As I write this events are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri after the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.  This is hardly the first killing of an unarmed black person by the police or even private citizens this year alone.  As Charles Blow explains in his New York Times column this comes about from a criminalization of black and brown bodies that starts as early as pre-school. From time to time this latent violence against people of color explodes into manifest violence as seen in this recent rash of incidents. Trayvon Martin killed by a self appointed vigilante, a black teenager reeling from a traffic accident killed by fearful white homeowner, police killing “suspicious” black people who refuse to bow to their authority, all of these and more have happened in the last year. There have been so many incidents lately that I am running out of sorrow, understanding and righteous anger.

The key to the gains of the civil rights movement was Martin Luther King’s non violent way of making the latent violence and power inequalities of the south manifest by bringing that violence down upon himself and his protesters. White America and those in power were moved to do something by his undeserved suffering so hence the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. Things are different today and have been since the 1960’s uprising in the black areas of America’s cities. The turning of latent violence into manifest violence does not bring the same amount of sympathy, outrage, and acknowledgement that untreated it will lead to the curtailment of American freedoms. It has instead led to the militarization of our police forces, the wider availability of guns, curtailment of the right to freedom of assembly, increased surveillance, the rise of racist conservatism, and stand your ground laws. More and more it seems like that brief period of the recognition of undeserved suffering that led to the civil rights gains was an aberration in America never again to be repeated.

White America and the powers that be have become convinced that their safety can best be assured by moving to the suburbs and containing the poor and people of color within their ghettos by heavy handed policing. The argument that this means the the infringement of the constitutional rights of 90% of the people who live in these ghettos, holds no weight with those whites who live outside them. Stakeman’s law #3: when people are afraid they will give away anybody else’s rights and some of their own. When this doesn’t work completely they think that their guns and self defense tactics will keep them safe from the strays that make it that far. Of course we know what eventually happens.  The same forces that they think will protect them, will be turned on them eventually. The same rights that have been taken away from others will be taken away from them. Take the revelations about the NSA and the CIA as instructive examples. We now know that in the push to contain terrorism ordinary people and even the powerful people of the Senate have themselves been spied upon.

The America that poor people and people of color live in is already an America middle and upper class whites refuse to recognize. It is an America where police and others in authority are not on your side; an America where there is no right to assemble and protest; an America where you can be hassled by the police just for walking down the street; an America that is sustained by the human sacrifice of a black life every now and then; an America where there is no justice. It is an America that will continue until whites understand that it is coming for them too or until it is too late.

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