Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Darren Wilson and Cops of His Ilk Are Guard Dogs for White America

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When Darren Wilson dropped his secretive mask in an exclusive interview on ABC, the world saw an unremarkable face. Wilson is a common man with a forgettable face and build; he is elevated by his police uniform, badge and gun into someone who “matters.” This is the greatest power of the police uniform—the ability to transform a small man into someone important.
When asked about his deadly encounter with Michael Brown, Darren Wilson told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he “has a clean conscience” and no regrets.
Some might respond to those comments with the conclusion that Wilson’s confidence in his deeds is a sign of sociopathy. Others might read Wilson’s comments on ABC and his grand jury testimony as evidence of his racism and a casual disregard for the lives of black people. That conclusion is much more compelling, as it is factually grounded in Wilson’s expressed beliefs that Michael Brown was a “giant negro,” a “demon” with superhuman speed and strength who grunted like a feral beast and possessed the ability to resist bullets.
Ironically, Darren Wilson’s answers to Stephanopoulos that “he was doing his job,” and would do nothing different if given the opportunity, are the most honest claims in an investigation and jury process riddled with impropriety, conflicts of interest and corruption.
Police officer Darren Wilson is not a monster; he is the mundane and day-to-day face of white supremacy as experienced by people of color in the United States.

Liberals would love for Wilson to be a monster or some beast from the beyond, a caricature of deranged whiteness, because he could be vanquished, one more shadow of the past forced into the light and out of the public square.
Conservatives would also love for Wilson to be a monster. He would be an outlier that the white right could use as proof that racism is largely nonexistent in American public life and that people of color are unreasonably obsessed over the uncommon and rare.
Darren Wilson, who is not a monster, is the human embodiment of an institutionally racist society that devalues the lives of black and brown people. The criminal justice system is one of the primary means through which white supremacy is maintained, furthered and enacted. Wilson, like many millions of fellow officers, is a mere cog in a system of institutional racism and white supremacy.
Monsters can be killed with relative ease; dismantling centuries-long racist social norms, bureaucracies and laws is a far more difficult task.
The mundane truth that Wilson “was just doing his job” of enforcing a white supremacist racial order when he killed the unarmed Michael Brown, is a constant in American history.  
In the United States, modern police departments can trace their origins to the slave patrols whose job was to intimidate, bully, capture, and if necessary kill black slaves who dared to flee the plantation and forced servitude. Police were the strong-arm paramilitary forces of Jim and Jane Crow and its system of racial terrorism. After the end of the formal slavery regime in 1865, African Americans were subjected to imprisonment in slave labor camps under the convict lease system, through which white industrialists and the state benefited from stolen labor.
During the post-civil rights era and the age of Obama, black and Latino youth are subjected to racist (and unconstitutional) stop-and-frisk harassment searches by police.
As Michelle Alexander and others have documented, the American criminal justice system is racist and class-biased at every level from the initial police encounter through to trial and parole. As Yale University’s Vesla Weaver has demonstrated in her work on “custodial citizenship,” black Americans who are innocent of committing any crimes are much more likely to be stopped and harassed by police than   white Americans who are actual criminals.
In continuity with the above examples of white supremacy and racism as historic and contemporary features of the criminal justice system, Darren Wilson—like the convict lease system, prisons that hire out black and brown labor at below-market prices, and private property confiscated by police from innocent citizens and others—has shown that black life is cheap, but killing and exploiting black people is remarkably lucrative.
Darren Wilson received hundreds of thousands of dollars in blood money. The homicidal ideation of Darren Wilson’s supporters for his killing of Michael Brown, and their racist paranoia translated black flesh into lucre and financial security. The mundane nature of that transaction is central to American political, economic and social history along the color line.
White Americans are seemingly aghast at, and shocked by events like the killing of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and so many other unarmed black men and boys by police and white-identified vigilantes. White privilege allows them to feign surprise and shock in response to what are the lived experiences of black and brown people in the United States. And by design, white privilege is a bubble that allows its owners and participants to live in a fantasy world of their own making.
Research suggests that even when white people are made aware that the criminal justice system is racist against black people, their support for those policies remains intact. White support for a racist criminal justice system is a function of a deeply held beliefs that black people are a unique race of criminals and a profound threat to white society. Here, the human rights of black and brown people are made secondary to white racial paranoia and old-fashioned bigotry.
Who made Darren Wilson and his quotidian racism and violence against Michael Brown? He is the product of a white America, drunk on law-and-order fantasies, and with a deep historical and cultural bias toward black people’s humanity. Darren Wilson and cops of his ilk are the guard dogs for White America. White America worships them as public servants who are there to protect and serve.
But what happens when that prized guard dog turns and mauls a white child? White America will have no excuse for surprise and upset. The Darren Wilsons of the world are their creation.


