In recent days, there has been an escalation in the usual posturing on Facebook. Two men were murdered by the police in the past week or so, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul. Because Alton Sterling’s death is a local one for most of the people to whom I’m connected on Facebook, the response has been big and continuous. When several police officers were shot in Dallas after Black Lives Matter had begun organizing actions nationwide in response to the two murders, tensions and the attendant posturing increased significantly.
For some white people, reacting to all of these events is easy. One should say nothing about the deaths of the two men murdered by the police, that is, by the state. Then one should make strong statements about “backing the blue” after reading about the events in Dallas. One must then argue that one is not racist in comment streams that never end.
For other white people, reactions are more complicated. For the liberals and leftists, (yes, for both groups) the deaths of two men murdered by the state are tragic, so one must say so. And then one must lecture one’s amorphous group of white friends regarding the proper steps for being an ally in the black-led fight against state sponsored murder. Some white leftists will take their posturing further and make blunt statements about hating the police (yes, all police) and invite commentary. The streams of comments on posts of this kind are too idiotic for me to read (yes, I’m above that). This is true primarily because neither the statement nor the comments has any validity. My thoughts read like this: “Go ahead, white person who is not under attack by the machinery of the state, hate it all you want.”
Black peoples’ reactions to the state murder and the events in Dallas have been diverse, but none has read like posturing. The black residents of my Facebook feed are organizing, praying, trying to find a way to take care of their mental health during the current crisis, historicizing, announcing events, and otherwise not posturing. There is a lesson here.
A new friend in Toronto asked me yesterday if it was difficult being away from Louisiana during a time of tragedy and upheaval such as this one. I said that it is and it isn’t. I would really like to be there to attend the rallies Black Lives Matter and the Black Youth Project have organized and are likely going to organize in the future. I would like to go to those rallies with my dear friend who usually does not attend events such as those, but who feels more and more compelled to respond to the ineluctable sense that it is open season on black people as it becomes more and more apparent that this is the case. I would like to be around to talk about these things with my radical, critical, sharp friends who are all radical, critical, and sharp in the ways that living in Louisiana makes you. I would like to talk in person with people in my family, especially because many of them won’t engage in debate or discussion on line.
Feeling some type of way about all of these things: more black people murdered by police, the Facebook posturing, the despair, and my personal distance from home; I tried to find an action or a rally to attend in Toronto. There weren’t any, unless you count the fact that Drake called for “a dialogue” as an action. Black Lives Matter Toronto decided that their intervention in the recent Pride parade and the subsequent work to defend that intervention meant that mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would be private affairs for individual families. This is fair. People get worn out. The preceding week or so has been very busy in Toronto for the activists. But that decision also emphasizes the distance, geographic and historical, between Canada and the United States.
As a temporary visitor to a place where the police chief apologizes for the harassment of LGBTQ communities, as a visitor from a place where the police don’t even apologize after they shoot people fleeing a fucking disaster, the distance is real. It’s not real because police apologies mean anything, in Toronto or New Orleans. The distance is real because protesting and declining the police apology in Toronto will likely mean that some of the demands are recognized and met. The distance is real because, whether they are successful in really welcoming people of different backgrounds and persuasions or not, Toronto residents outwardly and verbally value diversity. The distance is real because the police in Toronto have not, to my knowledge, executed a man on the sidewalk. All that distance makes me wonder what it must be like to live here for real.