Written by Chris Roberts
The White Supremacist Teleology of the Police
In his essay The Theoretical and Methodological Crisis of the Africentric Conception Black psychologist W.C. Banks described teleology as a “sense of directedness, of definite ends, of definite purpose” (Banks 1992). Given the historiographical outline of the police in the previous two parts in this series, from its European ideological origins to its contemporary manifestation in the United States, it should be clear that the definite purpose of this entity is indeed to sustain the white ruling elite and its benefactors (the white community writ large) extending the “collective responsibility for maintaining dominance over the Black slaves among them” (Hadden. 2003). In the eyes of the police as an institution, Black people can only exist as slaves because a liberatory Africana humanity, what Modupe describes as “Africana existence on Africana terms” is diametrically opposed to the definite purpose of the police to decimate and dominate Africana people, by any cost and all means.
In the 21st century, we find ourselves square within the scope the same white supremacist police entity; it has just adjusted its appearance. The definite purpose of the police profession, from its inception to today, is inexhaustibly clear. It is as Malcolm X said, “racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.” The current model can be found in police departments such as, but not exclusive to, Cleveland, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Ferguson. Though those are the ones listed, it is important that we understand, as Malcolm X also said, “everything under Canada is the South” so these new models of racism via policing are not the exceptions of the U.S., but they are the norm.
If the teleology of our oppressors police force is “the continuation of white supremacy for the purpose of situating Black/Africana/African people as a criminal denomination of sub-humanity in need of eternal punishment and surveillance” then what is our teleology as Africana people? What is our sense of directedness as it relates to tackling this deadly threat. It is my offering to, what I hope is a very robust and critical discourse on this topic, that our sense of directedness be towards self-protection for the purpose of intra communal strategizing and healing.
Much of the Black public wanted to believe that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was going to mark an end to racism in the United States and the dawn of a new era of racial equality and harmony. Many in our ranks hoped that the State would no longer be against Black people but for all U.S. citizenry, of which Black people would be more ingrained than ever before. There was similar fervor in the country during the 1960s with the Civil Rights Act and the alleged desegregation of public schools, the idea was again, that racial harmony was just over the horizon via non-violence and faith in the political process. However, the Black youth of the 60s came to a sobering realization, that the horizon they yearned for was not coming, and that realization, as Dr. Akinyele Umoja tells us in his book We Will Shoot Back “The failure of the national Democratic Party leadership to seat the multiracial delegates of the MFPD and to support the MFPD’s challenge to the legitimacy of segregationist Mississippi Democrats… [and] After all the bombings, deaths, and other forms of terrorism endured by Mississippi Blacks and the Black Freedom Struggle… many activists lost faith in cooperation with White liberals and the democratic party as a means to secure the goals of the struggle” (Umoja. 2013). I contend that the Africana youth of 2015 find themselves at a similar crossroads. The Department of Justice has proven itself unwilling or unable to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the murderers of Black people. The international human rights organization Amnesty has proven itself unwilling or unable to address the critiques of racial subjugation levied by Black activists within, and external to its organization.
The luster off the Obama election gone, and the blood of countless Black people killed by the State still fresh, I contend the Africana youth of today are headed to the same conclusion of the 1960s youth in that “the Movement and Black people in general would have to rely upon themselves and their own resources for their own protection” (Umoja. 2013). Therefore, self-protection is understood as an assessment of the practical ways in which the tactic of armed self-defense which Umoja defines as “the protection of life, persons, and property from aggressive assault through the application of force necessary to thwart or neutralize attack” (Umoja. 2013). The reason I advocate for armed self-defense as self-protection is because it will start us on the path of riding ourselves of the fear we have of the police profession. “Ultimately, the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi and the South was a fight to overcome fear. Blacks overcame fear and asserted their humanity…armed resistance played [a role] in overcoming fear and intimidation and engendering Black political, economic, and social liberation.
Intra Communal Strategizing:
Intra communal strategizing as a point is imperative because the teleology of the intra communal members will be different than that of the external communal members. This is highlighted in the work of Grandpre and Love in the text The Black Book: Reflections from the Baltimore Grassroots warns of the non-profit industrial complex. I value their critique of that, especially given that in many “coalition” meetings around issues of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, non-profits. Love states “Those of us on the front line of the fight are not seen as worthy negotiators on these issues that directly affect us. This fundamental contradiction explains the way in which white supremacy informs the inability of people to see Black people as having the collective wherewithal to manage and operate large institutions. Until this mythology is dispelled we will be subject to white control…” (Love, 167). The first point here is that Africana people must discuss the intentional creation of space and place in a way that is not stifling but empowering to Africana people. Secondly, it is indeed from the intentional creation of space that the third point can be addressed. The reason I advocate for intra-communal strategizing is because if our goals are averse to the reason of existence held by the police profession, then.
