Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Police Brutality, Black America, and the US Occupy Movement

by Solomon Comissiong

The US “Occupy Movement” continues to raise Americans consciousness regarding a number of critical social issues and inequities, including the vast wealth disparity within the so-called “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”.  The US version of the movement began on Wall Street and has now spread throughout numerous cities and towns, gaining momentum with each new participant. Many Americans, young and older, are beginning to shed some of their apathetic clothing, in hopes of tailoring a new garment riddled with threads of social and economic justice. People are indeed seeking a new, more progressive society within a nation (America) drenched in injustice, and inequality. And as these movements begin to foment so does the state sponsored apparatus of repression—the police. Many seasoned and fledgling activists are beginning to get their first unhealthy taste of police brutality and abuse of power. Even privileged college students, such as those at Berkley, are encountering some of the inhumane treatment that is sometimes doled out from the hands of rogue police officers.

Experiencing police brutality and terror is horrifying for anyone, especially those unaccustomed to it. Much of “mainstream” America has expressed distress, disgust, and displeasure with the unsettling images of activists, many of which are white, being sprayed with pepper spray, beat with batons, and bloodied. However, this treatment of human-beings, as barbaric as it is, is merely a sampling of what is done in black and brown communities, day in and day out—year by year!

In order to create a better, more egalitarian and justice oriented society, solidarity will be crucial; however the disproportionate suffering that various demographics endure must be recognized. Without this recognition we can expect to see a continuation, in some form, of race-based social injustices such as institutional racism. The police terror that many black and brown communities experience, on a daily basis, is directly associated to institutional racism. America, unofficially, continues to function much like an apartheid state. Disproportionate unemployment, poverty, living standards, and wealth distribution, are even more pronounced when comparing black communities to white ones. And when it comes to policing, black and brown communities are under constant surveillance, harassment, and brutality. Unarmed black people are routinely brutalized, and killed, by racist and corrupt “law” enforcement. As bad as these various rogue police officers are, it is the institution of law enforcement in America that protects their actions, thus serving as the lifeblood to keep it going—-in perpetuity. These issues are not isolated, nor are they novel—they happen all the time in communities of color, throughout the United States.

Black and brown communities have been fighting police brutality, in one way or another, for generations, however much of “mainstream” America (white America), have either ignored this human rights issue or not taken it as seriously as they would if this was effecting white communities in the same manner. For instance, if Aiyana Stanley-Jones was a seven year old white girl who had been shot and killed by a police officer, while sleeping in her family’s living room, there would be national outrage broadcasted throughout America’s corporate media airwaves. This would be mainstream news for weeks, if not months and years. However, this tragedy and crime remains unknown to the vast majority of Americans. The brutal truth remains, much of white America (especially the media outlets it controls) could not give a damn about the impact of police brutality on communities of color, even when its victims are seven year old black girls.

These issues must be mentioned at every “Occupy” demonstration, as much as humanly possible. This author knows from attending a few different “Occupy” demonstrations that some people are working hard to make this issue prominent, however others are not. The issue of police brutality within communities of color must be raised, addressed, and combated. It is one of numerous human rights issues that plague black and brown communities. Police brutality, among other issues (e.g., mass incarceration, unemployment, gentrification, etc), must be completely eradicated. Until they are addressed on a mass scale, by those outside communities of color, the “Occupy Movement” is nowhere close to achieving its full social potential.

When those who claim to represent “the 99%” reject as “divisive” the grievances of the Black, red and brown minority, they are claiming a false mandate. “Until more so-called white liberals, progressives and activists take Black issues seriously enough to give them more than lip service; many black people will continue to see themselves as marginalized, even within the broader Occupy Movement.” There can be no just society in “an apartheid state.” Since its illegitimate founding, America is, and has always been, a white settler state.

The perception of marginalization from the “Occupy Movement” that some black activists have is a very real one and should be validated before anyone emotionally rebuffs it as if those black activists are just “making unnecessary waves that divide”. I have heard this from time to time and from time to time I have vehemently rejected that knee-jerk reaction from some “activists” who do not understand the social dynamics of the black community. First and foremost it should be understood that America is an institutionally racist country built on a despicable legacy of brutality towards people of color. This history and its present day legacy, has yet to be reconciled by much of white America and its mainstream institutions (schools, media, government). People of color have no choice but to deal with America’s structural racism and white supremacist overtones, each and every day. These injustices follow us, no matter where we go. Ignoring it will never make it go away.

