The value of Black life in America, Part 1

Published in the SF Bay View on February 17, 2015

by Anthony Robinson Jr.

The Black man “had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.” – U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Dred Scott

Dred Scott is buried about a mile down the same road from where Mike Brown was murdered.

Dred Scott is buried about a mile down the same road from where Mike Brown was murdered.

The same mindset that allows a police officer to summarily execute an innocent, unarmed Black person in the street is the same mindset that allows an officer to plant evidence and lie on the witness stand. It allows a judge to appoint a knowingly incompetent defense attorney, and it allows a prosecutor to withhold evidence, use false evidence, to overcharge and to discriminate with impunity.

What is at stake is the most important civil rights issue for generations to come: the value of Black life in america and the massive incarceration of Blacks and other people of color.

A people can only expect to live well in a society according to the rubric of how they are valued by that society.

While it is tragic to witness another Black man in america shot by the police, it is even more tragic to witness a people so in denial about their value in the society that they fail to recognize the symmetry in the modern forms of lynching that have become acceptable: instead of hanging “niggers,” they gun ‘em down – and leave their bodies on display for hours.

While it is tragic to witness babies being torn from the arms of mothers who are carted off to prison because the state has not sanctioned their means of providing for their families, it is even more tragic to witness a people so in denial about their value in the society that they fail to recognize the analogous Willy Lynch separation of mother and child in order to break the family units and instill a divide and conquer stratagem, where generations to come will be content with being separate in their cultural identification but equal in the brutalizing torture endured by the society in general.

While it is tragic to witness the effects on our children of laws that are passed which make it easier to prosecute Black teens as adults than to prosecute policemen for gunning down innocent Black men, women and children, it is even more tragic to witness a people so in denial about their value in the society that they fail to recognize that the value of their children – from a societal perspective – is no different now than it was during the tragic death of Emmett Till.

While it is true that Blacks have endured a lot of tragic moments in America, especially those living the gallows of the ghetto, it is even more true that Black people in america can look forward to even more of these tragic “raisin in the sun” moments, as these killings, stalkings, entrappings, incarceratings etc. are just effects of the problem and not the cause. Until we as a people, as a community, as a society get serious about dealing with the cause of these tragic moments – the value of Black life in america – we can look forward to more Oscar Grant “incidents,” more Trayvon Martins, more Mike Browns.

It is interesting how we have been organized and mobilized behind these tragic effects, yet few movements and organizations have had the audacity to organize and seek solutions to their cause. This is partly due to the fact that the people most aptly attuned to address the cause – Blacks in america – unfortunately have helped to perpetuate the cause against themselves. (See my “Two slaves for the price of one” articles – Parts 1, 2 and 3.)

There is a narrative that has been smuggled – like slaves on a cargo ship – into the cultural subconscious of america that says, “Black people, as evidenced by how they live and interact with each other, don’t value their own lives, so why should we?” We are confronted with this narrative in america daily through the institutionalized tools and state sanctioned oppression deployed against us at will – police shootings, beatings, incarceratings.

Anthony Robinson Jr. showing the SF Bay View Newspaper

Anthony Robinson Jr.

As I sit here reading the December 2014 Bay View paper, it is interesting that despite having a Black president, Black people still must put the emphatic symbol of their agitation on a T-shirt that reads: “#Blacklivesmatter.” A protest navigating through the wilderness of a question, a self-reflective question staring back from the mirror of reality, waiting for the gaze of a people who can’t look forward because they are too afraid of losing looking back.

Ferguson was not a new lesson or protracted politics revealing the reactionary mathematics of the government. Ferguson was a prophetic reminder of the saying, “A people who refuse to learn from their history are forced to repeat it.” In a cause and effect relationship, there’s even mathematics applied.

