The tragic killing of Michael Brown has proven to be a world changing event. So many people on both sides of the Atlantic are now conscious of a the long running epidemic that is the state sanctioned killing of people of colour. We are now at a point where this widespread devaluation of black lives calls into question entire systems of violence.

When we learn that black lives don’t matter we also learn that queer lives don’t matter and women’s lives don’t matter. We can’t get away from the connections between these. As soon as we begin looking at the many wrongs of the police we come to a point where the entire myth of service, protection and justice unravels.

The police, along with all those other institutions that help them ‘get away with it’, are rightly the recipient’s of our ire, but we have already learnt that the denigration of life, especially black lives in this instance, goes much further than the individual officer or even the institution.

We need a society which takes life seriously. A black vitalist world would be one where many things are absent: police, prisons, immigration detention and a whole host of other violent forces. Yet we can propose a positive image of what we demand from such a society  too. We call for justice all the time, but for good reason. This is not an empty concept or one that is irredeemably bourgeois. In the hands of campaigners it often means dignity being done to the violence they have already suffered. In the hands of the state it means precisely the opposite to this.

We need modes of accountability for all areas of life. Accountability would be the tenderness and dignity required of us all toward one another. Criminal justice and punishment are modes of escaping accountability.

#BlackLivesMatter is an imperative that runs through all interactions. Other than death perhaps the greatest attack on black lives are courts and prisons. The large solidarity protests with Ferguson were important, but how do we address black life more generally?

The work of groups such as London Campaign Against Police and State Violence are so important for this very reason. These campaigners are there in the courtrooms where otherwise individuals are forced to face a law which is their enemy all alone. At this point we should remember the twenty four hour courts of the riots. It is a great failing that many of us were not there, but now we are well placed to build the infrastructure necessary to pose a threat to the smooth running of criminal justice.

Our prisons are spaces where both life and death come into question. Is life in a cell living at all? Similarly prisons themselves account for a chunk of the state’s killing. Deaths in prison, like deaths after contact with the police are out of control and those responsible are immune from accountability.

It is hard enough to breathe out here, how can one breathe inside the walls of prisons?

We can’t breathe.

Do you feel that shortness of breath that accompanies every little encounter with the police? It is a sign that we’re fighting a taxing fight. But we fight nonetheless until we can all breathe free. We are at a moment where together we have learnt what needs to be burnt down and what needs to built up. Let’s build new lives together. Lives that truly matter.

There are no freedoms, only violences of varying qualities and intensities.

Politics is the work of passing judgement on violences.

Some judgements carry the weight of the law.

The law is the monopoly over the legislative use of judgement/violence.

The state holds the monopoly over the legitimate use of violence/judgement.

In acting politically it is incumbent on us to be violent and exercise judgement apart from the state.

In acting radically it is incumbent on us to craft the tools of healing from violence.

The user of violence need not be guilty.

The subject of violence need not be innocent.

Tragedy and trauma are forms of appearence of violence.

Violence holds various social masks with differing acceptabilities.

It is politically important to pass judgement against some violences. Sometimes violently.

It is politically important to want to be violent towards violence.

It is politically important to pick sides.

It is politically important to be on the side that is violent towards the law.

It is politically important to be on the side that is violent towards reactionary violence.

One must be violent towards ones own violent urges.

As long as there is violence there is political work to be done.

As long as there is political work to be done there will be violence.

We should be violent towards politics.

There should be no politics.

There should be freedom.

There should be no violence.

There should be freedom.

In the spirit of international communication and solidarity – exemplified by the open letters and communiqués those in Ferguson and across the United States have shared via social media – I would like to contribute a letter of sorts.

Firstly in order to send my personal solidarity and utter empathy to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown Sr. and the family, as well as all those engaged in the inspiring work of fighting to hold the state and Darren Wilson accountable for the killing of Michael Brown. Darren Wilson’s conscience may be clean but the support which has been rallied, now internationally, shows that the conscience of so many thousands of others has been awoken to the atrocity of the systematic killing of black people.

Secondly I write to my comrades here in London to call for their support and to impress upon them the political need to join a global call to centralise the lives of black people as inexpendable, important and meaningful as all lives should be.

Where are we now? If pessimism characterised our anticipaton for the grand jury decision (for better or worse), the statement by prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch dealt the latest in violent blows that have characterised the state’s attitude to this killing, which once again they plan to get away with. Yet for months the community of protest has been unrelenting in the face of further and further horrendous state repression in the form of militarised police and prolific media demonisation. Justice campaigns are often massively protracted and isolating for those involved – of course the stretch of time here acts punitively towards those who remain as survivors – but Ferguson has shown us that even amongst this intense isolation, there can be a persistent and sustained opposition to those who would happily see these deaths after contact with the police be quotidian and unimportant.

