Richard Collins

The Lynching of Richard Collins and Anti-POC Respectability Politics

Early Saturday morning, 23-year old Richard Collins III was stabbed to death while visiting the University of Maryland. He was murdered by 22-year old Sean Christopher Urbanski. Richard was black, Sean was a suburban-raised white supremacist, and this was a modern-day lynching.

Major publications have whined for months now about students asking for safe spaces and stayed quiet about the Ku Klux Klan growing on college campuses. I wonder whether they feel a shred of guilt now that those white terrorists murdered a young man this past weekend. This is a horrific reminder that the real threat on campuses is not student activism; it is white supremacy. (I hope it is also a reminder to every academic who uses the pages of the New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Chronicle to cry about coddled millennials instead of white supremacists to kindly STFU).

But what scares me today more than hypocrisy of free speech enthusiasts is the respectability politics at play in response to Collins’ murder. Reports of his death have quickly reminded us that Collins “was not a thug,” but a college student who was about to graduate. They’ve immediately pointed out that “he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army” (a “a highly competitive honor”) and that “he went into the military to serve his country.”

Let’s be clear: Collins deserved to live whether he was a thug or not, ROTC or not, student or not. There is no explanation other than a deep hatred of black people (and a fear of it) behind using reasons other than “he was human” to justify his right to live.

Pointing to his military “service” though is an exceptionally pathetic and violent way to justify Collins’ right to live. This not only says black people deserve to live only after providing a good enough reason, it also says: a good enough reason for black people to be allowed to live is to help in killing people of color abroad. It also says: killing brown people (colloquially known as “serving our country” or “keeping us safe”) is a respectable thing to do.

And what is so fucked up about this to me is that it isn’t just conservatives pointing to Collins’ military accolades, it is you – U.S. based activists, organizers, advocates – whose outrage today demonstrates a deep ignorance about what the United States military is built for, what it does to and requires of the people who join it (often roped in through coercive circumstances), and most importantly, what it does to the people our soldiers rape and kill.

We need better language to articulate the pains of black people lynched in the US, the pains of poor black and brown citizens used as fodder for our wars, and the pains of poor black and brown people in the third world, who are maimed, killed, and deprived by American soldiers (who even if oppressed, are still oppressors).

Without that, we simply have people demanding racial justice for U.S. citizens while in the same breath legitimizing racialized violence by the U.S. military elsewhere. And that sure as hell isn’t just or liberatory: it is plain, unmasked imperialism and a hatred for people of color outside of our borders.

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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