August 20th, 2017

170820 tiki torch parade charlottesville

Sit down. Swallow any food or drink you may have in your mouth. Place any hot beverages safely on a flat surface away from your hands.

President Donald John Trump actually spoke a truth when he said, well clenched his fists and read from the teleprompter:

Hatred, bigotry and violence… have been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.

As shocking and positive as that might be, in a Trump White House, that and $200,000 will get you a membership at Mar-A-Lago. Our current social nightmare didn’t begin with Trayvon Martin. We have tolerated the intolerable for longer than I have drawn breath.

Paul Butler—author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men—writes in US justice is built to humiliate and oppress black men. It starts with the chokehold… for The Guardian: how we begin to heal.

Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do. Virtually every objective investigation of a US law enforcement agency finds that the police, as policy, treat African Americans with contempt.

In New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Francisco, and many other cities, the US justice department and federal courts have stated that the official practices of police departments include violating the rights of African Americans. The police kill, wound, pepper spray, beat up, detain, frisk, handcuff, and use dogs against blacks in circumstances in which they do not do the same to white people.

It is the moral responsibility of every American, when armed agents of the state are harming people in our names, to ask why.

Yet, we don’t have a good track record of—starting on 3 August 1492—adhering to any moral responsibility that discomforts or inconveniences us. Butler continues:

The chokehold does not stem from hate of African Americans. Its anti-blackness is instrumental rather than emotional. As slaves built the White House, the chokehold builds the wealth of white elites. Discriminatory law enforcement practices such as stop and frisk, mass incarceration, and the war on drugs are key components of the political economy of the United States. After the civil rights movement of the 1960s stigmatized overt racism, the national economy, which from the founding has been premised on a racialized form of capitalism, still required black bodies to exploit. The chokehold evolved as a “color-blind” method of keeping African Americans down, and then blaming them for their own degradation. The rap group Public Enemy said: “It takes a nation of millions to hold us back.”

Actually all it takes is the chokehold. It is the invisible fist of the law.

The chokehold means that what happens in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland—where the police routinely harass and discriminate against African American—is not a flaw in the criminal justice system. Ferguson and Baltimore are examples of how the system is supposed to work. The problem is not bad-apple cops. The problem is police work itself. American cops are the enforcers of a criminal justice regime that targets black men and sets them up to fail.

The chokehold is how the police get away with shooting unarmed black people. Cops are rarely prosecuted because they are, literally, doing their jobs. This is why efforts to fix “problems” such as excessive force and racial profiling are doomed to fail. If it’s not broke, you can’t fix it. Police violence and selective enforcement are not so much flaws in American criminal justice as they are integral features of it. The chokehold is why, legally speaking, black lives don’t matter as much as white lives.

And that is precisely why we must never tolerate the hijacking of the message: Black Lives Matter.

[The above is from Part 2 of a four-part series: Part 1, ‘I worked as a prosecutor. Then I was arrested. The experience made a man out of me. It made a black man out of me’; Part 3, Sexual torture: American policing and the harassment of black men and Part 4, How black women’s bodies are violated as soon as they enter school]


  1. Mary Jo says:

    As to hijacking the message Black Lives Matter, I saw an advert recently claiming your clothes matter.

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