On Ferguson, Black Lives and Solidarity: An Open Letter

by Wail Qasim

26 November 2014

In the spirit of international communication and solidarity – exemplified by the open letters and communiqués those in Ferguson and across the United States have shared via social media – I would like to contribute a letter of sorts.

Firstly in order to send my personal solidarity and utter empathy to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown Sr. and the family, as well as all those engaged in the inspiring work of fighting to hold the state and Darren Wilson accountable for the killing of Michael Brown. Darren Wilson’s conscience may be clean but the support which has been rallied, now internationally, shows that the conscience of so many thousands of others has been awoken to the atrocity of the systematic killing of black people.

Secondly I write to my comrades here in London to call for their support and to impress upon them the political need to join a global call to centralise the lives of black people as inexpendable, important and meaningful as all lives should be.

Where are we now? If pessimism characterised our anticipaton for the grand jury decision (for better or worse), the statement by prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch dealt the latest in violent blows that have characterised the state’s attitude to this killing, which once again they plan to get away with. Yet for months the community of protest has been unrelenting in the face of further and further horrendous state repression in the form of militarised police and prolific media demonisation. Justice campaigns are often massively protracted and isolating for those involved – of course the stretch of time here acts punitively towards those who remain as survivors – but Ferguson has shown us that even amongst this intense isolation, there can be a persistent and sustained opposition to those who would happily see these deaths after contact with the police be quotidian and unimportant.

No one can be blamed for thinking that police officers are there to protect them. That is the logic they present. However, the point is that the thousands of deaths in police custody, psychiatric custody, prisons and even after mere contact with a police officer – like in the case of Michael Brown – absoutely gives lie to their claim to universal protection. We all know to some extent that the police act on behalf of certain people over others. The frankly terrifying prospect is that some of my friends, a portion of my comrades and myself are literally expendable in the name of a greater safey simply because of our race.

The killing of Mark Duggan by armed police officers in the UK in 2011 devasted a family and community in much the same way as Michael Brown’s killing. The further attack by police on the peaceful demonstration outside the local police station sparked anger and rioting across English cities for several days. Painfully lacking from these uprisings was the support of those who really should have been the closest allies of those battling police on the streets. From what we can see here so far from Ferguson, the ability for demonstration and resistance against the police to continue has been supported by the incredibly broad cross-section of people who have been involved over the last few months.

The families of Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and others in the UK who have died because of the brutal actions of the police have extended their support and solidarity to those taking action in the US, and importantly the families of Duggan and Rigg will be present at the London vigil at the US embassy called in response to the grand jury decision. As Reverand Sekou – addressing the London-based Defend The Right to Protest conference from Ferguson – pointed out, the killing of Michael Brown and now Tamir Rice happened in a continuum of global struggle with those killings that we are familiar with here in the UK.

Black lives all over the world are fundementally under attack by entirely unaccountable and unremorseful state killings of various forms. As black people and as human beings we must be allowed access to a basic category that we have thus far been denied: life. And not life with conditions and restraints because we represent the wrong type of person, or because our race means we are seen automatically as a threat to the life of the society the police seek to protect. Faced with this global atrocity we urgently need a black vitalist politics to become central to all political struggle. For the sake of Michael Brown’s family, for the sake of Mark Duggan’s family, for the sake of all those people currently at risk.

I can only hope that ensuring black lives matter can go someway towards the justice the families of the dead seek. No justice, no peace.

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