Police brutality does not end because of a pandemic, it is made worse by it
I’ve stopped trying to separate these realities because colonialism necessitates the suffering and policing of Black bodies.
Content warning: mentions of slavery, police brutality
“The buyers paraded them and made them dance. They opened their clothing to check for wounds; they pinched their limbs and flexed their muscles. They searched earnestly for scars, since scars were said to be evidence of a rebellious nature. When they finished their inspections, they posed questions regarding their abilities and their willingness to work. They were to be sold in families in the narrowest sense of the word: married couples and mothers and (sometimes) young children, not brothers or sisters or older parents. Their parents and kindred were not taken into account.” – Anne C. Bailey, The Weeping Time
This passage is what I keep returning to during shelter in place, not in the sickly pornographic fascination and usage of slave narratives as metaphors, inspiration, or examples of progress, but in the internal and external accounts of what it means to live in a world that thoroughly relies on weaponizing Black life, Black intimacy, Black stories, Black pleasure, and Black dreaming. A world with a heart so insistent on our pain, suffering, and isolation, that regardless of what state it is in, it constantly craves Black flesh.
Slavery, one of the first instances of the systemic weaponization of Black bodies, was perpetuated through abuse, isolation, and banishment. By extension, it also functioned as a way to police touch, to look at and designate bodies through what they could produce, not what they felt or how they operated in relation to one another.
Colonialism then, from religious, historical, and “practical” perspectives prioritized and recognized family configurations that included man and wife, and discounted all others.
The ripple effects from these designations are still with us, not just in how we engage or prioritize nuclear family models, but also in how we think about communities, borders, intimacy, communication, and resistance. While we attempt to navigate the ripples, barriers to these connections are actively being fortified.
It is clear that the hundreds of pandemics Black, Brown and Indigenous communities have experienced are actively made possible by, and at the very least fortified through, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, ableism, transphobia and classism.
As shelter in place orders are reinforced and curfews are instituted globally, the sustained emotional violence that Black, Brown and Indigenous neighborhoods have experienced for centuries gets louder.
The thefts of our relationships and practices are not separate from the routine and callous chaos required by living in a police state.
As many of us grieve and say goodbye to loved ones from remote/ virtual locations because it is no longer “safe” to gather in large groups, another targeted reality is that folks in power use policies and systems to signal or determine what constitutes safety.
While the call to reduce transmission of the coronavirus is legitimate, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities have been ravaged by the brutality of white supremacist policies, behaviors, and structures for centuries. Our safety was, and has never been their concern.
An overwhelming number and Black and Brown folks have been arrested or detained for not wearing their masks properly while riding transportation, taking up space in public areas and protesting. Meanwhile, several of the arresting officers chose not to wear masks as well.
Many cities have only now decided to be more proactive about decreasing transmission rates, and offering PPE at little to no cost to folks who wouldn’t otherwise receive them. This decision was made because the “general population” (read white, upper middle class individuals) are impacted, not because poor folks deserve safety and protection. Let’s be clear.
And now, as global protests emerge with a call to defund police and support Black lives, those most impacted by these conditions are being blamed for protesting their existence in the first place. This constant, unimaginative loop of never admitting fault and ensuring folks aren’t held accountable for the antiBlack violence they reek on communities is another intentional foundation of white supremacist lore.
We know this to be true: the coronavirus isn’t the biggest threat to Black folks, the incessant, irresponsible protection whiteness is.
I’ve stopped trying to separate these realities because they are in direct relationship with the ways colonialism necessitates the suffering and policing of Black bodies. It creates the conditions in which Black grief, Black fear, Black touch, and Black existence are made monstrous.
The current structural attacks on our intimacies and connections, bonds and choices, gathering places and mobility, are reminiscent of a continued narrative of criminalization, disinvestment, over policing, and corruption. Our loss, isolation, loneliness, rage, confusion and despair are more probable now.
Police brutality. Gentrification. Medical racism. Displacement. Sustained anti-Blackness. Forced family separation. Disaster capitalism. Death. Loss. Despair. Touch deprivation. These are all historical tactics of torture and violence. They do not exist in a vacuum.
It should not be possible, and yet, our loved ones are passing away without touch from folks they know and trust. The devastation of not being touched by and/or not being able to touch loved ones surrounds us. Explicit barriers are impacting the way we grieve, including for some, the last moments of their lives being spent surrounded by strangers tasked with their care. Or murderers hell bent on killing.
As our elders have emphasized: Police brutality does not end because of a pandemic, it is made worse by it.
Amidst all of the chaos, one thing rings true for me: these policies, curfews, and punitive responses will never erase our capacity to maintain connection beyond space and time. All of us will be taken into account. We fight for all of us now and forever.