University of Indiana Bloomington scholar Maria Abegunde says of healing in "Sankofa in Action: Creating A Plan that Works," “Although many approaches in the literature on healing, ritual are holistic... they tend to focus on what I believe are symptoms (violence and the result of violence) as opposed to the cause(s) of the wound. I am suggesting that attention must first be given to the spiritual origin(s) of violence before addressing any of the other issues" (Abegunde, 2011). Healing from this particular type of trauma is something that is very intergenerational, both physically and spiritually. The previous two points work in concert with this point because the self- protection is the immediate response to police professions assault on Black bodies, the intra-communal strategizing session was more short term because there must be a space held to critique and analyze potential solutions in a way that fosters community decision making across our intersections of class, gender, sexuality, etc. Lastly, the healing component itself is important because it is here where grief and affirmation are on full display. In regards to grief, Malidoma Some contends,
If there is no expression of grief, it will affect the living and the dead detrimentally... it is the presence
of community that validates the expression of grief. This means that a singular expression of grief is
an incomplete expression of grief. A communal expression of grief has the power to send the
deceased to the realm of the ancestors and to heal the hurt produced in the psyches of the living by
the death of a loved one" (Some, 1993).
In order to grasp or even approach the spiritual origin of centuries of trauma under the whip of the slave patrol to being in the crosshairs of a gun, there must be a time and space set just for that. Many of us cannot begin to conceive of grieving for those Black people we hear about on them on the news more than every hour. The practice proves too daunting or exhausting, occurring with such normalcy that ones choices often seem to be numbness or emotional overload. Grief is the process, particularly from an African cultural perspective that sets aside space for the human to process the unspeakable. I suggest the creation of rituals and practices rooted in the African traditions of the past. And the battleground the healing and the spiritual is the core because as African people our teleology or our definite purpose is not just material, but it is by definition ancestral.
This article has engaged the topic of police professionalism from its inception to some examples of its contemporary manifestation. I am of the belief that if our goal is “liberation” and by liberation we use Amilcar Cabral’s definition of the returning of a people to their historic personality, combined with Danjuma Modupe’s Afrocentric concept of “Africana existence on Africana terms” then Africana people must begin to divest, if not yet physically, at least ideologically and morally from the belief that the police profession is anything more than a system that will only dehumanize Africana people for the sake of protecting the profits, financial and otherwise of white supremacy. No amount of “good-cops” or individuals “from the community” can change the nature of the police profession; hence the initial suggestions for alternative places for some engaged youth to direct their energy.
One fundamental component of establishing Africana existence on Africana terms is listening to the suggestions Africana activists on the ground that are directly engaging the trauma of the police force and profession. I view this as the first stage in self-defense against the police, because the people most in tune with the self are those on the ground with their ear to the street. Some of the activists who should be contacted by those interested are Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, Erica Garner, Alicia Garza, Jasiri X, Cherelle Brown, Charlene Carruthers, as well as the following organizations: #BlackLivesMatter, Organization for Black Struggle, Millennial Activists United, New York Justice League, We Charge Genocide, and The Black Youth Project 100 among other organizations. Each of the activists named have first-hand on-the-ground experience both protesting and organizing against the police force from a position of Africana agency. Each of the organizations listed also have first -hand on-the-ground experience both protesting and organizing against the police force from the position of Africana agency. In this series of essays, I have offered both analysis and critique. On the macro level I am of the opinion that we must start from a position of agency as African people, not merely Negroes reacting to whiteness. This is both macro and fundamental because theory is, as Amilcar Cabral taught us, a weapon, and, as Bobby Wright taught us, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” So indeed, we must stand on firm cultural ground, be oriented towards Africa, and, as Molefi Asante reminds us, claim a victorious consciousness for our fellow Africana people and ourselves. However, on an existential level, I think, as Dr. Sonja Peterson Lewis states “You have to speak to the people, before you speak for the people.” Therefore, I would suggest starting with these activists and organizations I have listed in regards to on-the- ground direct action, as it is my judgment that their voices will be some of the most necessary, poignant, accountable, and accessible, which is precisely the starting point for any revolutionary movement; not pontificating from on high, but cultivating and crafting our tactics and perspectives from the Black grassroots.