We need to orient our thinking and calculate our steps behind this premise: If the value of Black life in america is the cause, then the organized state sanctioned oppression inflicted upon Black lives every day in america is the effect. The police seizure of property and “justifying” their actions by writing the theft into the law is the same as the police seizure of an unarmed Black life – which they see as nothing but property – and justifying it just the same with their “justice system,” deeming it a justifiable homicide.

In a country where district attorneys are trained to lead witnesses, overcharge for crimes they can’t prove, plant evidence, and win without regard for the law in service of protecting the law, how is it that District Attorney Robert P. McCulloch could not sieve an indictment from the grand jury even on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter of an unarmed Black man with his hands raised in the air? The value of Black life in america, that’s how!

“I understood the problems plaguing poor communities of color, including problems associated with crime and rising incarceration rates, to be a function of poverty and lack of access to quality education – the continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” – Michelle Alexander

The three social cues that reveal the value of Black life in america to an unapologetic populace are mass incarceration of Blacks and other people of color – and the laws that target them – lack of access to quality education and the senseless killings of Blacks in america. These three social cues, if perpetrated upon any other race in America, would solicit a national crisis, but because they are perpetrated upon Blacks, there’s barely a whisper.

The sad part is the reality that even amongst Blacks, there’s barely a whisper – as if our voices and struggles have become confined within the margins of other people’s expectations and valuations of us. How are we as a people not mobilized and organized through indignation to at least become conscious enough to see our organs, i.e., our families, communities, churches and every cultural medium through which we act as political instruments exercised to gain us power by the only means practical, the value of Black life in america.

“Mass incarceration is the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the civil rights movement.” – Michelle Alexander

Through mass incarceration they have taken back all of the rights gained for Black men and women through the civil rights movement. With all the motives and policies that disenfranchise felons from not only their own communities, but society at large, it is more than interesting to note that the same exclusionary tactics that boxed Blacks out of society in the Jim Crow era and Reconstruction era seek the same end now, legalized in the prison industrial complex era: discrimination in hiring, housing, education and voting are now accepted again as long as Blacks (“felons”) are biting the bullet.

Through mass incarceration they have taken back all of the rights gained for Black men and women through the civil rights movement.

By convincing him that he has no value, the prison industrial complex targets the Black man’s ideals and social cues, forcing him to register such a low estimation of himself that he takes as his portion the state sanctioned oppression which the law in its humanity accords to him.

“In a landmark decision by the Virginia Supreme Court, Ruffin v. Commonwealth, issued at the height of Southern redemption, the court puts to rest any notion that convicts were legally distinguishable from slaves. For a time, during his service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the state. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being a slave of the state.” – “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

For those of you that support the prison industrial complex’s institutionalization of massive incarceration of Black men and other people of color, you are aiding and abetting the legislative plantation owners’ continuation of the system of slavery through the penal system – the first system sought to control the newly freed slaves by placing them back into the conditions of chattels with the commonly utilized legislative pen as the bullwhip – a condition that became meticulously sewn into the fabric of america to such a degree that the unapologetic populace, even amongst people of color, have sat back and marveled at the parallel “prima facie” systems of slavery built into the prison industrial complex – for example, working long hours for little or no pay.

And Blacks and other people of color not only work for these plantations, but they seek employment in these plantations with such destitute and deplorable conditions that a lot of them are lulled back into a system of slavery not only by the physical and logistical parallels of slavery, but also by the parallel expectations that slaves had of themselves based on the low estimation plantation owners had of them.

“Black men in the U.S. fortunate enough to live past 18 are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison. For most of us, it simply looms as the next phase in a sequence of humiliations. Being born a slave in a captive society and never experiencing any objective basis for expectation had the effect of preparing me for the progressively traumatic misfortunes that lead so many Black men to the prison gate. I was prepared for prison; it required only a minor psychic adjustment.” – George Jackson

Their laws, their policies, their capital, their modus operandi has targeted our men, women and children and communities for too long. We have been auctioned off and placed in stocks in america for too long.

