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.