Martese Johnson, a Small Glimpse into a Huge Issue

On Wednesday, March 19, 2015 Martese Johnson, a 20 year old black man, was arrested by white agents from the Alcoholic Beverage Control. Johnson was tackled to the ground and sustained many injuries to his face during the arrest. The white agents described Johnson as being “agitated and belligerent” however witnesses stated that the police acted with unnecessary force; a bystander quotes “He didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all” (BBC News, 2015). This incident involving Martese Johnson is not an isolate event where a black person was targeted and abuse, and the white assailant escaped punishment, but rather a small picture into a much larger reality that is all to prevalent in modern day society. Earlier this year Michel Brown, a black man who was unarmed and surrendering, was shot and murdered by a white police officer that faced no legal repercussions despite Michel Browns death being ruled a homicide (The Washington Post, 2014). Also this past year, Eric Gardner was chocked to death by a white police officer, the assault was recorded on camera, in the video you can hear Gardner whispering “I can’t breath” however once again, the white police officer escapes punishment. These are all examples of terrible crimes that have been committed against black people, by white men in authority who escaped punishment, just in the past 5 years. These law enforcement officers all used Violence as a Lens through which to see the world. Violence becomes a lens through which individuals see and know black bodies, and thus make them victims of inflicted harm and injury. This is not a new occurrence, but goes all the way back to colonialism when people who were not white were viewed as people who needed to be civilized, as lesser humans. Even now in 2015 these prejudice mindsets are still far too common. People still have the same racist mindsets that they had when black people were in slavery, white people often still see themselves as more valuable, like they should be in charge, like they are untouchable and rules do not apply for them. Black people are viewed as less, as property as opposed to people. These are never ending systems of violence that have been occurring for hundreds of years, it’s the same violence and racism that is present in slavery, colonialism and now, in the 21st Century.

The racism in present day society can be deeply hidden; it is not only prevalent in black people being targeted by law enforcement, but also in our prison systems. In Angels Davis’ article Masked Racisms; Davis reveals the reality of the injustice among prison systems and imprisonment of people of colour. More than 70% of people in prisons are people of colour, prisons disappear people in order to portray the illusion of solving social problems (Davis, 2013). “the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has become a business, but prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings” (Davis, 2013). When using violence as a lens people of colour are often targeted, victimized, and the offenders often receive no punishments. This issue creates huge barriers within our society. White privilege blinds people from the needs and injustices that are so prevalent around us, the law enforcements white privilege protects them from receiving a fair punishment for their actions. This is so prevalent in the prison industrial complex; the prison industrial complex helps secure the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other structural privileges (White people, American citizens, people with property, people with money) by defending current power distributions. It benefits government and industry, as well as those individuals who already hold power in our society. (Herzing, 2005) This promotes cycles of racism and discrimination. Black people lives are used as pieces in a game to get more money for those in power. It dehumanizes people and locks them away; their lives are taken over by the powerful white people who are making more money off of destroying these peoples lives. This is the same thing that happened with slavery when black people were exploited to benefit the white man.

All to many people in present day society create an atmosphere of anti-blackness, people who are anti-blackness go beyond disrespect, it dehumanize people, denying their right to exist as humans. This is the case with some of the law enforcement on the Johnson, Brown, and Ericson cases. This ties into the idea of respectability politics, respectability politics are grounded in the idea that black culture needs to be fixed, it refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous and compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference. It puts the responsibility on black people and blames them for the issues in society instead of the oppressors (Dolberry, 2013). The prejudice towards people of colour over rights their civil duty to keep people safe.

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Black Twitter is a place people went to voice their opinions on the injustices present within each of these cases. Black twitter is an archive of black thought, it’s an area of twitter for social interaction, sharing knowledge, building community, commenting and criticizing black culture, and activism (Tolmie, 2015). Kimberley C. Ellis states, “For us, Twitter is an electronic medium that allows enough flexibility for uninhibited and unfabricated creativity while exhibiting more of the strengths of social media that allow us to build community.” Black twitter creates a way for opinions of the public on these serious issues of discrimination to be addressed. Hashtag activism is something that also occurs on social media to raise awareness and unite people for a common cause. Hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter allowed people to speak out and raise social and political intervention in a world where black lives are intentionally targeted. Hashtag activism contests a social system where black lives are seen as less valuable (Tolmie, 2015). Hashtag activism is part of a movement known as anti-racism. Anti-Racism is defined as “the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably” (NAC International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity). The solution to solving these huge issues hindering modern day society is not easy to come by. People must take on the mindset of anti-racism and value each person because they are human and have so much to offer the world. Discriminating for any reason, only hurts people and hinders society as a whole. The more people who can take on a anti-racist mindset the more society as a whole can benefit, and horrible issues such as Johnson’s beating will hopefully occur less, and when injustices like this do occur, the abuser will be prosecuted for their actions.