No one can be blamed for thinking that police officers are there to protect them. That is the logic they present. However, the point is that the thousands of deaths in police custody, psychiatric custody, prisons and even after mere contact with a police officer – like in the case of Michael Brown – absoutely gives lie to their claim to universal protection. We all know to some extent that the police act on behalf of certain people over others. The frankly terrifying prospect is that some of my friends, a portion of my comrades and myself are literally expendable in the name of a greater safey simply because of our race.

The killing of Mark Duggan by armed police officers in the UK in 2011 devasted a family and community in much the same way as Michael Brown’s killing. The further attack by police on the peaceful demonstration outside the local police station sparked anger and rioting across English cities for several days. Painfully lacking from these uprisings was the support of those who really should have been the closest allies of those battling police on the streets. From what we can see here so far from Ferguson, the ability for demonstration and resistance against the police to continue has been supported by the incredibly broad cross-section of people who have been involved over the last few months.

The families of Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and others in the UK who have died because of the brutal actions of the police have extended their support and solidarity to those taking action in the US, and importantly the families of Duggan and Rigg will be present at the London vigil at the US embassy called in response to the grand jury decision. As Reverand Sekou – addressing the London-basedDefend The Right to Protest conference from Ferguson – pointed out, the killing of Michael Brown and now Tamir Rice happened in a continuum of global struggle with those killings that we are familiar with here in the UK.

Black lives all over the world are fundementally under attack by entirely unaccountable and unremorseful state killings of various forms. As black people and as human beings we must be allowed access to a basic category that we have thus far been denied: life. And not life with conditions and restraints because we represent the wrong type of person, or because our race means we are seen automatically as a threat to the life of the society the police seek to protect. Faced with this global atrocity we urgently need a black vitalist politics to become central to all political struggle. For the sake of Michael Brown’s family, for the sake of Mark Duggan’s family, for the sake of all those people currently at risk.

I can only hope that ensuring black lives matter can go someway towards the justice the families of the dead seek.No justice, no peace.

Originally published at Novara Wire


At times certain names take on a strange quality whereby they come to hold a unique position within our imaginary. For me these names are those of Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Azelle Rodney, Leon Briggs, Smiley Culture, Jimmy Mubenga and a list that could continue into the thousands naming each of those that have died in custody or after contact with the police.

Today in Ferguson Missouri a single name, that of Michael Brown, is at the forefront but carries with it the memory of a similar list of previous deaths. The names coalesce together in these politically charged lists to highlight an endemic social problem: that the deaths of black people at the hands of the state has risen to the level of an atrocity and that decades have been allowed to pass with justice seemingly moving further and further out of grasp. The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson is this grave political problem realised.

As we look at Ferguson and the United States we should remember that what we see is a refusal of the status quo that brings about these deaths. But in seeking justice the family and all those protesting are also refusing the state’s inability to hold itself accountable. When Brown was shot eight times by Darren Wilson a movement for justice sprung up all across the US. The civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties has not brought us nearly far enough if police officers, with the full support of the law, can choose who is a citizen and who is expendable.

Every one from the President of the Unites States down called for peace as the St Louis County grand jury’s decision came in. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch echoed this call whilst militarised police officers in riot gear took to the streets in Ferguson as he announced the jury’s decision. Violence after violence has been dealt out in the name of peace: the shots that killed Brown, the media demonisation of him, the repression of protest over the last few months and the prosecutor’s frankly offensive gesture toward justice.

But peace does not equal silence and there will be no peace whilst there is no justice. If politicians and police mean by peace that calls for accountability continue to go unheard then the movement against this atrocity will become louder and louder. The movement has already been initiated in Missouri, the United States and internationally. Those in Tottenham know well the names of Michael Brown and now Tamir Rice and those in Fergusson too know of the killing of Mark Duggan. The global call is simple: Black Lives Matter.

It is clear that this is a racist problem and one that goes beyond institutional racism to the very perception of black people held by many. What must juries think of these young black men in order to let their killers off the hook? What must private citizens think of young black men when they support and contribute financially to the police officer that killed them? Time and time again police kill in the name of keeping people safe. As a young black man I don’t feel safe, I feel that my life is expendable for the safety of others who would see my death as a job well done. We should all find this a disturbing notion. We will only be done with the work of anti-racism when we bring black lives to the centre of our politics and make racist state violence unthinkable.

