Does the state present a bigger threat than ISIS if you’re black in America?

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
People march along the Brooklyn Bridge as they take part in a protest against the police in Manhattan, New York, December 28, 2015 after a grand jury cleared two Cleveland police officers on Monday in the November 2014 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice © Eduardo Munoz
New data compiled by The Guardian newspaper has highlighted the shocking levels of police violence inflicted upon the US’s black communities.

The study, which looked at the number of deaths caused by the police in the US during 2015, highlights a sobering reality which is all too often overlooked.

According to the figures, despite making up a small percentage of the population, roughly 2 percent, black people are nine times more likely to die following contact with the police.

The figures also suggest that this remains the case irrespective of whether or not the victims are armed, or are suffering from a mental health condition.

This is a pattern we see replicated the world over, including in the UK, institutionalised racism continuing unchallenged because of apologists within politics and the media, and a justice system which time and time again favors the state.

While the problem of state violence is increasingly being viewed in a global context, the analysis conducted by The Guardian on the effect it has on African-Americans is nonetheless revealing.

The study suggests that the disproportionate way in which black communities are impacted by police translates and breaks down like this: 1 in every 65 deaths of young African Americans males is caused by the police.

When we think about that, and also the fact that black people are less likely to be armed than others, and certainly no more likely to commit crime, we begin to understand the full nature of the problem and why people feel very strongly about it.

The Black Panther party, which emerged as a direct response to the experience of black people in the US, stated that black people were simply being colonised by the same government that had enslaved them in the first place. Who would argue with them?

Given the way the United States has treated black people historically, enslaving Africans and forcing them to build the so-called free world without a day’s pay, it isn’t hard to see why anger and frustration exists.

When we think about the fact that despite building the country, black people did not secure the right to vote until the 1960s, we realise that the shameful history of genocide and enslavement has led to very real repercussions today, economically, socially and politically.

Looking at the barbarous actions of the police state in areas such as Ferguson, where black men are literally being murdered on the street in broad daylight, we can further conclude that history is not a cycle - it’s more like a continuous line.

Liberals and cynics claim progress has been made, and point to the advent of a black president as proof. When that same president uses the same language of the far right in the US however, and refers to protesters in Baltimore as “thugs” like something from the Bill O’Reilly/ Fox news playbook, we can see two things: the limits of the presidency, and also the fig leaf of legitimacy the president provides in deluding people into falsely believing we are in a “post-racial” political utopia.

The problem of police violence is a longstanding one, but in recent years as more and more incidents are captured on film, the problem of lethal force used by police has been brought sharply into the spotlight.

The Guardian’s new study was published days after the news broke that the police officer who killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child, was cleared by a jury and walked free.

In 2015, more than 1,000 people were killed by the police in the United States.

There is now no doubt that the phenomenon of domestic state violence overwhelmingly affects minorities, especially black people but of course ultimately all of the poor and marginalised communities. Racism is little more than an ugly export of the ruling class and capitalism, ultimately inflicted upon working people of all colours living in the worst conditions. The racism which built America simply targeted the most powerless and to a greater extent. The most powerless people in the US are black and brown people exported from the occupied colonies, with slavery being one of the greatest crimes in human history. Slaves were intentionally cut off from their language and history to ensure ensuring their powerlessness and psychological controllability.

Demonstators link arms in solidarity as they protest last year's shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white policeman and the city's handling of the case in the downtown shopping district of Chicago, Illinois © Jim Young

While making up only a small percentage of the population, nearly half of those killed by the police in 2015 were black.

Another shocking fact revealed in the study was that again, despite making up a smaller section of the population, more unarmed black people were killed at the hands of the police, than white or other ethnic groups.

As we start a new year, it’s almost impossible to see the status quo changing without a collective effort to do so.

In a discussion panel which I was invited to speak at in November last year at Oxford University, students were keen to discuss the structural reasons as to the cause of the problem of continuing police brutality. While the focus was on the UK, the solutions I believe are also applicable to the United States.

In a recent discussion with fellow activists, my view has been further compounded: While the focus is often rightly on the police themselves, we have to accept that the structural barriers in place which allow racisms and violence from the state to foster unchallenged, are as damaging as the actual violence itself.

A media which shines a light on the reality lived by many would be a good start and definitely something worth pushing for.

But the heart of the problem is really a flawed legal system, which has not evolved and changed since that same system deemed it legal for African Americans to be kept in chains.

A system which treats everyone by the same rules, jails people for murder regardless of if they are Joe Public or a police officer, would change the entire social and political fabric of the US. It would act as a deterrent for anyone who committed violent murder, racist or otherwise, including police officers, who are meant to be custodians of the laws they are supposed to uphold.

Right now, in the US, officers like the thugs who are killing black people in Ferguson know that Uncle Sam favors them.

The reality going into 2016, is that if you are black in America, the biggest threat to your life is not ISIS/Daesh or any existential threat, but the state. Viewed in that context, and the fact that black people die at a higher rate than anyone else, and are again disproportionately filling up jail cells (and we haven’t even gotten into the private prison complex yet), can we honestly say that slavery is over?

I might not get any brownie points for saying it, but terrorism is terrorism, and right now in America the police (and no, not every single officer) are not “protecting and serving” but rather protecting the state, and causing the death of black males.

The focus in 2016 should not just be in challenging police violence, but in challenging the mechanisms which act as an apologist for that violence. Until the elephant in the room is challenged the principles spoken about by the founding fathers will remain little more than pipe dreams. Until the people who built the United States are treated equally, including Native Americans and Hispanics, America will not be the land of the free or the home of the brave - but the home of inequality, racism and injustice.

I applaud the study conducted by The Guardian newspaper, the work they have completed should be circulated far and wide and in particular, brought to the attention of those apologists indulging in liberal denialism that such a problem of police violence even exists.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.