I shared his pictures, shared the video — the one of him skateboarding. I shared and liked the screenshots of tweets sharing insightful thoughts about his death and the state of law enforcement in this country. I committed the shared details of his life to memory. He had a son, loved watching sunsets, he was a FedEx driver, he dabbled in photography, he took beautiful pictures. I don’t know what I plan to do with these details, but I do this ritual anyway, knowing even if they didn’t apply he’d still be a full human deserving of life. Deserving of dignity. But this is the process after another state execution, an attempt to appreciate Tyre Nichols in life, though we were only introduced because of his violent murder.
I participated in that part of the process. And as is customary whenever a person, particularly a Black person is murdered by cops, I knew the calls for “justice” were soon to follow. But what if we took a minute, departed from the process and stopped to ask ourselves “what is justice?” “what does justice mean?” “what semblance of justice can be delivered by a police state?”. Personally I find the word “justice "to be loaded, lofty, elusive, and worthy of contempt. Largely because of what living in the US relegates the word to; a mere haphazard response to individual instances of state violence. Maybe an officer is indicted, maybe an officer sees nominal jail time, maybe they are fired. Maybe more body cams, maybe more unenforced restrictions of ‘deadly force’. Mere pittances, compared to the lives altered, ruined, taken and marred by the police state and the prison industrial complex. Yet this is what “justice” looks like in its current context, in our current conditions.
But what if this was a moment, while mourning the death of another Black man slain by police (their race notwithstanding as colonized subjects have always policed each other and committed acts of violence to support the state) we stopped to ask ourselves what is just, and what just acts can this country produce?
Is justice something that can be obtained via current proposed legislation? “Shame on us if we don’t use his tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed,” Ben Crump told CNN’s “State of the Union.” But what is the George Floyd Policing Act, but a smorgasbord of re-heated toothless liberal reforms? “Anti-discrimination training”, body cam requirements that have already proven ineffective at much else but prosecuting civilians. Carotid and choke-hold bans, that have been implemented and ignored already in several states. Vague references of restricting qualified immunity, enforcing “accountability” while conspicuously ignoring police union contracts that strangle reforms, empower law enforcement officers to commit violence with relative impunity, de-fang any oversight, and often override state law.
What if instead of participating in the cycle of mourning-to-direct-demanding the lukewarm reforms presented to us by hand picked social justice media figures, we saw this as a moment for political education? So that we may produce effective demands that reflect the will of our communities? Might we take a look back at the events of 2020, and ask ourselves where the radical momentum was mis-directed,and how can we stop that from happening again? As Joy James asked in a recent essay: “what happens when that zone of rebellion succumbs to the fear or insidious offerings of the state, society, philanthropy, and celebrity?” What becomes of a movement overtaken by opportunists, social climbers and careerists where creating a united, politically educated front is not a priority?
Instead of using the violent murder of Black people in the U.S as a cudgel to beat Black populations into the voting booth, sans mass political education efforts, leverage, or collective objectives, to fight for half hearted legislation that solves nothing but the need to be seen as having done something, we can use this moment to inform, congregate, organize, and mobilize. The impulse to do SOMETHING is understandably compelling, but are they the effective things?
What if justice was something that existed in perpetuity? Can it be preemptive and not merely reactive? After a record year of police killings, we can no longer afford to not ask ourselves these questions, to forgo community political education, and deliberate organizing, we can no longer afford to view state violence as case by case tragedies, but rather the smothering ubiquitous reality, the constant parade of death and violence— that comes with living in a police state. A reality that has to be destroyed, not bargained with.
I participate in this process, knowing full well what we all know, it’ll be a matter of weeks, maybe months before I will be partaking again for a different person. But wouldn’t we be failing the Tyre Nichols, Tortuguita’s, and Keenan Anderson’s of this country if we didn’t stop to re-examine our perspectives, to improve upon our actions to reimagine and re-define our demands? In a country where law enforcement produces an endless assembly line of brutalized and murdered bodies. Where there is a customary mourning and posthumous “humanization” tradition for people violently killed by the state, while we mourn don’t we owe them that much?