Last week, I marched to together with members of We Charge Genocide and residents of Lawndale and East Garfield to support Cynthia Lane in attaining justice for the murder of her 18-year-old son, Roshad McIntosh, who was gunned down by police on August 24th. While CPD refuses to disclose information about the officers who gunned Roshad down, community members affirm Roshad surrendered before being executed and police have continually disrupted peaceful vigils commemorating the youth. Cynthia Lane held an open funeral for her son Roshad McIntosh, killed by police on August 24th. Community members affirm Roshad surrendered peacefully before being gunned down, that police have disrupted vigils held for him by him. Undoubtedly, the death of another black youth grows the tragedy perpetrated by violence at large, but particularly police violence.
And, so, the question we must ask ourselves is: what do we, as communities, as a nation, do with tragedy?
The world is still calling out for Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and the countless other young black men and women, people of color, queer people, othered families and furthermore targeted by our police state–whole populations suffering from the repercussions of institutionalized oppression and severe disenfranchisement. Often, we will call out for ‘justice’ in general terms, notwithstanding the justice system we plead to incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. But if we cannot depend entirely on the governing ‘law,’ then, who do we depend on?
Following 9/11, author Judith Butler said:
“One insight that injury affords is that there are others out there on whom my life depends on, people I do not know and may never know… To be injured means that one has the chance to reflect upon injury, to find out the mechanisms of its distribution, to find out who else suffers from permeable borders, unexpected violence, dispossession, and fear, and in what ways.”
Tragedy, then, pain and mourning, is evidence of our interconnectedness. It affords us an opportunity to be empathetic and, with that empathy, undermine the ‘mechanisms’ which propagate tragedy. In this case: a police state, racism, disinvestment, xenophobia, and disease… The falling of New York’s Twin Towers formed a literal wound in a city’s landscape, and allowed us, from the ground and media coverage, to observe this wound as a nation.
Following 9/11, USA’s government took steps opposite to empathy: it created institutions devoted to policing and surveying USA citizens; sent mass military force to attack foreign states, making ‘casualties’ out of families; continued aid to entities leading a genocide; it began mass deportations and built literal fences to our south. It shut down our borders, curtaining the country in selfishness and anger with our supposed safety as an excuse. By scandalizing tragedy, 9/11 was also made to appear as an isolated incident: ‘on US soil’ they appalled. As if violence had never happened here; as if the state could prevent other towers from falling.
But don’t let the Target fool you– towers did fall. Cabrini-Green was dozed down. Its luckier residents were relocated far away from home, given bus tickets or vouchers to test their luck at the private housing market–a market whose blatantly racist history was recently highlighted by Ta-Nehesi Caotes in The Case For Reparations. It chronicles the deterioration of North Lawndale from redlining and contract peddling to recent school shut-downs. If a lack of resources isn’t dehumanizing enough, police are there to ‘stop the violence’ by funneling folks — especially black men — into prisons. Or, in the case of youth like Roshad McIntosh, they are there to execute. Our supposed safety, again, the excuse.
Unlike 9/11, USA’s government did not stop to mourn Roshad, nor any other black youth targeted by police. It has not stopped to mourn the knockdown of Cabrini-Green, nor the deplorable conditions which disinvestment had left the homes in prior to demolition. There is no daily moment of silence for the millions of prisoners locked out of society, nor the families they leave struggling on the outside. And, ultimately, we must assume it is because these are not tragedies to the government. In fact, when folk assembled peacefully to mourn Mike Brown and plead for justice, Missouri’s government deployed the national guard. Indiscriminately, people were shot with rubber bullets, tear gassed, and intimidated. Protesters continue to be arrested. And that is violence. That is war on our own soil, waged against our own people. That is not what safety looks like.
We can only assume that these assemblies are targeted because the powers that be are allegiant to the police state which these assemblies aim to undermine– that our mourning can be a threat to the mechanisms which distribute violence.
As the government and media advise us to ‘never forget,’ we must remember the prevalence of tragedy in all its forms and the responsibility we hold by feeling injury, because it affords us the insight our lives depend on other lives– lives we may not even know, because, like Roshad McIntosh, the government and media do not consider them ‘tragic’ enough to mourn or televise. When we internalize this vulnerability, we begin to create a culture which refuses the mechanisms that distribute violence. Where, perhaps, we feed and house and educate instead of incarcerating, and youth of color are allowed to walk their neighborhood without being harassed by the very people who claim to be keeping us ‘safe.’
[Photo: Flickr/Paul Sableman]