The word terrorism is both over used and useless. It generally refers to the actions of the American government’s political enemies. It is rarely used to describe the wanton killing that is committed by this state or accepted by the dictates of white supremacy.
Two black men, Stephan House and Draylen Mason, were killed by a white man in Austin, Texas. The perpetrator is dead too, killing himself with the same explosives he used against House and Mason. The bomber should have been called a terrorist but law enforcement never used the word.
Not only did he escape the politically charged moniker but he was given dignity and respect despite being a cold blooded murderer. The press spoke of his family’s religious faith. He was described as “quiet and nerdy.” Police who listened to his taped confession described him as a young man with “challenges in his personal life.”
Not so Draylen Mason. The closed captioning on an Austin television station quite literally labeled him as “that monkey.” Claims of a faulty algorithm and profuse apologies cannot erase the insult heaped on the talented young musician. Stephan House was the first victim and police initially suspected him of exploding the bomb that tore shrapnel through his body
Clark met an equally horrible but more common end. He lost his life at the hands of the police. It happens on average three times every day in this country to people of different races, but one of those people will be black. Usually the victims are erased and forgotten but sometimes we learn the details of the crime.
Clark was a 22-year old black man living in Sacramento, California, the father of two small children. He was in the backyard of the home he shared with his family, a place he had every right to be. But the over policing of black neighborhoods means that home is no safe haven. While allegedly chasing a petty thief the cops encountered Clark and killed him with 20 bullets. They turned off their body cameras, questioned Clark’s grandmother, and said nothing about killing him right outside her door.
The collective outrage over Clark’s killing is justified. It is all to the good that mass protests took place in Sacramento. Business should not go on as usual when the police act as the 21st century slave patrol.
Just a few years ago police murder spawned a political movement. The words Black Lives Matter became ubiquitous and it appeared that the uniformed assassination squad might be curtailed. But a confluence of events stopped the movement before it could achieve any long lasting victory.
The organization Black Lives Matter was itself problematic. Its politics were merely liberal when revolutionary work was called for. Barack Obama also helped to dampen the anger over police murder. He directed the Justice Department to stand down and only two killings committed by police were prosecuted during his eight years in office.
Obama shamefully hijacked BLM with stunts such as a July 2016 televised town hall called “The President and the People.” One BLM founder called it a “shit show .” “It was honestly one of the worst experiences you could’ve put families through. It was all about apologizing about the cops, it was just a mess.” Obama’s goal was to silence protest and give everyone amnesia about the death toll. Only the revenge killing of police by Micah Johnson and Gavin Long moved Obama to do that much. Absent their actions he would not have even bothered with this hypocritical gesture.
The mass movement dwindled and hundreds of victims, more than 300 black people every year, were disappeared too. It has been a long time since any victim was given as much attention as Stephon Clark.
The proof of white supremacy cannot be denied. Individuals like the Austin bomber are given protection even after they kill. The young white man who murdered nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina church was treated to lunch by the arresting officers. Obama intervened in that instance too, appearing at a funeral and singing Amazing Grace, quieting the justifiable anger and mollifying the credulous.
While hundreds of thousands recently marched to protest gun violence committed by individuals, the state’s victims were forgotten, those at home and around the world. The top down acceptance of terrorism when committed by those in uniform trickles down to the entire society.
The deaths of Clark, House and Mason make a mockery of the Marching for Our Lives charade. No one marches for black people’s lives except black people, and even we can fall short unless all of the stars are aligned.
Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Corinne Gaines, Jordan Davis, Austin Sterling and nameless hundreds are terror victims. The killers may wear uniforms or the simple uniform of white skin privilege. Because of them a black person shouldn’t pick up packages from their front porches, let white people into their churches, or even stand on their own property. Doing anything at all, no matter how mundane, can lead to death at the hands of a terrorist.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in Black Agenda Report , and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via email at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com.