‘I take it as given that at the beginning of the 21st century, any notion of ‘race’ as a ‘valid biological entity’ no longer warrants serious discussion’ these are the words of the erudite scholar Neville Alexander in arguably his last published work. The sensibility of this statement in an indisputable superior technologically advanced society should be common and thus find practical functionality to give content to the obsolete state of race, yet it does not.
Alexander reminds us in remonstrating yet “the invalidity of the concept of ‘race’ in the domain of human biology does not carry over into the domains of individual and social psychology”
A year ago I penned a note Dylann Roof killed Rachel Dolezal in church, America’s incessant race problem. This morning we awoke to the unwelcoming news of an unfolding shooting incident in downtown Dallas. The scene finds us treated to video coverage captured by a quick-thinking perhaps curious citizen who was alarmed by what appeared to be gunshots ringing out in automatic machine gun sound.
Perhaps this is not too uncommon for Chicago, Miami, South Central Los Angeles or even other parts of the USA where gang-violence often occurs.
Yet this image is different what makes it so different is not the fact that we cannot clearly identify the shooter, what makes it different is who the shooter targets. It became clear that the shooter was targeting police officers, yet if that was the end of it we may consider this another criminal attacking law enforcement seeking to desist arrest, however that is not the case either. What unfolds paints a picture of a shooter still not easily identifiable but very consciously shooting at police officers, which in the -land of the brave and the home of the free- share a denotation for their human agency as white.
It is here that it becomes important to ask. Why would anyone take aim at officers the guardians of peace and the custodians of safety? Why would anyone one raise a gun or weapon let alone an automatic attack machine gun against law enforcement officers clearly clad in their uniform as they chaperone a peaceful march?
The echo that retorts back regardless to how we may attempt to avoid, compels us to draw lines, where many in their diverse hardened political convictions in a 45th presidential race refuse to go.
This is not a single crazy person who decided to take aim at the police of Dallas, in particular white officers, this it appears a man on a mission. Micah Xavier Johnson’s unwelcoming choice for executing his plan is a peaceful demonstration of campaigners for “black lives matters”. Yet this peaceful campaign is not a solitary one but one that has a root in the most recent brutality of police officers in the slaying of two men who share a denotation of black for their human agency.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile did not know each other in person; they lived in different cities and states in the United States of America. Yet, Sterling and Castile, fell prey to the common demon of racism exemplified in law enforcement. Their cases, upbringing and epistemologies may in case – law present divergent lives, yet their common identity of black renders them the natural target for a unique form of brutality that America in recent years have come to see exerting itself.
Cut back to these incidents, Sterling the hustler with a criminal record, Castile the teacher at primary school with no criminal record. Sterling we are told was on the street hustling when he was approached by law enforcement, we are told he had a gun, yet footage again captured by a bystander with his android cellular phone attests a picture no one can deny.
Sterling was wrestled to the ground whilst with one hand clutching bootleg DVD’s, his hustle, and the other we are told going for his pocket. What we saw is two police officers jumping him, pin him to the ground and one literally atop of him as he lays on his back, the other loosening his holster in pointing his gun at the head of Sterling. What next unfolds is not an arrest, as we ought to see in democratic society. Instead we then get treated to daylight murder in the streets of Louisiana. The officer atop of Sterling pumped 6 bullets into his upper body and Sterling dies with blood flowing from gashing wounds.
Cut forward, Castile was travelling in his car with his fiancée in the passenger seat and his 3-year-old baby girl in the backseat. We are told he was pulled over for a dysfunctional taillight. This in the normal every day life would earn you at least a warning at worsts a ticket. Yet on that fateful day, an officer as captured by his fiancée’s cell phone approaches Sterling, the officer shouted instructions and Castile tried to get his licence.
What next unfolds defies logic, sanity and humanity because in stark presence of his fiancée and baby girl the police pumps without hesitation four bullets into the upper body of Castile amidst his fiancée pleading as overcome in shock by this awfulness of this event cries for her dying man. Her cry ‘please officer tell me you didn’t do just that”. Castile slumps and his eyes rolls as he chokes to death on his own blood.
What will stay perhaps eternalized in our memories is not the agony of a fiancée, who screams and cries but a 3-year old baby girl who has to console her when she had just witnessed her dad died at the hand of a police officer. Police officers that this 3 years old is taught signals safety, protection and care, has just obliterated this child’s picture of what she was taught. This is America.