For many, not least the families involved, it would be hard to forget the list of those who have died at the hands of the state yet not nearly enough people have heard these names and the brutal stories that accompany them. Now is the time to ensure they are heard. Now is the time to ensure that they cannot add another young black man to the list and get away with it. We must start a new list of names, one of those officers who have been held accountable for what they have done. Until then every chance encounter with the police is a battle over life and death. No Justice, No Peace.

The white South African artist Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B has been described by its black participants as “a powerful tool in the fight against racism” whilst a petition that gained over 20,000 signatures labelled the Barbican’s decision to host the work as “an outrageous act of complicit racism”. After 200 protesters blockaded Tuesday’s opening the thousands that called for a boycott won some sort of victory when the show was called off. Unfortunately the decision was not taken because an anti-racist reason prevailed, but because the Barbican worried for the “safety of performers, audiences and staff.”

It is important to firstly take note of the kind of sentiment invoked when the ire of a protesting black crowd is seen as a risk to ‘safety’. This is especially the case given that the protest was not a surprise mobbing of an innocent art event, but the culmination of a campaign that called for the very real concerns that a gross act of racism was taking place to be taken seriously.

But there is a wider point to be made too. Are we to lament Bailey being censored? The kind of critic who seeks to make this sort of claim is one who understands very little about racism, and yet those who defend Exhibit B as a piece of anti-racist artistic provocation have rallied to cry that art has been censored and freedom of speech has been curtailed. Of course this ignores that censorship is not simply a case of pressing the mute button on something you don’t like – it is a relation of power, much like racism itself. In the art industry it has everything to do with who gets to make the systematic decisions about who is exhibited where and nothing to do with black protesters boycotting an event.

Only in thought experiments do equal acts of free speech collide with one another to produce harmonious discourse. In reality one act of free speech is toured around the world’s prestigious galleries and discussed and reviewed in the pages of art magazines. The other act of free speech is decidedly ignored by gallerists and has the police called on it when it gets too close to the first. This imbalance is a problem that all those committed to art as a political act must contend with and in the Bailey controversy the intersection between race and the politics of art is brought into stark relief.

It seems the case that Exhibit B can be offered its platform because it engages the question of race precisely as objects fit for a gallery. The ‘human zoo’ turns its black participants into those objects and audiences into spectators of those objects. Rather than appearing as the critical intervention Brett Bailey may claim it to be, the human zoo is recreated and ends up representing the horrors of those 19th century and more contemporary injustices. The problem is representation is no neutral act – it takes a great amount of piety to display painful histories of oppression as merely controversial objects for consumption in a gallery.

Political artists working from positions of privilege should ditch the piety of their own freedoms to be creative and pay more mind to what it means to be fundamentally less free. Racist oppression is met with the anti-racist struggle against it and it is about time we concentrated on producing works that are a part of this struggle – not so distant from them that they end up calling the police on protests. The systematic exclusion of black struggle from the art industry is the real censorship.

If this were merely a generic expression of rage it would be excellent (Lauryn Hill has recorded ‘My Favourite Things’ and ‘Black rage’ before and I have long thought that those performances, similarly to the the Coltrane recordings, give the piece a depth that immediately casts aside any hint of insincerity or superficiality), but this is an attempt to give voice to something much more directed: a personal experience – that much maligned category that is near impossible to make truly visible – that at the same time can only really be made sense of as a condition of collective oppression.
With a tenderness entirely appropriate to the material she finds a language, timbre and style that manages to work its way between the concrete particular of ‘dog bites’ to the potentially universal ‘Black Rage’. The list of injuries doesn’t pretend to be a complete catalogue, just moments in a infinitely oppressive continuum that gives birth to the infinitely painful, yet practical, Black Rage. Can you not hear that rage in her song? Does it not stir you to want for the destruction of its maker?
The production too is an apt reflection of the wider conditions of white supremacy being acted against in this piece. Some have noted it for it’s haunting quality, but it achieves that only through what is for many everyday sensuousness – this is a recording from her living room and do you think that a woman of colour supporting children in her daily life would find the intrusion of children’s cries into the music as an interruption or a quotidian continuation? Is the lyrical material that unfamiliar that it haunts rather than just remind one of a collective history? It has found its way here into the piece not through some occult mechanism but through its pertinence and so this song should be heard as such.
At this time when yet another unrepentant murder of a person of colour has become the locus of a Black Rage against those very same killers, this piece serves as a weapon. It comes dedicated to peace (perhaps as all of our actions should be) but the conversation it opens between today’s injustice and the history of white supremacist injustices calls to mind the long time slogan of such moments: ‘No justice, no peace!’ Only Black Rage.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,249 other followers