Recognizing and comprehending that institutional racism is a social disease is a significant first step toward combating its deleterious impact on people of color. America has never recognized this irrefutable fact. As a matter of fact, America has black president that, like his predecessor, has refused to send a US delegation to the United Nations’ World Conference against Racism. This should make it rather clear as to the level of commitment the US has towards ending institutional racism. America’s continuous denial of their homegrown brand of institutional racism is a telltale indication that it is a nation in desperate need of serious social rehabilitation.

Understanding that America is infected with this social disease is a critical second step. This is an honest diagnose which can lead towards practical treatments (solutions). However, without this recognition on some mass public scale, social convalescence becomes even more of an uphill battle. Those who claim to be social justice oriented activists must be willing to place institutional racism and white supremacy within their collection of “causes” to unwaveringly battle. Those white liberals who are turned off by language like “white supremacy” and “institutional racism” are a major part of the overall problem. They are the disingenuous frauds that prescribe to myths like, “American Exceptionalism”. Disillusionment and suppression of the root causes of rampant and disproportionate police brutality, in communities of color, only add to the unabated social malady. This is a sickness that black activists have routinely struggled and fought against, as well as persistently tried to publicize on a broad level. Despite these important ongoing efforts, the so-called white liberal media routinely marginalizes the voices of most of these black activists.

This author has had the opportunity to visit, participate, and report on what I saw at some occupations. When interviewing black activists, who had been there much longer than I, most shared an understandable level of frustration regarding their voices being marginalized, especially by the so-called liberal media. Some of those interviews can be heard by clicking here. The liberal white media wanted nothing to do with them, and therefore nothing to do with the social issues they were trying to shed a bright light upon. This marginalization is not rare in America and it is not solely practiced by the white media. This is a practice of marginalization that is riddled throughout mainstream America, which is why harmful social injustices continue to run rampant in black and brown communities. This is, in essence, why this author refers to America as an apartheid state—one based on “separateness”. And that separateness is broken down upon racial isolation and the disproportionate allocation of everything from human rights to resources. Those who are of color are typically the people who catch the most hell by way of this unwritten American policy of separate and unequal. Instead of having pepper spray showered on them, people of color subsisting in governmentally neglected communities routinely have police officers’ bullets sprayed upon them. If the majority of people in the “Occupy Movement” were black the backlash from the police would be devastatingly violent, and most likely deadly.

If solidarity is the mantra of the US “Occupy Movement” then more and more demonstrations need to incorporate serious dialogue and organization as how to combat institutional racism and white supremacy. People of color inAmerica do not have the “political power” to accompany prejudice, which is why it is currently impossible for people of color to practice institutional racism towards Euro-Americans, even if they wanted to. Racism is prejudice plus political power. More and more white people who define themselves as social justice advocates and/or progressives must be willing to go into predominately white communities and challenge the longstanding “power” structures, deep-seated racial/cultural hate, as well as ignorance that are connected to the larger overarching problems of institutional racism and white supremacy. These white activists must also be willing to demand an end to white people’s monopoly of political, social and economic power, especially since that monopoly has illegal roots of theft of Native American land and the enslavement of African people. People of color need to have the ability to determine their own destinies, without interference. Many people of color are fighting for these things. And some white people are fighting for these human rights—however many more are needed.  American institutional racism is a white problem that has destroyed countless lives of color, thus making it a social epidemic.

The Occupy Movement in the US is an important step towards a more socially and economically just world. As a social justice activist I am wholeheartedly in favor of that kind of world.  I am also in solidarity with those who are fighting on behalf of those radical paradigm shifts. However, until things like police brutality and police terror are universal issues within the “mainstream”, we have a long way to go. And until white supremacy and institutional racism are fought against by a critical mass of Euro-Americans, the US will continue on as the apartheid state it is. Until these things are radically changed, police brutality will linger on like an untreated festering sore. When seven year old black girls are indiscriminately murdered by police, it is a blatant indication of a society with a deadly disease. That disease is called institutional racism and it disease kills people of color on a regular basis. It is time for the “Occupation Movement” to metastasize  (in a good way), eviscerate institutional racism, and destroy the apartheid-like policies throughout the US. This cannot happen without more activists of color, and their communities’ issues, universally, being brought into all arenas.  It is time to occupy the consciousness of America.

Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, public speaker and the host of the Your World News media collective ( He can be reached at:

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