After Micah Xavier Johnson, a 25-year-old man, opened fire at a peaceful protest killing 5 police officers and wounding 11, the nation has responded with an outpouring of support and condolences for his victims. The city covered itself in blue lights to declare “Blue Lives Matter” and almost every activist or politician has spoken up about the mass shooting, labeling it both gruesome and unnecessary. President Obama is scheduled to visit Dallas this week to pay tribute to the slain police officers. The nation has collectively joined together decry this act of violence. And it is for precisely this reason that many black people have responded to this tragedy with mixed feelings. Mixed feelings best highlighted by Nicole Johnson’s (Micah Johnson’s sister) Facebook post that has since been deleted:
“to get a taste of the life we now fear……. (I’m) tired of y’all tryin to be on these cops side making it okay based off irrelevant info when our own get killed over unjust s—,” she wrote.
Though, not “politically correct”, the teen has a point. Why were the “blue lives” lost the only that the nation can agree mattered? The Black community has suffered so much unjust and unnecessary loss life. Lives of men, women and also children, in the most brutal and public fashion– their deaths shared like public spectacle– yet we are still struggling to get this nation to collectively agree these lives mattered?
In truth, that refusal of acknowledgement represents something far more insidious than merely a lack of empathy or compassion. It thoroughly underscores the fact that this country has no respect for Black life at all and consistently wars against it with complete disregard. If this were a singular injustice, or even a few, it still wouldn’t be palatable but at least digestible. But at this point we are talking about mounds of innocent black bodies bleeding to death on the cover of newspapers, millions of lives lost or destroyed by mass incarceration, deplorable living conditions, soaring unemployment rates, a mortgage crisis created by predatory practices that took advantage of Black people and resulted in the loss of property and wealth, a debt crisis crippling young people who only wanted access to higher education— these are tactics of economic, social and political warfare.
Warfare is what we must call it if we are to be fair. And that truth has black people torn. Was Micah a hero, soldier or a terrorist, a murderer? For many, the lines between these distinctions are blurred.
This is not to argue that taking a life can ever be justified. As a pacifist, I stand firmly and strongly against violence, war and murder. However white supremacy justifies plenty of deaths in its name. Millions of Iraqi deaths. Millions of American Indian deaths. Millions of Asian deaths. And millions of Black deaths.
Why are those deaths justifiable? But the deaths of men who are agents of the state that war against these minority groups not?
That is the power of supremacy. The power of controlling the narrative.
Nevertheless, this nation is at a critical junction. It must either decide that all unnecessary loss of life to violence is unjustifiable. That black lives do indeed matter. Or force itself to bare the consequences of that denial. Consequences that will look like the Dallas shooting and more violence to come. This becomes an existential question of whether or not America, and even more specifically White America, can condemn overt racism and the destruction of Black lives. A question tackled by Stokely Carmichael in his 1966 “Black Power” Speech, where the young activist addressed the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers and the subsequent absence of condemnation of those murders from the larger Mississippi public:
“On a more immediate scene, the officials and the white population in Neshoba county, Mississippi, Philadelphia could not condemn Rainy his deputies and the other 14 men that killed 3 human beings. They could not because they elected Mr. Rainy to do precisely what he did. And that for them to condemn him wold be for them to condemn themselves. In a much larger view, SNCC says that White America cannot condemn itself.”
The ongoing absence of White indignation over the deaths of multiple black men, women and children may support Carmichael’s assertion. Perhaps White America will never be able to condemn its racism that fuels police brutality and other forms of violence against minority. If that be the case, Black people are completely justified in having mixed feelings about the actions of Micah Johnson.