The twist in the tail is not that that Sterling and Castile was shot, the twist in the tail is not that they were killed the twist is they were killed on the same day by white officers.
When we therefore seek to understand the protest marches that unfolded even the one with tragic consequences for law enforcement in Dallas we must contextualize this with the aforementioned incidents, isolated for some but conjoined for others. How do we claim them conjoined, well the shooter in Dallas we are told by Chief Brown shouted his irate state of agony disgust and hate for white officers as those who killed Sterling and Castile without legitimate reason.
Close examination for an identity for the shooter in Dallas leads us to a black man, but not an ordinary black man but a military trained man, who had served in Iraq. It appears he had chosen to rationalize there is an enemy in the borders of the USA, the very USA he sought to protect from outside forces. He thus decides the enemy is so real that he will declare a war on what he considers the enemy, willing to lay down his life for the cause no different to being willing to die on foreign soil.
Martin Luther King junior in his speech delivered at Riverside Church in New York in the autumn of 1967 attempts to capture perhaps what the shooter, was dealing with the negro wants to know why he is called upon to fight a war in Vietnam for it liberation when the negro cant walk in Chicago.
So we must ask the tough question, what really killed the law officers in Dallas? The easy answer is the shooter of Micah Xavier Johnson, yet the more plausible answer I postulate is perhaps a race consciousness that has so often played out in stark inhumanity.
We can give him a litany of adjectives to describe him as the president and many others rightfully did. Yet stopping at calling him whatever does not deal with America’s race problem. Regardless to how we may attempt to reason against the coldness of facts that the nation is not polarized, America must wake up from its sleeping slumber because the beast of racism is eating it alive.
To postulate that the Dallas police officers were killed by more than the shooter is not to exonerate the one that pulled the trigger but to contextualise the subject of race and identity and how its is given legs in a society that prides itself in being a democracy for almost a quarter of a century. Blaming the shooter in isolation claim does not do justice to begin to engage the conversation Americans are compelled to have now more than ever before. The conversation on race and its seeming attending enclave of police enforcement as evidenced in a litany of cases in which black lives are lost attest a reality of an earlier season of the 1960’s.
A denial of this polarized context as the president attempts does not make it go away, I have elsewhere asked that America needs leadership now, it does not need scripted analysis borne from the central conviction of a rationality as if this is a case study. It demands leadership from the White House.
Perhaps we must first start to admit that Sterling and Castile were killed. Saying they were shot is an injustice by itself for it downplays the act and callous deed of murder.
The questions are many; the police officers that shot Sterling were not in contact with the officer that killed Castile. They did not attend a gathering of officers we must assume where the message was send go our there and find reason to kill black males. They were not part of a secret society hell-bent on destroying the rights enshrined in the USA declaration of independence, yet their acts both individual and collectively communicates a reality that more and more becomes indisputable.
We must ask what does police enforcement mean if it is perceived as feeding at the trough of racist ideological convictions, we must ask is enforcement not to be replaced with service? We must ask how content for that service is filled?
The conversation that America must have is how do white officers share the common psychology of a fear for black males. Equally we must ask how and why black parents are compelled to have the talk with black young men. Talks in which they black young lives have to be warned against a plausible reality of racist behaviour from the very police enforcement that that is to protect, only because they black.
How dare we assert America is not polarized when everyday a young black man in America leaves his parents home with the very real possibility of not returning home that same night. We must ask how police enforcement can be responsible for this fear, this black reality, from which those with darker melanin cannot escape.
Equally how can it be that white officers are afraid and brace themselves against plausible attack only because they white.
Finally, does the subject of race as evidenced in colour coding of black and white for a common human identity as articulated in formal discourse by the writings of Immanuel Kant in 1785 in his now infamous Rassen articles. We must ask how and why we remain loyal to the unscientific notion of race, we must ask how we remained trapped in this precarious hot air balloon that threatens at every turn to fall from the sky. Is it not time we free ourselves from the unsustainable identity construction and configuration for our collective common identity as humans.
Therefore I conclude, Sterling and Castile were killed by a race-constricted mind, I submit the police officers that died in Dallas were killed, were murdered by a race-trapped mind.
America as 240 year old democracy owe it itself to have the conversation of the costs of holding on to race constricted thinking with colour for its base.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine