Unless we identify genocide as the common underpinning to all of the brutality directed against Black people in the US, we are talking about the wrong thing.
“Hit and run driving is becoming the new go anywhere lynching.”
We could talk about Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Michael Brown... And now, even after all the righteous outrage around George Floyd’s merciless execution, we could talk about Rayshard Brooks as another isolated police homicide. We could get all exercised talking about how the Supreme Court—after all this—just allowed special immunity for police officers to stand. After all this. Or the need for defunding the police and the radical transformation of policing in the United States. All of these are necessary, serious, deliberative topics. All of them are maddeningly pressing in on us. But unless we are talking about the common underpinning to all of this, we would be talking about the wrong thing. What we need to be talking about, marching about, screaming about—as the common instrument that runs all the way from slavery to the Supreme Court—is genocide.
Genocide is an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts fall into five categories:
1. Killing members of the group
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
There are a number of other serious, violent crimes that do not fall under the specific definition of genocide. They include crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and mass killing.
The African experience in America is genocide. It pervades Everytown, USA. Stand Your Ground against Travon Martin. Open fire without warning in Walmart. The wages of taillights is death. Draw from your own local experience: there is a Black person whose very existence made a cop fear for their life as the one-size-fits-all license requirement for open season on Blacks—especially male Blacks—especially for cops.
“Genocide pervades Everytown, USA.”
And now a new preferred method of attack is catching favor, no rope required: vehicular assault. We saw it in Charlottesville, Minneapolis, Tallahassee, Brooklyn (when two police vans slammed into a crowd of protesters), Los Angeles, Boston, and five other US cities since George Floyd's murder. Hit and run driving is becoming the new go anywhere lynching.
It happened in Bethesda, MD, at a peaceful demonstration I helped organize that was themed around contemporary police violence in Montgomery County and the cultural annihilation—the genocide—of an African community that has been ongoing since the 1950’s when this once thriving community was zoned, coerced, terrorized, taxed and otherwise sent into oblivion. Among the noxious tactics employed was to pave over the Moses African Cemetery to obliterate it from existence under 80 feet of fill dirt and a parking lot. The sole remaining vestige of this community is Macedonia Baptist Church which was built on the foundation of former “slave quarters” for a “plantation” where Africans were abused, raped and variously tortured.
On Monday, June 8th, a peaceful demonstration attended by hundreds of people was assaulted by Gary Tavenner, a white vigilante and owner of Bethesda Collision Repair Center. Tavenner plowed his white SUV into a crowd of men, women, children and the elderly (see video). When the protestors continued to march, he again drove into the crowd. These protestors were peacefully marching to the historical Moses African Cemetery to witness firsthand the desecration that, by virtue of a developers’ exemption, initiated excavation on the grave site for a new storage facility while the rest of the county was in pandemic lockdown.
“Tavenner plowed his white SUV into a crowd of men, women, children and the elderly.”
Mr. Tavenner rolled down his window and yelled at the protestors, “Get off my property!” Members of the protest started to record the incident. Even though the march took place outside on public lands, Tavenner demanded that protestors “leave this property.” Faced with angry protestors who were sandwiched between an African burial ground on one side and his auto shop on the other, Tavenner resorted to the white supremacy playbook of calling the police and reporting “a riot on his property.”
This could have turned out to be another Charlottesville tragedy, in which James Alex Fields rammed his car into a crowd of anti-white supremacist counterprotestors, killing Heather Heyer. Despite local news stories and letters from the community, the County has not initiated an investigation or charged Mr. Tavenner with attempted vehicular manslaughter. In fact, if the community does not demand accountability, nothing will happen. What is clear is that vehicular manslaughter is simply another variation on a reoccurring theme in America: lynching.
While this is consistent with the history of Montgomery County, Maryland, it is also the history of countless counties around the country. In the absence of even liberal, not to speak of progressive leadership, members of the community exercising their constitutional rights are placed in harm’s way as vilgilantes fill the vacuum. The County Executive, Marc Elrich could have recognized by now, the intrinsic historic role of Moses African Cemetery as an international site of genocide and invoked eminent domain or other legal tools, but instead will wait for bloodshed before providing even nominal leadership. That is the lesson from the civil rights movement: blood was shed before major civil rights laws were passed. Currently, it took the horrific and public death of George Floyd for a serious conversation to occur around police abolition and transformation.
“Vehicular manslaughter is simply another variation on a reoccurring theme in America: lynching.”
Existing policing practices and governing must to be abolished. The genesis of US policing started with the armed white vigilantes who murdered, raped and tortured kidnapped Africans for nearly 400 years in slave patrols. Today’s police departments have not programmatically changed substantially in the last 401 years. Their mission includes: surveillance of the black community; targeted apprehension of black people, particularly men; confinement and isolation of the Black community; ensuring through military or armed force, a Black under/labor class— and murder with impunity. These functions provide the necessary environment for the continued exploitation of Black labor and protection of white skin privilege. That is the DNA of the slave patrollers and their descendants, police officers. Black people in the United States will continue to die at the hands of police officers, regardless of legislative reforms until the system that gave birth to this kind of institutional community controlling is destroyed and replaced with one that protects, values, and serves human life.
The country’s mayors, police chiefs, governors, congressmembers, judges, and presidents have had over 400 years to show their true colors. For Africans, those colors are black and blue and blood red. The recent Supreme Court sidestepping of limiting police accountability through liability notwithstanding, “we shall” overthrow as American culture nears critical mass in its revulsion at police brutality and impunity. The change is happening in the streets nationwide and worldwide. It’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall.
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA . She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). Marsha was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, March 2017. Currently, she is working to stop HOC from its continue desecration of an African burial ground in Bethesda, Maryland.
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