If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken

From my adoptive hometown of Baltimore the racialized surveillance of movement of people appears clear and loaded with violence and discrimination.

Monday was the funeral of Freddie Gray who died in police custody of unnatural causes, adding to the long list of people of color who died in police encounters. He was beaten up evidently. His fault was to run away from police for no other reason than not trusting them. The police chased him. The police do not need probable cause to arrest in high crime area. Baltimore is a high crime area all by itself and also a “Black city.” In this racially discriminatory and oppressive context, a young Black man does not want to be close to police. The latter is not there to protect him. The same is true for Black women. The city has paid over $ 5.7 million in settlement for the wrongdoing of the police since 2011. There is harassment, humiliation and constant scrutiny of movement for the African Americans in the street of Baltimore. Still, the police authorities accuse the poor and the destitute to be the threat, while the city is cutting social, public housing programs and school budget including financial support for organizations that provide support to the population while many actors with power just organize the demise of their community.

Worldwide, movement is not easy for the poor or the destitute. While the United States is the showroom of pure racism, the Mediterranean Sea is the theater of the policy of laissez-faire, let them die. As Senegalese author Fatou Diome declared, this racialized laissez-die has shaped the European Union’s dissuading policies against migration.

Since the beginning of 2015, over 39 000 people have attempted the crossing to Europe. 1776 have died just to escape the violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq or other battled countries. This means one death every two hours since the first of January. This is the highest rate ever recorded. According to the UN Commissioner of Refugees, only 10% of people running away from violence migrate to the EU but that’s enough to rekindle the conservative and nationalist spirit of this rich continent.

On April 19th, a rotten trawler with 700 migrants packed on board capsized. All 28 survivors had been on the upper level. As is often the case, women and children were locked up down in the hold. And so they all died.

This happened after 400 migrants died in the Sicily. These latest incidents shook the consciousness of some in Europe. In Italy the population came to the rescue helping the migrants in a solidarity spirit that should be the norm. But the policies of asylum don’t carry this humanistic solidarity spirit. They penalize populations coming from the South. The Dublin II Accord signed by 32 European States has stated that demand for asylum can only be filed in the first entry country. Today these countries are typically Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.

At a recent summit EU Ministers of Foreign and Interior Affairs, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi demanded that the rest of Europe participate in rescuing and receiving this flux of migrants.

After the drama of Lampedusa that left almost 280 dead, chanting “Never again”, the EU leaders eliminated the Italian program “Mare Nostrum” that ambitiously had the ability to search and rescue in international and European waters the migrants. Mare Nostrum was replaced by the “Triton” program which is not a search-and-rescue operation and operates only on European waters. It is also less expensive. As Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted, the UE, is the biggest economic power of our time, somehow can’t 3 million additional Euros per month to aid migrants.

Ten measures that resembled pious hope more than coherent actions were proposed. European leaders agreed to return most of the refugees to their war-torn countries, consenting to only 5 000 permits. These decisions are marked by the neoliberal austerity mindset that imposes discrimination and misery for those left out of the political and economic order.

The leaders also agreed to increase the funds for Triton within the program of surveillance of borders called Frontex. They also affirmed that they would fight the traffickers. As the socialist group of the European Parliament argued, these actions merely add another layer of military violence to areas already ravaged by conflict.

There is an obvious discrepancy between the dramas taking place in the Mediterranean waters and the streets of Baltimore or other US cities, and the application of the right to move freely or migrate to seek safer land, safer lives.

Fatou Diome put it clearly, “If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken.” She added that the people who depart for survival already consider that their lives have no value and therefore are not afraid of losing it. The disaster has been already organized for them through imperialist wars and deprivation.

After the funeral, the riot in the streets of Baltimore shed light on the balance of power. Freddie Gray could not run away from arbitrary arrest and humiliation, and lost his life. The young rioters in Baltimore had a similar perception of their position. It is not enough to condemn violence, as Martin Luther King declared without “condemning the contingent intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention … Riot is the language of the unheard.”

These are large issues. Another type of dialogue and solidarity has to be formed if we are to restore a humanistic dialogue and discourse and free the movements of the oppressed.

(Portrait of Freddie Gray: Kim Sarabia / Colorlines)

You gave up the moral authority to declare a state of emergency decades ago

What qualifies as a State emergency, and who gets to call it? Not the State of Maryland and not the City of Baltimore. They lost that privilege decades ago.

After decades of publicly acknowledged police brutality directed specifically at Black and Brown skinned residents of the city, of spending millions of dollars to support violent extremists in the Baltimore City Police Department, neither the City of Baltimore nor the State of Maryland has the moral authority to declare a state of emergency. They wouldn’t know an emergency if it bit them.

Since 2011, Baltimore has invested $5.7 million in lawsuits dealing with police brutality. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted, “The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.”

Coates grew up across the street from Mondawmin. Considerably earlier, I lived most of my pre-school life across the street from Mondawmin. We both understand the lie of peace and responsibility when they come from the mouths of State representatives. As Coates argues, “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

What’s this war in Baltimore? Freddie Gray was killed while riding in a police van. Violence in police vans is so ordinary it has its own lexicon. There’s the “rough ride”, when the handcuffed and perhaps shackled prisoner is not seat belted, and so is thrown all over the van. This is also known as the “cowboy ride.” Then there’s “bringing them up front” where the driver slams unexpectedly on the brakes, throwing the prisoner against the cage behind the driver’s seat. This is also known as the “screen test”.

Last September, The Baltimore Sun ran a major investigation into the payouts, including the stories of horrible police violence against Black women: 87-year-old Venus Green; 26-year-old Starr Brown; 58-year-old Barbara Floyd. Between 2010 and 2014, 31 people died in `police in encounters’ in Baltimore. The culture of police brutality, Baltimore’s disgrace, has long been public knowledge. Did anyone in Annapolis or on the Baltimore City Council even contemplate stating that there is an emergency in Baltimore?

Individuals and agencies that have absolutely no moral authority to declare any kind of emergency are now in charge of declaring and maintaining a State of Emergency. None of this is a surprise. As John Angelos, Orioles team executive, noted early on, “My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy … is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S … plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

In his 1962 essay, “A Letter to My Nephew”, James Baldwin alluded to a slave spiritual, “You Got a Right”:

“You got a right, I got a right,
We all got a right to the tree of life.
Yes, tree of life.

The very time I thought I was lost,
The dungeon shook and the chain fell off.
You may hinder me here,
But you can’t hinder me there.
‘Cause God in the Heaven’s
Going to answer my prayer.”

We all got a right to the tree of life.

 

(Photo Credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)