As the nation rallies together to stand in solidarity with the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed Black people who have been victims of police brutality, activist and revolutionary Angela Davis is pushing for people to look beyond the faces of victims and into the deeper implications about what these killings really mean and represent.
Unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and Staten Island father Eric Garner are only some of the latest victims of police brutality and excessive force that have sparked protests and calls for justice on an international scale.
Pushing for justice in these individual cases, however, won’t be enough to make any significant change, according to Davis.
“The problem with always pursuing the individual perpetrator in all of the many cases that involved police violence is that one reinvents the wheel each time and it cannot possibly begin to reduce racist police violence,” Davis said in an extensive interview with The Guardian. “Which is not to say that individual perpetrators should not be held accountable – they should.”
The problem, Davis says, is simply bigger than individual victims and the solutions should be crafted with that in mind.
“There is an unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery, the aftermath of slavery, the development of the Ku Klux Klan,” Davis said. “There is so much history of the racist violence that simply to bring one person to justice is not going to disturb the whole racist edifice.”
There is one young man’s face that often comes to Davis’s mind, however, and it’s not one of the cases that is currently sweeping media headlines.
Davis thinks of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Black teen who was fatally shot in Florida in 2012 by the unofficial neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was eventually acquitted of the murder and for Davis, this reminds her of “those who were part of the slave patrols during the slave era.”
It’s not the first time an influential Black voice has made the comparison between the modern day shootings and the incredibly dark, racist past that is at the very foundation of America.
It’s a racist system that has the so-called justice system at its core.
“The massive over-incarceration of people of color in general in the US leads to lack of access to democratic practices and liberties,” Davis said. “Because prisoners are not able to vote, former prisoners in so many states are not able to vote, people are barred from jobs if they have a history of prison.”
She explained that it’s an issue that plagues communities all across the globe, not just in America, which makes all those international rallies for Michael Brown and Eric Garner that much more important and relevant to the greater cause.
The global nature of the issues also makes the pressure that is often placed on President Barack Obama seem a little unrealistic.
For Davis, holding one man accountable for the madness or finding a solution to that madness just isn’t the right mindset to be in.
“We talked about the fact that people like to point to Obama as an individual and hold him responsible for the madness that has happened,” Davis said, referencing a conversation she had with her friend and colleague Stuart Hall before he passed away in February. “Of course there are things that Obama as an individual might have done better – he might have insisted more on the closing of Guantanamo – but people who invested their hopes in him were approaching the issue of political futures in the wrong way to begin with.”
She added that real solutions will always be a “collective process” if citizens really hope to “change the world.”
Davis asked if “we should always blame ourselves” when we are faced with such tragedies.
“Why have we not created the kind of movement that would put more pressure on Obama and force the Obama administration to deal with these issues,” she asked The Guardian reporter Stuart Jeffries. “We might have arrived at a much better healthcare plan if those of us who believe healthcare is a human right were out on the streets, as opposed to the Tea Party.”