealy that he would kill a police officer.” Reports asserted that “many who knew him were left perplexed—suggesting that the cause could have been mental illness or a hatred of the police.”
Myths which reinforce the narratives of hyper-aggression and sexual perversion of Blackness are distorted vices and will forever be employed to validate violence against Black emancipation.
“he was hassled by police…”
…were the words of Sealy Jr.’s father, responding to questions of “why his son would do such a thing.” The humiliation of Black life is such that our only relief and hope for dignity is discovered through resistance. Given the nature of our oppression, notions regarding “premeditation” are never applicable to Black resistance against white supremacy.
Whereas organizing can serve as a viable method of rebellion, resistance is not always strategically pre/conceived, as much as it is instinctually demonstrated after the weight of persecution is no longer bearable. It is—as I’ve experienced it—“like fire, shut up in my bones (Jer. 20:9).” “Premeditation” vs “spontaneity” is a false dichotomy in the case for Black resistance. Whether acknowledged or not, all Black lives are terrorized in real ways every second of every minute of every hour of every day of our existence.
Black hatred of the police is no grounds for anyone, white or otherwise, to be “left in a state of perplexity.” Confusion regarding “why?” or “how Black folk could hate the police” is anti-Black. This confusion purposefully blots out hundreds of years of anti-Black policy development, demands for the criminalization of Black bodies, hyper-policing of Black communities, and the direct impact of its legacy on Black lives right now.
Though hatred is not necessarily a pre/requisite to defend Black dignity against humiliation at all cost, it is a justified response to anti-Blackness as lived experience. The danger of Black rebellion is not so much founded in a hatred of white people or of their police, but in an unwavering love for Black people and our freedom.
Suggesting that Black resistance is solely about the shedding of “white blood,” or “blue blood” is naturally a reductionist claim; a strategic attempt to center whiteness in the the quest for Black freedom. This is a fight for Black lives, and to suggest otherwise is a scheme, a deceptive device to further exploit Black communities. Complicity in an inherently violent system will beseech one’s own demise as the persecuted opt for freedom by every means necessary. The ramifications of Black freedom will only reflect the resistance with which whiteness defends against its achievement.
Micah Xavier Johnson, Korryn Gaines, Assata Shakur, Gavin Eugene Long, Angela Davis, Burgon Sealy Jr. and all Black revolutionaries here and beyond are always met with an all-out assassination of character in their aim toward freedom. This is accomplished in part by rumors under-girded by ableist tropes regarding Black mental health, islamophobic vices intended to ruin the lives and quality of life for millions of Black faith practitioners globally, and “evidence” that their assassins and would be assassins “acted as a reasonable person would who is in fear for their life.”
Such character assassinations aim to intensify strategies of hyper-surveillance in Black communities; particularly policing Black people whose skin is darker than white, Black people who live with disabilities, Black womyn and femmes, Black trans womyn, Black people who are Muslim, and Black children.
To resist, at any length, an imperial power is to accept the impermanence of one’s life, risking all for a value more urgent than life itself—freedom. Urgency for immediate and full emancipation makes room for a variety of diverging models of resistance. The essential worth of Blackness is discovered when Black agency defines the conditions of Black non/existence politically—in the public and private sphere.
Black death and suffering is not to be romanticized; it must never be gloried, nor discussed as redemptive. Black death is not a value in and of itself. Rather, we create value in how we choose to live our lives and what we decide is worth our final breath.
Black creativity will determine how we tell our stories, and for what reasons. Our dead are not lost because they live through counter narratives shared; stories that will build the strength of community. The innocence of Black children; their #BlackGirlMagic and their #BlackBoyJoy show us how to live freely right now.
Even in death-dealing conditions, this is our hope and our salvation: that resistance would compel all Black people—“like fire shut up”—to work toward an alternative place where we can all get free. We have the skill set to survive now. We have enough love to care for all Black lives now. We collectively posses imaginative visions to create different realities for Black people—a free world now; through the examples of the lives we lead, even unto death.
Hassan Xavier Henderson-Lott is a black-queer seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.