As the community comes out of another night of anguished protests sparked by the death of Michael Brown, met with tear gas and rubber bullets by the police, Brittney Cooper defends Black rage in Ferguson — and beyond.
It seems far easier to focus on the few looters who have reacted unproductively to this tragedy than to focus on the killing of Michael Brown. Perhaps looting seems like a thing we can control. I refuse. I refuse to condemn the folks engaged in these acts, because I respect black rage. I respect black people’s right to cry out, shout and be mad as hell that another one of our kids is dead at the hands of the police. Moreover I refuse the lie that the opportunism of a few in any way justifies or excuses the murderous opportunism undertaken by this as yet anonymous officer.
The police mantra is “to serve and to protect.” But with black folks, we know that’s not the mantra. The mantra for many, many officers when dealing with black people is apparently “kill or be killed.”
Why are police calling the people of Ferguson animals and yelling at them to “bring it”? Because those officers in their riot gear, with their tear gas and dogs, want a justification for slaughter. But inexplicably in that moment we turn our attention to the rioters, the people with less power, but justifiable anger, and say, “You are the problem.” No. A cop killing an unarmed teenager who had his hands in the air is the problem. Anger is a perfectly reasonable response. So is rage.
We are talking about justifiable outrage. Outrage over the unjust taking of the lives of people who look like us. How dare people preach and condescend to these people and tell them not to loot, not to riot? Yes, those are destructive forms of anger, but frankly I would rather these people take their anger out on property and products rather than on other people.
No, I don’t support looting. But I question a society that always sees the product of the provocation and never the provocation itself. I question a society that values property over black life. But I know that our particular system of law was conceived on the founding premise that black lives are white property. “Possession,” the old adage goes, “is nine-tenths of the law.”
It’s also a terrible testament to just how normalized the shooting of Black boys and men by the police has become that we are called upon to explain why we are outraged by it. When a Black man is killed by the cops every 28 hours in this country, perhaps it begins to feel inevitable. It’s not, and rage is really the only reasonable response to the status quo. When we stop being outraged about unarmed teenagers being gunned down for no reason by those charged with protecting us, we’ll really be fucked.