joe manning said...

Wilson is no exception to the rule he is the norm of white supremacy. Such an understanding of the "normality" of racism is essential to its extinction.

SW said...

Speaking of guard dogs, the "Oath Keepers" made an appearance in Ferguson this past week. The St. Louis Post Dispatch gave them very positive coverage as some sort of noble, and armed protector of "Ferguson" from the actual citizens of Ferguson. I was glad to see that this group was asked to stand down (literally remove themselves from rooftops and other sniper-like positions), though they vowed to stay in the community to "protect businesses".

BobbyV said...

"This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which
spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity."
James Baldwin, Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation

chauncey devega said...

They got front page coverage in the NY Times too. The article was relatively neutral and did not condemn their behavior. Imagine if a group of black folks formed a "citizen's militia" and proceeded to intervene in a community. Hmmmm I wonder?

chauncey devega said...

Can white supremacy or other types of power differentials made real through some arbitrary distinction in the social world ever be made extinct? Or are they just managed, evolved, and through generational replacement neutered?

chauncey devega said...

Baldwin always brought the truth without apology. Where are today's Baldwins?

SW said...

I saw the Times coverage as well, and I think neutral is good way to put it. And one can certainly imagine the response to a black citizen's militia. You already have faux outrage at the attempted false equivalency where the New Black Panther Party is purported to the the same thing as the Oath Keeper organization.

Regarding false equivalencies. The St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article this week about a recent murder of a Bosnian (read "white") man who was killed by a group of black teenagers with a hammer. Brutal killing no doubt. A portion of the Bosnian community took to the streets in protest of this killing.

The tenor of the story seemed to be "see, black people murder white people tooooo". Then right on cue, the message boards lit up with white commentators demonstrating seemingly faux outrage and attempting to equivocate Michael Brown's killing with the killing of this Bosnian man.

What's interesting though, is that in the comments, the black voices remain respectful, and at the very least non-inflamatory. You don't see black folks blaming this Bosnian man for making the decision to be out past mid-night. Or questioning where he was going or what he was doing. It's deemed a tragedy by black commentators. It's the white commentators that seem to spew the hate and vitriol for this crime (when the victim is white) and then again do so in cases like MB's killing, when the victim is black. It's bizarre.

chauncey devega said...

There is the question of empathy and humanity. White supremacy and white privilege have retarded and damaged the morality and ethics of white people en masse. When a white person is murdered there is sympathy from black and brown folks. The other way around--especially by a white person and esp. a representative of the racial state--there is either mocking, some failed effort at reverse racism, or pathetic, "blacks kill each other, so what?"

White America needs some real and deep counseling and psychological analysis.

KissedByTheSun said...

I heard about the man killed by a hammer as well. Terrible stuff. Equally terrible is the false equivalency being raised around it. It's like saying because school students have raped fellow students, all students everywhere cannot protest if their teachers rape them. Until students stop taking advantage of each other they have no right to complain when those who are supposed to instruct and watch over them take advantage of them.

Black Sci-Fi said...

