This week’s Extra! Extra! brings news from yet another grim week of police brutality in America. The state-sanctioned violence continues, people protest peacefully and are attacked and even killed by law enforcement and vigilantes (who are also, more or less, supported by law enforcement). We also bring a brief update on the state of the US election after both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions wrapped up, an update on some of the situations we’ve been following in Lebanon and Russia and, finally, on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another Day In America, Another Story of Police Brutality
Natalie: Today, you will be reminded that it is the 12th anniversary of Barack Obama accepting the Democratic nomination for President. Today, you will also be reminded that it is the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Activists from across the globe are converging on Washington, DC — both physically and virtually — to echo King’s clarion call for civil and economic justice.
But what you might not hear about is that today is also the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. For the sin of saying “bye baby” after purchasing bubble gum, the teenager was dragged “from his bed, beat…to the point of disfigurement, and shot…before [his body was tossed] into the Tallahatchie River with a cotton-gin fan attached with barbed wire laced to his neck to weigh him down.” Till’s mama, famously, left his casket open on the day of his funeral so America could see what it had wrought. It happened 65 years ago…we’ve never been so far from Till’s death and yet the environment that provoked it feels as alive today as it ever has during my lifetime.
Natalie: Last week, in this very space, I urged folks to do more to protect black and brown trans women. I castigated those who stood by and did nothing while three trans women were getting beaten. Then, because irony is so especially cruel, the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin kill Jacob Blake for doing something… he is paralyzed from the waist down and (!!) handcuffed in a hospital bed for breaking up a fight.
I don’t know what to do or say except that I’m tired. I’m heartbroken and I’m so, so tired.
Rachel: The unspeakably violent and brutal attempted murder of Jacob Blake absolutely knocked the wind out of me; after a summer of such intense and inspiring organizing, it felt unbearable to know that even with a once-in-a-generation moment of unity and outrage, police still felt comfortable doing this. I’m also so, so glad that Blake has survived, and am infuriated that he remains under arrest (for what???) and hope he can be reunited with his family soon. I also want to note that after his injuries, Blake joins a multiply marginalized group as a Black disabled man, and it’s all our duty to support him and other Black disabled people in the specificity of what they experience; we can’t forget about Blake as a person either because he survived the attempt at murdering him or because we think of him as somehow no longer a participant in our world because he’s disabled. Standing against the police violence enacted on Blake means continuing to support his needs as a disabled person in the long-term, especially knowing that we live in a state that won’t. Blake and other disabled folks are actually at greater risk of police violence now; disabled people experience extremely disproportionate rates of police violence, and Black disabled folks are at high particular risk. The pandemic we’re living through will also leave generations of people disabled in ways that they weren’t prior to COVID, and it’s a pandemic that’s disproportionately impacting Black folks in the US — it’s an extremely important time for able-bodied and non-Black people to really prioritize how to materially support and act in solidarity with Black disabled people.
Natalie: Unbeknownst to most, the group with the highest rate of deaths from police brutality aren’t Black or Latinx; they’re Native Americans. Their communities are, historically, overpoliced and, far too often, the consequences are deadly. Native lives matter…and we should say their name too: Brandon Laducer.
Natalie: DEFUND. THE. POLICE.
Himani: Every time I read a headline about another person (almost always Black or Native American) shot by the police (or someone who thinks they are the police, because really it doesn’t matter either way), I think to myself, “And how many more people are there who were shot by the police that I don’t even know about?”
Honestly, I don’t even know what to say, and this violence doesn’t shape my life the way that it does for Black and Indigenous people. I want to try to be hopeful that change is on the horizon — somewhere — because, as a friend so powerfully pointed out to me recently, it’s not my place to be hopeless when my life isn’t the one that’s on the line. But really, truly, what will it take to change this? I can’t understand how anyone supports law enforcement or those who think they’re acting in the spirit of law enforcement after all of this. And yet somehow, I’m still walking by houses and businesses with the police flag hanging outside. How can a person be so cavalier?
The people who commit these acts of brutality truly lack humanity. And the people who abet them also clearly do, as well.
There Is No Debate To Be Had: Police Reform Does Not Work
Himani: How many times have we heard this story? A city invested in police reform and the police violence continued. But as Natalie discusses in greater detail below, law enforcement has a white supremacy problem. How can you give so much power to people who are so clearly adherents of violent extremism and then think a couple of aluminum guardrails are going to keep them in check? The real question is why anyone has that much power in the first place.