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Works Cited

“Anti-Racism Defined.” Anti-Racism Defined. University of Calgary, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Davis, Angela. “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex.” Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Dolberry. “”I Hate Myself!”: What Are Respectability Politics, and Why Do Black People Subscribe to Them?” A Line in the Sand. N.p., 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Hackman, Rose. “‘She Was Only a Baby’: Last Charge Dropped in Police Raid That Killed Sleeping Detroit Child.” The Guardian. N.p., Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

Herzing, Rachel. “Defending Justice – What Is The Prison Industrial Complex?” Defending Justice – What Is The Prison Industrial Complex? N.p., 2005. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Somashekhar, Sandhya. “Was Michael Brown Surrendering or Advancing to Attack Officer Darren Wilson?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Tolmie, Jane. Haughton Lecture Slides. 2015

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. N.p., 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

“Was Michael Brown Surrendering or Advancing to Attack Officer Darren Wilson?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015

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3 comments

  1. curlyfrypoutine · April 10, 2015

    I found it interesting how you tied the over-incarceration of people of colour back to colonialism and slavery. There are some pictures and quotes floating around on social media about how when a white person commits a crime, they are seen as “mentally ill,” while people of colour who commit a crime are seen as “thugs” or “terrorists.” Although most would argue that racism is on the decline, colonialist logics are definitely still in place, whether it be conscious or unconscious. During the period of imperialization and colonization, white people were seen as “more human” than people of colour, and as these moral and highly developed humans, they had a responsibility to civilize the rest of the world. In the past, this was done through genocide, slavery, and discrimination–a more specific example is residential schools in Canada.

    Although this overt discrimination does not exist anymore, its legacy lives on, with law enforcement seeking to heroically make the world a better place by arresting people of colour, presumably for their own good and for the good of society. The scary part is, it’s not that all police officers and judges and lawyers are racist or think that white people are supreme to all other races–there are hegemonic stereotypes embedded in everyone, and this implicit bias is literally fatal when combined with adrenaline and high-risk situations. I recently watched an interesting video regarding implicit biases and racial discrimination that you may find interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P0iP2Zm6a4&

    This video talks about how the issue of racism is deeply seeded in unconsciousness, thus, it will be extremely difficult to reverse these underlying colonial logics in society. However, raising awareness over social media and “black twitter” is a very good place to start.

    Like

  2. lazybreakfast95 · April 15, 2015

    This is a really interesting post! I have heard many news reports about these issues and you bring really interesting concepts forward in this post. I did not know that this was all considered as “Violence as a Lens.” I find this concept very interesting and relevant in this issue. It is unfortunate that people view black people through this lens and see them as nothing other then harmful individuals. This act of racism because a very large issue in society and with all these acts of discrimination, we are going back in time. Colonialism is an unfortunate term of events and the mindsets that people had back then are the main reasons that issues such as racism and patriarchy still occur today.

    Like

  3. 4pce · April 16, 2015

    I find it very interesting that police brutality, particularly in the cases examined in your post, is generally associated with physical violence despite the lack of threat coming from the victim. In all of the cases mentioned, those being arrested were violently assaulted or killed by white, male police officers. I think a strong connection can be made between masculinity and how it is associated with black males. Orientalist views have been pushed onto the image of the black male, which cited him as hyper-masculine, violent, and animal like. They were to be feared, and could attack at any moment. These police officers appear to continue to project this same prejudiced stereotype upon those they arrest who can be easily identified as black. Despite being unarmed, the fear that they could strike likely caused the police officers in question to react in a way that they believed would protect themselves and those around them, despite lacking any sound evidence.

    Like

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