The Washington Post reports that a total of 992 people were shot and killed by police in 2018. Similarly, there were 986 fatal police shootings in 2017, 962 in 2016, and 994 in 2015.
A collaborative study conducted by researchers at three universities (and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2019), concluded that “in the U.S., African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. For black women, the rate is 1.4 times more likely.” They also determined that “roughly 1-in-1,000 black boys and men will be killed by police in their lifetime. For white boys and men, the rate is 39 out of 100,000.
Black people make up 13 percent of the American population yet are 25 percent of the lives taken by police bullets. Consequently, I agree with Kanye West when he pontificates, “I know we the new slaves” (“New Slaves,” Yeezus).
Nearly 54 years ago, Malcolm X, in his Message to the Grassroots, asserted, “We are all black people, so-called Negroes, second-class citizens, ex-slaves. You are nothing but an ex-slave. You don’t like to be told that.” No one wants to be an ex. But I also struggle with the concept of “new” in terms of politics, specifically when discussing race. I am skeptical of the label “new.” For example, “Gay is the New Black” and/or “Muslim is the New Black.” “New” implies that something has been transformed, changed into a new condition. Much like with art, “new” art does not exist, only repackaged revisions. The racist conditions Black people live are not new. Racism has become more complex and subtle. Again, I listen to Kanye’s “New Slave,” which highlights America’s addiction to capitalism and Black Death, and I realize “We the New Slaves.”
Late on a Friday, June 16, 2017, the jury handed down a “not guilty” verdict in the trial of Jeranimo Yanez of the St. Anthony Police, a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. Yanez was on trial for allegedly fatally shooting 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Southern trees bear strange fruit.
While I was trying to cope with the unjust verdict of one trial, I read that a Black woman, Charleena Lyles, pregnant and a mother of four, was killed by Seattle Police. Reports state that she answered the door with a knife. The Seattle police were responding to Lyles’ call about a burglary in her apartment complex. Instead of inquiring about her phone-call, she was met by police officers with guns drawn. Moments after answering her door, Lyles was fatally shot in front of her three children who lived with her. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
A week later, I awaited justice to be served for 23-year-old Sylville Smith of Milwaukee, WI and Samuel Dubose, father of three, of Cincinnati, OH. Both were unarmed Black men whose lives were taken by police. Justice was not served in either case. Dominque Haagan Brown fatally shot Sylville Smith and was acquitted of all charges. Raymond Tensing (for a second time) was acquitted for fatally shooting Samuel Dubose. Black bodies swinging on the southern breeze.
Kanye West is far from being the New Malcolm X, but I agree with his sentiment—“I know we the new slaves.” I’m not saying that as Black people we should see ourselves as “New Slaves.” But I believe it’s essential, as Black Americans, that we see our creator for who she is. America’s complacency with law enforcement’s use of excessive force against Black people proves we are not ex-slaves, but new slaves. The evidence is there—blood on the leaves and blood their sleeves.
Rashaad Thomas is a writer and editor for TRR.