The value of Black life in america is the pressing issue. How many slaves will have to be freed at the point of this exhaustive pen before we realize that in all of these “incidents” they are targeting our existence with impunity.

We have allowed them to become so comfortable with targeting and policing our communities that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had the audacity to introduce a plan under “The Justice Reinvestment Initiative” to build satellite prisons in poor Black communities and call it “community corrections.” Prompting the ACLU Sentencing Project to report, “The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, as it has come to operate, runs the danger of institutionalizing mass incarceration at current levels.”

Unfortunately we have already reached that point in america where the mass incarceration of Black men and other people of color has become institutionalized not only in the fabric of america, but in the collective subconscious of the American populace. Although it is a fact, statistically, that 70 percent of the crime in america is committed by whites, Blacks and other people of color make up over 70 percent of the prison population.

They are targeting our existence with impunity.

As expressed by one Alabama planter, “We have the power to pass stringent police laws to govern the Negroes. This is a blessing, for they must be controlled in some way or white people cannot live among them.”

“The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, it is estimated that three out of four young Black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.” – “The New Jim Crow”

As Blacks and other people of color in america, we are facing the eruption of a moment of truth so connected to our future existence in this country, that if we fail to stare down the effects of our reality and face the cause (the value of Black life in america), then we will be deservedly remembered as the race which polluted the air of humanity by supporting the institutionalization of mass incarceration.

Harriet Tubman, who freed hundreds of slaves, always regretted the fact that she could have freed thousands more if only they knew they were slaves. The NEW underground railroad and The Free Alabama Movement refuse to march forward with the same regret. We understand that for those of us affected and targeted by mass incarceration, it’s our turn to act. We have to leave the crops in the field.

“When the innocent, mentally ill and the guilty are enslaved under the same oppression simply because the system deems you expendable (the value of Black life in america) then I recommend that you’d better resist too, or else you will suffer the most ignoble fate known to humanity: dying as a slave of old age. It is far better to die fighting for your liberation, freedom and honor that it is to live a life of service and docility, constantly enduring abuse by your master.” – Spokesperson Ray of Free Alabama Moment

I would ask the reader to please keep an open mind to your own measure of courage and ability to abolish this institution of massive incarceration of Black men and other people of color. The most difficult part of any revolution is convincing people to boot up and take that first step, but this is also the most enduring.

The prison industrial complex is using your labor, your votes, your taxes, your silent consent to promote and perpetuate the system; therefore, if you cut off your labor, re-align your votes, and demand that your taxes be used to free rather than enslave people, you will shut down the system’s vital organs. Everyone affected by the institutionalization of mass incarceration, whether by profit or liability, has a pivotal role to play in the abolition of this enslavement.

I would ask the reader to please keep an open mind to your own measure of courage and ability to abolish this institution of massive incarceration of Black men and other people of color.

The first step for many of you reading this will be to re-evaluate your perspective on crime and punishment and your superstitious beliefs in the justice system, determining what psychic adjustments or hallucinations you have made to accept a system more devastating than apartheid.

Hitler bought insurance policies on biological property – the soldiers. When that money was gone, he insured prisoners, and he put a lot of people into prison. The United States of america is copying Hitler, putting people in prison and bonding them.

The U.S. has amassed huge amounts of money based on mass incarceration and warehousing of slaves. In the beginning of 2014, California added hundreds of new “laws” to its books – on top of the thousands of laws already existing. Why is america in such a race to enslave, entrap and incarcerate?

“Before democracy, chattel slavery existed in america.” – Michelle Alexander

Through the prison industrial complex and institutionalization of mass incarceration, the Corrections Corporation of america and other mega-corporations have found a way to profit off of their favorite pastime – chattel slavery.

When history awakens from its slumber to recite to God the accounts of man, will america’s blurb read, “a society so indebted to the whores of commerce that they sought to enslave men rather than free them.”

