vigil for the fallen: reimagining safety, security, and prosperity for black lives

Columbia, SC
October 1, 2016

Community organizers Tianna Mills and Rachel Barringer opened this forum at the South Carolina State House to remember the lives taken and regularly threatened by police brutality and racial violence. Thankful to them for creating a healing space, openly confronting pain, and fostering a spirit for action amongst us all. They welcomed me to share a poem, we don’t-land, and then this speech, elaborating on the sentiment.

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Human essence doesn’t belong to this society, to these structures. Black people were a commodity and blackness, this culture, grew in opposition to the shackles, the chains, the lynchings, the rape. Violence. So when we gather in the street and we say no justice, no peace – we are revolutionary. Every time. When we demand to speak truth through creative expression, or demand political participation, when we speak truth directly to power. We carry on a tradition. Coming together like this is our right, and it has been our salvation.

State-sanctioned violence against black, brown, and native people in these United States is not new and it is not limited to police interaction. That cog in this machine is relatively new. The prison industrial complex, criminal justice system, and for-profit policing as they are now – these institutions were intended to preserve safety and security for some, from others when slavery was abolished and black people gained the rights of American citizenship bit by bit.

Now, are we surprised that they continue to do the same thing?

 

…what does safety, security, even prosperity as people – what does that mean to you? Economically, socially, politically?

 

I want to be clear that the impact of these structures manifest socially, economically, and politically, and we can see those intentions, to manipulate, marginalize, and dehumanize black people from slavery through to today.

But y’all can and SHOULD do your research. Look to contemporaries like Michelle Alexander, Te-nihisi Coates, Marc Lamont Hill as well as the work of those involved in relief civil rights movements. White people, you can also look to Tim Wise, Jane Elliot, Ann Braden.

From here, I want to speak to the present, and to our potential.

 

Wages are kept stagnant and welfare is stigmatized, as one in five children are food insecure in this, the richest land, the strongest country on Earth, as we say.

 

Now I know this election is a disheartening one. But let’s take a good hard look at this concept of “law and order” being thrown around on the right and used to delegitimize this movement further. We know it’s code for subjugating blackness. Again, this fascist fear-mongering rhetoric is not new.

But in its essence, what does safety and security look like to you? Is it a badge, a gun, a uniform, flashing lights? Is that all? What about community? Accountability? Access?

In this land – where freedom and bravery are supposedly paramount – the same structures, and folks within them, that justify (even reward) the police killings and the culture of excessive force, justify lead poisoning communities of color. See: Flint, Michigan.

Just as public education is underfunded and segregated, transportation and housing are disproportionately inaccessible to people of color. Wages are kept stagnant and welfare is stigmatized, as one in five children are food insecure in this, the richest land, the strongest country on Earth, as we say. Institutional priorities are fucked up and they’ve been fucked up.

 

It is a surrender to the status quo, an allegiance with no standard, without consideration for future generations or a real claim to our own future.

 

So I ask again, what does safety, security, even prosperity as people – what does that mean to you? Economically, socially, politically? As we gather here to affirm that Black Lives Matter, how will we apply that to the communities we live in and the organizations we support? Will we demand more of our elected officials – I’m talking local – school board, city councils, state – as we’ve seen in NC with the governor, etc.

So, when we “land”, when we settle and quiet down and comfortable, we continue a public passivity. It is a surrender to the status quo, an allegiance with no standard, without consideration for future generations or a real claim to our own future. We have to actively fight back, fight for more of what is right, always, and collectively – and in our own way. Some of us will be activists and organizers, some of us will educate through art or conversation; it is enough to be unapologetically ourselves and in those times we will encourage others to do the same.

Things must change for us, and for our children. Change is the only constant, and the secret of change – I think truly living change – is to focus all of this energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

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