The number of bullets used to kill Jayland Walker have sparked an outcry, but police kill one Black person every day in this country. If systemic change is not the demand all protest is for naught.
Jayland Walker was killed by police in Akron, Ohio when he was shot more than 60 times. The nature of his death, and the brutality of his killing, made headlines. But lest anyone forget, the police kill an average of three people every day in this country and one of those victims will be Black.
We do forget while the police snuff out more than 1,000 lives every year. We awake from the slumber of semi-denial when a case comes to public attention that is especially egregious. It can be George Floyd begging for his life or Jayland Walker being executed by a mob. There are times when we can’t look away.
Police killings do not occur in a vacuum. They are a key part of the state’s plan to keep Black people under physical control. Of course there should be community control of the police, but that can’t happen unless there is a truly democratic state, one that gives the people control over every aspect of their lives. Obviously police should be prosecuted when they kill, but those instances will always be few and far between. The system can be counted on to act as it was intended.
When Black people declare that they will get justice on their own, they too are killed, as happened to Micah Johnson in Texas and Gavin Long in Louisiana in 2016, the year that Philando Castille and Alton Sterling died at the hands of police in highly publicized cases. Long and Johnson chose to act when no one else would but their choice is not one which makes sense in a country with a history of brutal reaction.
We also know that philanthropy from ruling class forces doesn’t work either. The Black Lives Matter organization imploded amid financial scandals, self-dealing, and cooptation. Raising money from foundations leads to well paid gigs and goodies for the already well connected while the body count remains unchanged.
It is time to look at our own past in this country and to other countries in order to determine strategies of action. While the era of the civil rights movement, the liberation movement, is fetishized, its lessons are rarely heeded.
A mass movement did bring about change. The people who struggled had no political friends, which was actually a good thing. They were under no illusions that politicians would advocate on their behalf. Yet they made demands anyway, knowing that people in power did not want to hear from them. Now we have “activism” that involves bad actors from the Black political class, which was created in response to the liberation movement, and which does the job that a buffer class always does.
Lawyers can sue and get monetary settlements, mothers of dead children are dragged out for show, while the state apparatus churns on. The mass movement which could put a stop to this and other human rights abuses is rarely mentioned as a response.
Political treachery and allegiance to the Democratic Party lead to a repetition of outrage followed by bitter disappointment when justice does not come. There will always be a Jayland Walker, one every day to be exact. They may be hit by one bullet or by many. The sad revolving door of marches, outrage, and opportunism will continue absent a determination to change course.
Perhaps we should look not just to our past but to the rest of the world for guidance. While Black people here wring their hands due to misleadership, inertia and political impotence, the masses in Ecuador recently brought their country to a standstill with a general strike. Thousands of people took to the streets against neo-liberal policies and environmental destruction and their demands were met. In Colombia a Black woman was recently elected vice president after that country's African descended community developed a mass movement over many years.
That kind of victory can happen in this country if we admit that we must change our thinking. It is time to recognize that people around the world have achieved revolutionary changes while American political life grows more and more reactionary. Protests for Jayland Walker will achieve nothing unless there is recognition that he and all Black people are colonized and suffer the same fate as all colonized people in the world.
Unlike indigenous Ecuadoreans, Black people in this country are under the misapprehension that they have the rights that the law claims they have. The recently celebrated Declaration of Independence said all men were created equal while simultaneously permitting chattel slavery in the new nation. It isn’t surprising that a Black family mourns a police homicide every day.
Perhaps the masses who acted in concert in the 1960s didn’t use the word colonized, but they knew what they were up against. They may have used the term civil rights, but they were struggling to have their human rights defended. They knew they had to look to themselves and to no one else. That recognition is missing decades later.
The police and the courts aren’t under any illusions but too many Black people are. It is appropriate to grieve for the fallen, but not to be shocked when they fall or when the system that took them out shows its unjust nature. No one should be protesting for Jayland Walker who isn’t also protesting against a rotten system.
The struggle is one for change, but that can’t happen if police killings are viewed as aberrations instead of as features that the system needs in order to operate. Protesting for Jayland Walker cannot be about police abolition either. Abolition of the entire system must be on the agenda. That demand is a very tall order and that is why it must be studied now before amnesia takes over once again.
Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. Her work can also be found on Twitter and Telegram. She also provides original work on Patreon. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via email at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.