Send our brother some love and light: Anthony C. Robinson Jr., P-67144, TCCF MC-67, 415 US Hwy 49 North, Tutwiler MS 38963; Anthony is a California prisoner held in a private CCA prison in Mississippi. His series, “Two slaves for the price of one,” is being made into a movie that is expected to be released this year.

Strange Fruit

The cherry blossoms
with a bullet in its pit
because its roots have been watered
by the muffled screams of slaves hanging
from its branches …
A child plants a prayer
in the garden of his mother’s mind
next to his father’s broken dreams;
she raises him on bitter milk and cold cereal:
a meal she deems fitting to prepare him for the world.
I sometimes wonder if Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant
are in heaven writing an epistle to the people on the same bullet?
I imagine it would read:

To the Black and minority people of revolutionary merit,
our communities have become the death blossoms
that the power structure in america uses as rationalizations
to parade its paramilitary and institutionalized
mass incarcerating agendas to wipe out a colorless class …
Colorless in regards to any political hue that would give
us the power to paint our visions with the vibrant expressions
of self-determination to act in our communities and in the
world as productive contributors to the will of humanity.
Remember, our lives were taken with the consent of state
sanctioned jurisprudence under the watch of a Black president.
We wanted our lives to be more than a few sad songs and photographs
pasted onto the collective subconscious of the american people.
We see the true people of merit organizing, protesting, marching …
We’ve tuned in so much to the rhythms of the people’s heart
for change that we threw a concert in heaven so that we could
watch the angels dance.
Some of them hadn’t cut up in a while.
We are tired of dancing, but we’re noticing that the music
is getting louder. Please, don’t let them stop the music;
now it seems we can’t rest without it.

Sincerely, Trayvon and Oscar

The cherry blossoms fall from their stems willingly
in order to be free of the noose.
Falling with the determined strength to live free,
they plunge into the soil similar to slaves overboard cargo ships
plunging into the ocean with the purest memory of freedom in their hearts …
Black and minority people have been pitted against so many
antagonisms and contradictions that it is hard for us
to recognize the value of our seed.
Maybe it is more important for us to remember the source from which
our water is gathered: inner strengths like love, faith and determination …
Yes! We are proudly recognizing that we are strange fruit
in america – strange because once we blossom into the people
we are meant to be, only God will recognize our names …

– Anthony Robinson Jr.

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Combat police oppression in our communities

Posted in the SF Bay View on June 7, 2010

by Anthony Robinson Jr.

Front cover of Anthony Robinson Jr's book of poetry "Incarcerated Tears"

Anthony’s book can be purchased at http://www.BuyBooksontheWeb.com or by writing to him. His address is at the end of the story.

Black and Brown communities are terrorized by police on a daily basis on a physical and emotional level. We are all too familiar with the physical terrorism: bodies being slammed on pavement with knees penetrating necks, batons beating against skulls mimicking a life-size piñata that spills blood instead of candy and, last but not least, the iconic image of a body riddled by a volley of bullets.

But the emotional terrorism, which the police are well aware of and use to their advantage, is displayed every time the mere insignia and symbols of the police solicit a response contrary to how the denizens would normally react if they hadn’t heard the sirens or seen a police car. Poor communities of color fear the “mythical reality” of police oppression and thus become organized into an ideology of fear that enables uniforms, badges, sirens etc. to become just as frightening and controlling as a raised baton.

I use the term “mythical reality” because there is a narrative that comes to the aid of police oppression that adjusts the lens so that the legend of police as heroic men and women, out-manned and denigrated, fighting against villains who are attempting to undermine the fabric of America, is perpetuated continuously. This legend is solidified not only in the mainstream of America’s upper and middle class communities, but also in the poor communities being oppressed. This is usually expressed in the generation gaps, where a grandmother’s or a mother’s desperation forces them to call the police oppression and brutality into their communities as a retributive parenting tactic that backfires when their children are gunned down by the police in an attempt to cleanse the neighborhood.