Natalie: Remember in 2009 when the Obama administration released a report called, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” and Republicans proceeded to lose their shit? The administration stuck it quietly back on the shelf to quell the backlash. In the decade since, the tide of violence it portended has come to pass.
The Brennan Center’s report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” echoes a lot of that 2009 DHS report…only with a greater focus on law enforcement. We’d be fools not to listen this time.
Police Brutality Is Horrific. And It’s Just One Part of the Problem.
Natalie: This is egregious and offensive — it’s stunning how blatant this is — but, as someone who grew up in a multi-racial home, it completely tracks with my experience. Even today, I’m nervous about accompanying my white mother into certain spaces where my black skin might prove disadvantageous to her.
Himani: I’m not really sure this comes as news to anyone. But somehow, amazingly, stereotypes about who “exploits” social services abound.
To Reappropriate Orwell: “All Protests Are Equal, But Some Protests Are More Equal.”
Natalie: A few weeks ago in Tennessee, the state legislature passed a law cracking down on protesters. Under the new law, if Tennessee protesters illegally camp on state property, they face a Class E felony, punishable by six years and prison and the loss of the right to vote. Before the bills passage, State Rep. Jason Hodges spoke the quiet part aloud, “We seem to not worry about protesting when we as white people show up to our capitols with AR-15s, but when black people show up with signs, it just seems like all of a sudden we want to pass legislation.”
It is impossible to see these scenes out of Idaho and not think about that…about who the state allows to protest and whose voices are welcome on the public square and whose are not. This report from NPR notes that six years ago, activists advocating for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to be added to the state’s Human Rights Act were arrested, despite being relatively silent. But these people, who carry weapons to intimidate the people around them and who vandalize state property, are just allowed to do so…without any repercussions.
Rachel: I’m reminded of the history of American gun control (“gun control,” such as it is) here — to the extent that we have laws regulating what kind of firearms one can own and who can own them, much of that is due to the Black Panthers’ (legal) open carrying of firearms for their self-defense and defense of their communities in the 1960s. This Buzzfeed piece goes into much more detail (very worth reading!) but as the head summarizes: “when Black people carried guns, conservatives supported gun control.” A bill aimed at restricting the open carry of loaded firearms was actually introduced by “a conservative Republican in the California legislature named Don Mulford, who sought to prohibit the public carrying of loaded firearms in the state — a move clearly targeted to disband or weaken the Black Panthers by criminalizing their signature tactic. The NRA supported Mulford’s bill, which was consistent with the moderate stance the organization had taken on gun control legislation throughout most of its history up to that point.” Since then, (limited) gun control measures have passed into law in the US; however, we can see from the unspeakable violence Kyle Rittenhouse was easily able to unleash that they’re enforced in a racially disparate way (Rittenhouse’s open carrying of firearms was no problem, but we’re supposed to agree that Blake’s allegedly inside his car somehow was?). Much like legally mandated COVID precautions, much like laws aimed at protesters, drug offenses, sexual assault offenses; much like everything. It’s a sobering reminder both of how entrenched anti-Black racism is in our infrastructures as well as the limits of trying to legislate our values if we don’t change our culture.
Natalie: There’s a continuum of how we allow whiteness and white supremacy in this country…which begins with insolent rage and allowing whiteness to assert its ownership over space that doesn’t belong to them, as in Idaho…and this feels like how it ends, with two dead at the hands of a whiteness that could not, would not, be contained.
The police welcomed Kyle Rittenhouse and his weapon of war to Kenosha. They gave him water and made him feel like one of them…the very thing he’d always wanted. Then he kills two people: the first because of a plastic bag apparently, the second because someone dared try to hold him accountable. That’s how fuckin’ fragile whiteness is: it can be sent into a murderous rage by a fuckin’ plastic bag.
Rachel: It’s truly impossible at this point to even pretend not to be aware of the obvious epidemic of radicalized, murderous young white men. The pattern is literally always the same: indoctrinated in extremist, violent communities on the internet linked to white supremacist, conspiracy theory and/or incel movements (the overlap between which is not coincidental!); usually early signs of intimate violence enacted against women in their personal lives, and culminating in a violent public outburst with a high-powered weapon, generally including a callout or public claiming of their extremist online communities, which then galvanizes those communities all over again, heightening and perpetuating the cycle. This is undeniable; it has happened constantly for… decades? now, from the École Polytechnique massacre to Elliot Rodger to the recent shootings in Hanau to Kyle Rittenhouse. The list goes on.