CDV and Ta-Nehisi Coates...just to name a few. Then again, that would depend on if POC are using the White Racial Frame to assess the (water cooler) value of your work and the veracity of your observations as it applies to their lives.
Despite his thoughtful ovservations and leadership in the Civil Rights struggle. Baldwin was really only well read, during that era, among the black elite.
Without approval from the white social compact, authors like you and TNC (despite his position at The Atlantic) can't reach the majority of our people with your highly thoughtful counter arguments. Sadly, that brings us back to the question of: "Do POC Read" beyond the labels and instruction manuals..??
Instead of dissin' black teen culture, perhaps Cosby should start a media empire, like Murdoch, to express his take on the world.

Gable1111 said...

And you also don't see the black community making excuses for the killers of this man, or for the killers of any white victims of crime.

And, unlike Wilson, these killers will face a real grand jury, be indicted and serve time. And there will be no protests when that happens.

Camilla Cracchiolo, RN said...

I love you and your blog, but I wish you would stop equating surprise and shock. I was not surprised by Mike Brown's death, or even by that poor 12 year old kid, Tamir Rice, who was killed in Chicago. Anybody keeping their eyes and ears open woukd not be surprised. But I *was* shocked and I think white people should be shocked. I think it's shocking what white America does to black people. I think the black people I know were shocked, especially by the murder of Tamir Rice.

I fear losing the ability to be shocked by this stuff. The day that I'm no longer able to muster some shock at outright murder-under-cover-of -authority of unarmed people will be the day when I finally lose an essential part of my humanity.

chauncey devega said...

That is a really interesting--and important--distinction. How would you qualify it? I always try to be precise in my speech and I think you have a very good point. Suggestions?

Camilla Cracchiolo, RN said...

I had to give this some thought, and I'm still not sure I'm correct or that this would be helpful. But here goes:

Maybe the word you want is "disbelief".Sometimes in shock, at least as I experience it, there can be an initial feeling of disbeief, as in "oh, no, they didn't" which is rapidly followed "oh, shit, yes they did" followed by "who the hell do they think they are to do such a thing!"

I think what's happening with all the racist memes about Mike Brown is the initial feeling of disbelief didn't go away. It got turned into numbness toward the victim followed by "a police officer couldn't possibly have killed someone wrongfully, therefore it must be the victim's fault" and people start looking for reasons to justify it instead of seeing what is there in front of their own eyes.

I think victim blaming at least partly comes from existential fear. The reality of life is the truly terrifying truth that the universe can dump some terrible shit on anyone's head at anytime and much of it is beyond your control. So, people are always looking for what the thing was that the victim did wrong, so that they will not have the bad thing happen.

The above is based on my experience as a person with a disability. You want to see some victim blaming, talk to sick people.

Well, that's enough armchair psychology. I'll just sit back and enjoy the blog.


joe manning said...

Arguably, empirically, we see both processes operating interactively. Othering is relative to strains inherent in a subsistence economy, it is (in a perverted sense) functional for ethnic boundary maintenance, but its cost is a high degree of free floating affect/aggression, in that the White experiences self hatred for bullying and acting in contravention to the value pattern of equality. Interdependently, generational replacement inexorably operates on the edges of the ethnic boundaries decomposing them through miscegenation.

Jim Wagner said...

When I see you use the word "shocked" in connection with certain white reactions to these sorts of all-too-common crimes, I always read it in the Claude Rains-in-Casablanca sense. "I am shocked - shocked! - to find gambling/legally sanctioned murder of black youth going on in here!"

Buddy H said...

I read and re-read these paragraphs about Eric Garner's murder in the nytimes, and I still can't make sense of them:

Legal experts and former prosecutors have said that despite the medical examiner’s ruling the death a homicide, murder charges would be unlikely. Officers are generally given wide latitude to use force, though Police Department policy specifically prohibits chokeholds.

But a lesser homicide charge could be possible, legal experts said, including second-degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

Officer Pantaleo, who is white, wrapped an arm around Mr. Garner’s neck in what the medical examiner described as a chokehold. In a video recorded by a bystander, other officers can be seen restraining Mr. Garner on the ground.

BobbyV said...

Just review the news coverage of the New Black Panther Party to understand how threatening the image of defiant black men still infects the minds of many white Americans.

Buddy H said...

And.... no indictments in Eric Garner's murder. Sickening.