Guest Post: Do We Believe (In) Violence?: The Mourning in Baltimore

The following is a guest post. The author, William Paris, is a graduate student at Penn State University studying 20th Century Continental Philosophy as well as race and gender.

Here we go again. Just one more (one last?) time. Perhaps it always seems as if this is the moment, this is the time, when our voices will be heard. It seemed as if that moment could have been Sanford, Florida with Trayvon. Or maybe Ferguson, Missouri with Michael Brown. No, it would be Long Island with Michael Garner. Actually, the moment would be Cleveland and Tamir Rice. Maybe Walter Scott in South Carolina? If you have a long enough memory you can remember when the moment was Los Angeles in 1992 with Rodney King. It would appear those moments were not meant to be so we are called to put our hopes in the moment of Baltimore and Freddie Gray.

Where did Freddie Gray go? And why? How can the circumstance of someone’s death in the hands of the State remain so mysterious? A state that has shown breathtaking capabilities to monitor communities of color throughout history suddenly finds itself at a loss for answers? Perhaps through the media lens it was all seen as rioting; I saw a city in mourning. A mourning that runs so deep in the black community because it is freighted with the history of our present. A history of lives snatched away, bodies mutilated, names forgotten—never to be properly mourned. We should be clear: mourning is, and always has been, political. We see this all the way from the play Antigone to “Charlie Hebdo” to our President mourning the death two citizens of the West in a drone strike. The State has always had an interest in determining whose deaths will be remembered, memorialized, wept over—in short, in making clear who matters. For so long the Black community has had their mourning stolen from them as the deaths of black men and women have been swept away by time and the discourse of progress that pleads for us to believe that the State has gotten better, it has reformed and we just need to give it more of (our) time. “So,” the State says, “in the meantime, do not press this issue of mourning, of black lives mattering, because if you do you will not stop at the name of Freddie Gray, or Walter Scott, or Tamir Rice, or Michael Garner, or Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin…or Emmet Till. You will call us to account for faces, names, and voices we could not possibly remember. Who could pay such a debt? So peace. It is better if you do not mourn…” In a nation so concerned with it debt how do we justify ourselves in the face of such a ledger?

We must have a will not to believe that such violence is possible for us. That we, of good conscience, would not stand for racist and barbaric violence. But in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and being reduced to appealing to the very State that holds a monopoly on this violence to curtail itself, to reform itself, to take its time, another, more insidious, belief seems to take hold. We begin to believe in the State’s capacity for violence. We are called to believe in its eventual reformation so that State violence will select correctly, it will lay down better criteria for its violence. So that even when we see a black woman or man killed by the police and it looks wrong, sounds wrong, and feels wrong, we will take solace in the belief that eventually—soon—the State will get better. And when the State’s violence is justified, we will be justified and we will no longer have to mourn those Black bodies that fall to the State—the taking of their lives will have been necessary and just. Of course, it seems, we need these two beliefs so that we can have hope for the future, hope that this time will be the last time and, eventually, there will be no more time for mourning. Because what are we without this hope?—a people weighed down by the impossible freight of our past.

So here we go again. Just one more time…

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