Before we seek to mobilize an uncompromising rectitude of this “mythical reality,” we must seek to understand our current perspectives of the police and their prescribed role in poor, Black and Brown communities and demand that the current perspectives be aligned and compatible with our communities’ goals and vision for our neighborhoods, our children and ourselves.

What role, if any, should the police play in Black and Brown communities? Have they earned the packaged “reverence” bestowed upon them by the media and power structure who have a vested interest in our being subservient to that “reverence” – even if by the time it is translated in our communities it becomes the police oppression that we have allowed to find refuge in our own expectations?

Frantz Fanon said, “Education is nothing but the re-establishment and re-enforcement of values and institutions of a given society.”

What value, if any, is re-enforced and recognized as intrinsically belonging to the poor minority communities? When the police break from their ideological huddles and ride out to the ghettos, what re-enforcement of values, what philosophy of education are they carrying in their holsters, and in what ways have they chosen to institute this education in the community?

The nucleus of this essay is a question that seeks and searches its own imperatives to birth unto itself an edifying perspective; and that question is: Do Black and Brown communities owe themselves the task of searching their perspectives of police oppression and aligning those perspectives with empirical experiences and historical narratives of police and how they have responded to the community?

Ofelia Ortiz Cuevas states in her essay, “COPS and the Visual Economy of Punishment” (an essay in “Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex” by The CR10 Publications Collective, published by AK Press in honor of Critical Resistance’s 10th anniversary):

“So common and accepted, so significantly mundane is the brutality of the police against raced communities that the reality in which they are displayed before us becomes a social hallucination. The racist disposition of the visible, which will prepare and achieve its own inverted perceptions under the rubric of what is seen according to Judith Butler can turn a clear vision of police brutality into a myth of police vulnerability.

“Even rebellious youth are socialized to fear police. This reality can be seen as the police drive slowly through any ghetto and turn rebellious youth into spectators of the ominous events that are assumed to take place. It is interesting how this fear is translated by the media and becomes a socialized symbol of respect for authority when convenient. The masses that are terrorized by the rebellious youth are grateful to the police for keeping neighborhoods safe by way of oppression and force.”

I would like to point out something so obvious it seems to lose reality in the propensity to take it as a given: The “rebellious youth” terrorizing the Black and Brown communities are the sons and daughters of those same communities. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, fathers, grandfathers, you must mobilize into a class of guardians and get your children out of the streets! You can no longer afford to call the police on your children as a first option and then criticize how they choose to operate in our communities.

What education does the Black community owe itself in regards to police oppression, violence and brutality? How will Black and Brown communities use this education to re¬negotiate the context, organization and terms in which the police utilize their resources to serve, protect and communicate with the community?

The brevity of this essay is intended to keep the reader oriented towards begging questions that will demand the police recognize a more self-determined community.

What would happen if the demand for police oppression dissipated and communities organized themselves and their “rebellious youth”? What role, if any, should the police play in Black and Brown communities? What education is re-enforced in police jurisprudence?

If we do not have the courage, fortitude and indignation to grapple with these questions sincerely and usher in a new perspective, our communities will continue to be extended training grounds for the “mythical reality” of police oppression.

Organize or be organized!

Note: I define the term “mythical reality” as a situation where one class of people, usually the lower class, knows a reality, usually violence, racism, prejudice etc., to be true by experience, while another class, usually the upper class, tries to control the perception and narrative of the other class by forms of control offered by their privilege.

Anthony Robinson Jr. is the author of “Incarcerated Tears: Book of Poems Vol.1,” which can be purchased at www.BuyBooksontheWeb.com or by writing to him. Send our brother some love and light by writing to Anthony Robinson Jr., P-67144, NFORK AN-156, 1605 E. Main, Sayre, OK 73662. Now 28, he has been locked behind enemy lines for over a decade.