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Jun 6, 20

The Conditions of Black Life Must be Addressed if We Are to End Police Violence

The following editorial argues that the conditions of Black life that must be addressed if we are to end police violence.

Riots do not come from nowhere. They are not just a response to individual acts of injustice. They emerge from immiserated lives of which the horrific moments of police violence, while a constant threat, are only the tip of the spear.

It is therefore wrong to see the demonstrations, rioting and looting that have spread across the country these past weeks as expressions of anger only over the horrific murder of George Floyd. The gratuitous violence of the police against Black men and women is of course the result of racist behavior on the part of the police. But before the racist thought of the police officer, before the profiling and dehumanization that produces excessive use of force, is a whole series of insults to the dignity and well being of Black life that leads to such an encounter. The COVID pandemic has highlighted with terrifying clarity that Black people in America have been placed in a class of their own at the bottom of society. Behind the extreme death rates are a plethora of preexisting conditions — high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, pregnancy and birth complications, addiction — caused by the trials of a whole life defined by racism and poverty. The reality is that by almost all measures of health, wealth, housing and education, Black people in American face profoundly and uniquely impoverished circumstances.

It is the conditions of Black life that must be addressed if we are to end police violence. Defunding and demilitarizing the police and prisons are an important part of the solution, yes, but they are not enough. They alone will not make life livable for Black people in America, and they fail to see the place these broader conditions have in leading to police violence. As public opinion turns against the police as an institution we need to do everything that we can to connect police violence to these conditions. We need to fight for more. We need to fight for health care, housing, jobs and education. In short, we must demand not the reform or even abolition of a single institution, but the reconstruction of society.

Derrick Chavin murdered George Floyd because he allegedly used a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a nearby convenience store. This is in the same moment that Jeff Bezos’ net worth neared $150 billion. We must refuse to see these as disconnected. The wealth of the powerful in this country (and across the world) is based on the exploitation and impoverishment of Black, Brown and Indigenous life at home and abroad. As Malcolm X once explained, “You can not have Capitalism without racism.” We must work to redistribute the billions created by this exploitation and put it back into Black communities by any means necessary. The looting of malls is a small gesture towards the vision of the redistribution of the vast wealth that would be required for justice to be served. Looting, seizing land and industry, taxation, strikes against employers and landlords: these are all legitimate and viable means of enacting reconstruction.

There are no more warnings, the fire is here, people have come to take back what they are owed. The struggle against police violence requires taking wealth, land and industry of America and putting it back into our communities for:
-Housing
-Health care
-Food systems
-Relevant education
-Public space
-Culture

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