Refuse a Return to "Normalcy" after Police KillingsRoundup
tags: African American history, Police, Black lives matter, Protest
Austin McCoy is an activist and assistant professor of history at West Virginia University. Follow him on Twitter: @AustinMcCoy3.
My stomach turned when I first watched the video of Memphis police officers yanking Tyre Nichols out of his car to Tase and pursue him, and then beat him. I felt my heart wrench while watching the police officers prop a beaten and handcuffed Nichols against a patrol car only to hear one officer yell, “Bruh, sit up!” after Nichols fell over, as if he were in any condition to comply. After viewing the video, I asked myself, “What did I just watch?”
I thought about the impossibilities of carrying on with “business as usual” as I went to bed that night. “My world stops when these murders happen,” I typed on my phone after waking up in the middle of the night. The fact that we are expected to keep calm and carry on in the face of racist state violence turns my stomach. As anarchist activist Cindy Milstein writes in Rebellious Mourning, “One of the cruelest affronts [in living in a racist, violent, capitalist and authoritarian society] … was the expectation that pain should be hidden away, buried, privatized — a lie manufactured so as to mask and uphold the social order that produces our many, unnecessary losses.”
Organizers in the struggle against state violence must often learn to cope with the death of comrades and community members. I sometimes failed to appreciate this when I started working with students and community members in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to organize for justice for Aura Rosser, a 40-year-old Black woman whom Ann Arbor police shot and killed on November 9, 2014. We organized and attended so many vigils between November 2014 and the end of the summer in 2015 that I grew tired of them. I grew impatient because I was emotionally drained from the organizing work and the steady stream of terrible news of more deaths — of Aura Rosser, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and many more.
However, over time, I learned the importance of collective mourning and my need to be in community after law enforcement brutalize and kill. Vigils were our time to show solidarity spiritually with the families and communities outside of Ann Arbor that were directly impacted by state violence. It was also a moment for us to take control of our time — which is a prime commodity under racial capitalism — and slow down the world around us. We organized many protests, but the vigils reminded me how important it is to stop, recognize our individual and collective pain, and lick our wounds. I am reminded of this need for collective mourning every time the police kill one of us. Watching the video of the Memphis officers brutally beating Nichols less than 100 yards from his home makes me even more convinced of this.
Unfortunately, this country has not done a good job with collective mourning. Not enough of us have stopped to recognize the 1.5 million COVID-19 deaths, as well as the “excess” deaths resulting from long COVID, from an inadequate and strained for-profit medical system, and from the other stressors from living through a pandemic. Instead, we had some Republicans, like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, suggesting that people should be willing to die for the economy, backed by a steady drumbeat of Republicans, Democrats and employers demanding we “return to normal,” as if we are not living in a pandemic.
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