An email was leaked the other day. In it, the sender praised the police, and wrote that people protesting in honor of George Floyd were involved in a “terrorist movement.” I repeat, the writer wrote that the protesters were involved in a terrorist movement. The person responsible was the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Police — Lieutenant Bob Kroll. The same Kroll who was accused by four Black officers of openly wearing a “White Power badge” on his motorcycle jacket.
For eight minutes and 46 seconds we watched. For eight minutes and 46 fucking seconds we were forced to fix our eyes on George Floyd’s face buried into the asphalt, gasping for air, crying out for his deceased mother’s help — but no help came. We watched a dying man scream, “Tell my kids I love them,” to whomever was willing to listen. We watched Floyd bawl, “Please let me stand,” while two policemen pinned his handcuffed body to the ground. We watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck until he could no longer cry out, “I can’t breathe.”
For eight minutes and 46 seconds…
We watched an act of terror.
We watched a man being terrorized.
We watched four officers, on camera, for eight minutes and 46 seconds, commit an anti-Black
act of domestic police-terrorism.
I was not an eyewitness, but I know what I witnessed.
What I saw, with my water-filled eyes, was not a case of mere excessive force. Nor was it simply an act of police brutality. There was something so much more precious than Floyd’s civil rights being violated. That language did not fit what I watched for eight minutes and 46 seconds. There was something morbidly perverse about how unbothered Officer Derek Chauvin was as he took Floyd’s life. There was no struggle. No sense of danger. Chauvin appeared to be at peace with his decision to lynch George Floyd.
I am calling the lynching of George Floyd an anti-Black act of domestic police-terrorism because that is what I witnessed. And I am doing so by employing the framing provided by the government of the land of the (un)free, home of the enslaved to make such a proclamation.
Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act defines domestic terrorism as an act that occurs primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. It is an act that is dangerous to human life, that is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence the government, by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. The FBI adds that acts of domestic terrorism are, “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
Minneapolis is within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
George Floyd is a human being that had his life violently taken away. The four men who nonchalantly terrorized Floyd, are a part of a larger group of state-sponsored law enforcers. Law enforcers who throughout America have historically and contemporarily racially profiled and targeted Black civilian populations.
Some Americans have the birthright to view the police as protectors and peacekeepers. Some fully embrace the plethora of programs painting law enforcement as heroes, heroines, and damn near deities. I am not from that America. I am from the Othered side of America. Coming from where I’m from, the police protectors of the people is a fallacy. But it is a fallacy I am familiar with. It is a fallacy that is persistently pumped into the brains of Othered-American imaginations through copaganda. Film franchises like Beverly Hills Cop, Rush Hour, Big Momma’s House, and Bad Boys all are pro-police programing. But those movies do not mirror the real-life horror films being captured on cellphones and shared through social media. We are watching Black civilians being put to death in public execution videos. And the executioners are the police.
For eight minutes and 46 seconds, we watched four officers, on camera, commit an anti-Black act of domestic police-terrorism.
It may come as a shock to some that I am calling the police terrorists, and their anti-Black actions acts of domestic terrorism. I am diagnosing what the police do to Black folks acts of terror because it is the truth.
I am calling it police-terrorism because I need you to come to
I need you to critically reflect and decolonize the context in which you engage with the term terrorism within itself. It reminds me of Malcolm X asking a room packed full of Black folks, one of the most crucial questions I have ever heard. The question Brother Malcolm asked was, “Who taught you [Black people] to hate yourself?” With that question in mind, I would ask, who taught you what terrorism can be imagined as being? Who taught you which individuals and groups gets the dishonor of being labeled as a terrorist? Former White House Task Force Deputy Director on Terrorism in the Reagan administration, Edward Peck said that terrorism and terrorist are, “in the eye of the beholder.”
I am looking at police-terrorism through the eyes of a Black man.
I am looking at the police the long memory of the Black experience in America.
I am looking at policing through the Black gaze.
Policing units and individuals have terrorized Black people in the United States as far back as the slave patrols and night watches, and continue to the present. When bell hooks said, “Black folks have, from slavery on, shared in conversation with one another a ‘special’ knowledge of whiteness gleaned from close scrutiny of white people,” some of that special knowledge was, and still is, dedicated to surviving encounters with the police. That special knowledge is passed down from the elders to the young folks when they reach a certain point in physical maturity. My elders called it, “lookin’ grown.” It was an acknowledgement that I clearly was not an adult, but in the eyes of all (citizens and law enforcement) invested in policing my Black boy body, I looked older. I looked less innocent. I looked criminal.
I looked killable in the eyes of those policing me.
Black parents are forced to pass down special knowledge with their children about how to hide in the shadows and the shade to avoid the adultifying policing gaze. What routes to take coming home. What clothes to wear. What tone to speak in. How to reach for your wallet. It’s all a part of the talk to try and teach your child how to survive the unfortunate potentiality of being terrorized by the police.
The predictability of police terrorism took the lives of Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Kathryn Johnston, Kayla Moore, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. The randomness of these people reminds the broader Black community that as long as you are Black and breathing, the police are willing to steal your last breath.
While the public debate has largely focused on the appalling injustice of state-sponsored terror against individual Black folks, an additional, overlooked injustice is taking place. It is the collective consequence of seeing individuals that look like you, or someone that you love lying defenseless and dead in the streets. It is when an individual being terrorized is converted into communal terror. Police-terrorism spreads acute fear, among the whole Black community. The people who are wronged are not only those who are killed, but also their Black neighbors who witness the terror through their windows. The Black bystander filming Black death on their cellphones. The Black families who bury their breathless bodies afterwards. They feel a justifiable fear or terror of the police.
This fear is not incidental, but intentional.
From the Black gaze, the police conduct themselves as a state sponsored group of, “racially motivated violent extremists,” that target the Black community, which according to the FBI, makes them a “national threat priority.” But American history has shown that protecting Black bodies from the threat of domestic terrorism is not a priority.
Reminder…It is 2020 and lynching is still not a federal hate crime in America.
Reminder…It is 2020 and the Ku Klux Klan are not classified as a terrorist organization in America.
This is America.
And in America, the police are permitted to treat Black people with, what James Baldwin would call, a special disfavor, because of the color of our skin. It is in this special disfavor that we can have our doors kicked in by the police, and be shot to death in our sleep. It is this special disfavor that can lead to the police shooting us in the back, as we run with the same feet as our enslaved ancestors fleeing from Slave Patrolmen. It is this special disfavor that can lead to the police gunning our children down in less than two seconds, while they’re playing outside. It is this special disfavor that made a policeman rape 13 Black women, and that same special disfavor made those Black women believe that no one would believe them. It is this same special disfavor that renders the souls of Black folks breathless, while we are still physically alive. It is this special disfavor that made the world stop for eight minutes and 46 seconds to witness an act of anti-Black domestic police terrorism.