Michael Brown's death and the subsequent protests in the city of Ferguson, Missouri have laid bare a few simple, troubling facts about living in this country as a black American:
- You are always considered a danger or a threat until proven otherwise.
- As a possible threat, you are subject to the wishes and whims of law enforcement, the courts and the penal system.
- Even ordinary citizens can deal with you as they see fit if they consider you a threat, as codified in both de facto and de jure forms.
But the reason for LEO insistence on treating black Americans as a clear and present danger has little to do with criminal stats or personal experiences - those are often used as pretextual justifications for their behavior. Instead, it's a bit deeper than that:
The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. I came home at the end of this summer to find that dominion had been. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.
Ownership of and authority over the black body is something that stretches as far back as the beginning of the slave trade, when the purchase and use of involuntary African labor came into vogue. It was most apparent during the heyday of the plantation system, with the southern planter class and their allies in control of black labor and black movement. The black body was theirs to do as they saw fit.
This attitude did not vanish once the plantation system - at least in its slavery-supported form - vanished. The loss of control over the black body also meant a grievous economic loss. When black Americans began taking advantage of the Reconstruction period, there was a realization that this loss of control could be permanent. The fight against Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow laws throughout the south and the use of those laws to create a new prison-supported plantation system marked the re-imposition of control over the black body.
Today, mainstream America struggles to maintain authority over the black body, to do as they see fit with it. Even if it means warehousing your body in a secure facility for decades on end. Or bruising your body to the point of disfigurement and paralysis. Or simply destroying your body outright.
It doesn't take a united organization to exercise that sort of control over the black body. Such tasks are often outsourced to ordinary individuals - people who have their own agendas, but nevertheless inherently understand the need for policing the black body. Jason Zimmerman did his part to re-impose societal control over the black body - he understood clearly what society subconsciously asked of him once he saw those black teenagers behaving in a way that suggested a lack of control.
LEO behavior in Ferguson, L.A., N.Y.C. and points elsewhere are part and parcel with the continuing need to control the black body, whether for the benefit of the scared white suburbanite, the unrepentant Lost Causer, the workaday man or woman who doesn't want to lose their job or home to "those people," the businessmen who see black bodies as a goldmine of dependable cheap labor or the politician who uses black bodies as a "tough on crime" liferaft to keep his or her career afloat.
Control of the black body has always been good for business and good for society. Yours truly doesn't expect that to stop anytime soon.