To be “In the Wake:” Conceptualizing Cop Behavior

In the recent exposure of white terrorism exhibited through police brutality, many have suggested “retraining” as a solution. Despite the insurmountable amount of evidence illustrating systemic racism, each fatality functions as an incident isolated by what the media projects as “bad apples.” Officers escape the “murderer” labeling and instead are regarded as anomolies in an otherwise functional system. Each incident is defined by a signifying attribute like age, ability or condition. Even the latest tragedy of Charleena Lyles, highlights her mental handicap and pregnant state, functioning as Martin and Brown’s youth,  and John Crawford III status as a young father— in isolating an incident parallel to so many other cases lacking central placement in past or present American culture.

The specific circumstances of each fatality fail to be supersede the importance of the killings themselves, which function as a systemic genocide cast onto the black collective consistently and unapologetically to ensure white dominance. These attributes surface as a means to individualize a collective issue, a seemingly minute act that produces the prodigious effect of disassociation. It is this disassociation that prompts many to oversimplify the problem at hand and suggest the simplicity of retraining to an issue that has plagued the black body for centuries.

Retraining is a white supremacist solution that enables a linguistic change to seemingly alter something without changing anything at all. We must remember that the American world trains the white and black body to perceive blackness and criminality as congruent. It is this subconscious training that not only leaves the black body to die in the street day in and day out, but that repeatedly justifies said actions each and every time.

In her paramount book “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” Dr. Christina Sharpe brilliantly dissects patterns cast onto the black diaspora, and renders them cyclical tragedies birthed during the Transatlantic slave trade. From the physical ships, over packed and under facilitated, to the mental casualties that have trickled down for generations, Sharpe examines the multitude of disenfranchisement.

Sharpe recounts the murder of her nephew, Jonathan Sharpe, a forty-year-old black male, shot multiple times by police in front of an apartment building. Like Miss Lyles, those who summoned the police in Jonathan’s fatal shooting, sought help. Sharpe writes the following:

What the paper did not say is that Robert’s neighbors knew him and were not afraid of him; they were concerned for him and they wanted help calming his agitation. What the paper did not say is that the police shot Robert, who was unarmed, or armed with a starter pistol—a toy gun—point blank eleven times, or nineteen times, in the back.

Sharpe’s murder, like Lyles and the millions others of black bodies slain when summoning assistance, illustrate that the system is not our ally. These fatalities depict the true tragedy as lacking a means to police our own neighborhoods. As a collective, blacks must reconsider the police as an institution, and by reconsider I mean eliminate its role in black life.

This is by no means a unique solution, but one implemented countless times, perhaps most notably by the black panthers.

Blacks must know their rights and the conscious understand that our oppressors will never hand the means of liberty to us-we must take it. Part of seizing our liberty, is knowing the laws that oppress us. But more than knowing the laws, blacks must know their worth, and we, the black community are worthy of protection.

In her book, Sharpe poses the following critical query:

What will happen then if instead of demanding justice we recognize (or at least consider) that the very notion of justice . . . produces and requires Black exclusion and death as normative?

To continue to rely on white institutions to do anything but lie, cheat, steal and murder the black collective is to roast slowly over a hot pit as the juices from our organs become tender enough for consumption by our oppressors. To the white world, black bodies are merely cargo on a ship to be used, or disposed of, as whites deem appropriate.

Sharpe writes extensively about the various manifestations of ships and how they pertain to the black diaspora. From the ship that carried blacks from  Africa, to the ships in Haiti after their “natural” misfortune,  the black body remains a battered passage over water. Perhaps most resoundingly, Sharpe reflects on the Zong, a ship overpacked with black bodies. White supremacists, threw countless blacks into the water, not to free up areas on the ship, but to collect insurance money. This case is an awful but necessary image for the contemporary black mind to ingrain in their minds.

Just as abducted Africans were cast overboard for cash, their descendants maintain a similar disposability. The bodies slain by the soldiers of white supremacy known as police officers mirror those cast overboard the Zong years ago. The rest of us are coerced passengers on a one way trip to enslavement in one of its many forms. To stymie this journey is to be what Dr. Sharpe refers to as being “in the wake.” Dr. Sharpe defines “the wake” as follows:

Wake; the state of wakefulness; consciousness.

To be in the wake is to alleviate the ideology of isolation, conceptualizing black suffering as a conception of white affliction.

So for anyone currently reading this article who has an alarm system, or seeks refuge in the police in times of distress, I strongly urge you to reconsider. Whites abducted Africans with the intent to harm, and they have proven true to these original intentions for centuries.

Whether through grass root initiatives like the neighborhood watch, or something less formal, blacks have the ability and collective strength to combat systemic oppression. This of course will not be easy, but as a black people it is only easy to be systemized, murdered, bamboozled, miseducated or drowned in one of its many forms. Whether issued a physical drowning, or drowned by the various systemic approaches embedded in our system–the black body remains in water that operates in extremities–either scalding or wealthy cold. Let us swim to shores of a “wakeful” mind, one conscious ingenuity at a time.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Great post CC! Shared this on Twitter!

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