It’s not mysterious or even difficult to figure out how to address; police recently identified a protester through a blurry photograph of a t-shirt that they tracked the Etsy purchase of. Simply put, if they wanted to identify and monitor the people who are causing this, they absolutely could; they have chosen not to. These shootings keep continuing because their victims are women (often sex workers), Black people, and immigrants: people whose lives the state doesn’t care enough to try to protect, in the most generous reading. Before he started shooting, police in Kenosha welcomed the militia Rittenhouse was a part of, offering him a bottle of water; he was arrested in his home state of Illinois, after returning home freely, not at the scene where he murdered two people. Do we think it’s somehow just an unfortunate accident these attacks keep happening?
Himani: I agree with everything Rachel has said above. I also want to add this angle: America is so utterly hypocritical in how it thinks about “terrorism.” Message boards with white supremacists explicitly talking about harming civilians and elected officials? No problem, the FBI doesn’t care. Brown person taking a picture of a bridge? Quite possibly a terrorist, law enforcement better go check that out. (This did actually happen to someone I know in the wake of 9/11.) It’s just… I honestly don’t have words. Every time someone tries to make an argument that none of these things are about race, I really don’t have the patience any more. Everything. Every damned single thing in this country is about race and proximity to whiteness. That’s all it comes down to.
And what’s also disheartening is in the same breath we talk about how the future lies in the hands of Gen Z, we have indoctrinated young white supremacists of the Millennial and Gen Z age. We saw this in Charleston, and we saw this in Charlottesville, and we see this again now in Kenosha. So, what exactly is the future we have to hope for?
Natalie: Facebook has already shown itself to be a threat to democracy and now it has blood on its hands.
Himani: Isn’t it amazing how Facebook just blocked Thai protest groups under pressure from the monarchy, and yet somehow white supremacists inciting violence in America fly under its radar — even after being tagged as violating Facebook policies?
US Election 2020 Update
Natalie: Of course they didn’t ask…of course they didn’t.
Himani: The really fucked up thing about this is that even if they had asked, what could any of these people have said? Who is going to pass up a naturalization ceremony when greencards and visas have been basically ground to a halt.
And speaking of the RNC:
There was a lot and a lot of it was wrong. pic.twitter.com/C7e7zD5nQw
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) August 28, 2020
Natalie: It is amazing the sheer number of lies one man can fit into an hour-long speech. Both Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Daniel Dale on CNN exhausted themselves addressing just a small portion of them.
Earlier this week, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, suggested that Joe Biden not debate the pathological president ahead of November’s election. She said, “I do not think that the president of the United States has comported himself in a way that anybody has any association with truth, evidence, data and facts.”
After Trump’s display last night, it’s hard to argue that she’s not right.
Himani: With so much broken in the world, with so much broken in America specifically, with a primary election that was so disappointing to so many people, it is so easy to feel hopeless. I understand that, really I do. These five LGBTQ+ activists have no illusions about the choices before us: the man currently in office who openly supports white supremacists and the man who is stuck on the idea that “there are a few bad apples.” But they also have no illusions about which of these two men can actually be held accountable and which of these two administrations is more dangerous.
There’s so much that can be said and that will be said about this election. But this roundtable is definitely a powerful read.
And Other Things That Are Not Looking So Hot
Himani: It’s so disheartening to watch these moments unfold, where it seems like in the face of great tragedy, much needed change may finally be coming and then… the powerful and wealthy continue to grasp onto their power and their wealth.
Himani: Sometimes it’s easier to believe that there’s one strong man, and if he (almost always he) were just removed from power the world would be a better place. But this grim article is a reminder that reality is much more complicated, cruel and difficult to unseat.
Himani: In another bit of news that did not really make headlines: back in July, USCIS indicated they would ignore the SCOTUS ruling. Now they have made that a matter of official policy.
Himani: I’ve been thinking about water a lot the past few years. It’s becoming a scarcer and scarcer resource. And while that is abundantly clear when you read about places like India it’s also true in the West and so-called “Global North.”