Updated at the end of the post.
Every 28 hours a black woman, man or child in the United States is executed by a person employed or protected by the US government according to a year-long investigation by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), which has thus far been virtually ignored by the news media, progressive outlets included.
Following the murder of Trayvon Martin, the MXGM embarked on a year-long study to determine the prevalence of extrajudicial killings of black Americans. The organization initially recorded around 120 killings in the first half of 2012, which came out to one black person murdered every 36 hours. That number climbed to 313 by the end of last year, forcing the MXGM to update its findings to every 28 hours in their latest report, titled “Operation Ghetto Storm“. That’s almost one black American killed every day by law enforcement, security guards and/or vigilantes, which the MXGM believes is more accurate since their numbers reflect only those killings that are reported by police departments and the news media. As the organization points out in the report, there exists no national tracking of police-involved shootings, so it’s impossible to know the full extent of the crisis.
The largest portion of those killed in 2012 (40 percent) were between the ages of 22 to 31, followed by 18 to 21 year olds at 18 percent. Children made up 8 percent of extrajudicially executed black Americans.
Furthermore, 44 percent of those killed were unarmed while 27 percent were “allegedly” armed, meaning police claimed the victim was armed but no corroborating evidence existed to prove this was the case. Only 13 percent of those killed were said to have “fired a weapon either before or during the officer’s arrival”, according to the MXGM.
One of the report’s most damning findings is the sheer lack of accountability for these killings. Thus far, less than 9 percent of those responsible for the deaths have faced charges, almost all of whom are security guards or vigilantees and all of which have yet to be determined. Despite the fact that an overwhelming number of the victims were definitively unarmed, only 3 percent of officers officers responsible for the deaths have been charged: “3 for vehicular crimes stemming from their crashes, 5 for manslaughter—the killers of Remarley Graham, Wendell Allen, Dane Garrett Scott Jr, Christopher Brown, and Bobby Moore Jr.”
And the justifications are almost always the same: “I felt threatened”, “he reached for his waistband to get what I thought was a gun”, “he was acting suspiciously”, etc. All are based on personal perceptions that are no doubt influenced by racial stereotypes, given that every American is surrounded by a culture that conditions them to fear the “criminal black man”.
A study recently published by the Journal of Social Issues examined the impact of racial bias on the decision to shoot at armed and unarmed suspects of different races (White, Black, Latino & Asian). The results were illuminating. Participants, which included college-age students and police officers, were more trigger happy when presented with black targets who were perceived as the most threatening, followed by Latinos, Whites and Asians (considered the least threatening, which the paper called a “positive bias”).
The good news is that these biases can be unlearned, but that requires acknowledging the existence of systemic racism, an unlikely scenario in a country whose very foundation rests on white supremacy.
Addressing institutionalized racism also requires an informed citizenry, which is impossible when the media refuses to cover these issues.
Unlike most civil rights organizations, the MXGM is unapologetic in its analyses and, much like the man it is named after, the organization refuses to cloak its rhetoric in language that appeals to white liberals.
I suspect that the MXGM’s failure to present its findings in a manner that coddles the emotions of white liners is why news organizations, from CNN and MSNBC to The Nation and even Colorlines, have opted to remain silent in the face of hundreds of due-process-free killings, almost all at the hands of law enforcement (just 25 of the 313 victims were killed by security guards and vigilantes). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Colorlines and The Nation, both of which regularly cover individual police killings of people of color as they happen and provide excellent analysis when doing so. Still, this doesn’t mean they’re above making editorial decisions to avoid offending certain types of people, especially when the content is painfully honest.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation that I’m unaware of. But I know one thing for sure: the MXGM is right when concluding:
The corporate media is so permeated with white supremacist and capitalist assumptions and rationalizations that reporters and editors deem these killings unworthy of note. With one important exception: They use the stories of “officer‐involved killings” to reinforce a stereotypical, but strategic depiction of the most dispossessed sectors of the Black working class as criminal commodities, fit for disposal.
The MXGM further states that “the practice of executing Black people without pretense of a trial, jury, or judge is an integral part of the government’s current overall strategy of containing the Black community in a state of perpetual colonial subjugation and exploitation.”
It’s nearly impossible to dispute this argument given the disproportionate representation of black people in the criminal justice system. Yet, in my experience, this type of honest assessment provokes defensive and accusatory reactions from white liberals as well as their “culturally white” minority counterparts. Of course my own personal experience doesn’t prove anything, but it’s an experience nonetheless, one that is shared by many people of color in the media profession who (whether they admit it or not) quickly learn what constitutes appropriately acceptable language when addressing the white power structure.
The MXGM does the exact opposite by raising uncomfortable but desperately needed questions:
[A]ny critical observer and thinker must ask, how can the supposedly “most democratic” country on Earth be the largest jailer on the planet? What types of “legitimate” democratic processes result in nearly half of the countries prison population being Black, while Black people only comprise 13% of the total population of the United States? What types of resources, planning, coordination and programmatic implementation go into arresting, convicting, imprisoning or deporting over 10 million people annually? And what can possibly justify the extrajudicial killing of at least 313 Black people in one year?
The organization is further marginalized for answering these questions without concern for the discomfort it may cause the oppressor class:
The United States is a European settler‐colonial project that has erected a racial state to enforce and maintain a rigid order of white supremacy, colonial occupation, and capitalist exploitation….[T]he United States is one of the most repressive and brutal societies in the world, particularly to oppressed peoples like Blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos. The rates of extrajudicial killings on the US rival only those perpetrated against the Indigenous people of Palestine, Mexico, Guatemala and the Amazonian region, and African‐descendants in Brazil and Colombia.”
Rather than rely on the people in power to reform racial profiling practices, end the drug war or hold police officers accountable, the MXGM advocates for resistance that poses a very real threat to the American racist experiment. While efforts at reform are certainly important and must continue, so too should more radical, militant activism that seeks to dismantle racist systems altogether, or as the MXGM puts it:
We must end our reliance on the model of protest mobilizations that occur after the police have executed one of our loved ones. This must cease being our primary means of securing justice.
We will not turn back…the military machine that aims to keep Black and other oppressed people subordinate and contained, until we defeat and dismantle the systems of colonialism, national oppression, white supremacy, capitalism and imperialism.
[T]he Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is calling for a broad alliance of Blacks, Indigenous peoples, Latinos, Arabs, Asians, and progressive whites that will challenge the various forms of state repression, including racial profiling, mass incarceration, mass deportation, displacement, and of course, extrajudicial killings.
Clearly, the MXGM does not shy away from powerful, unapologetic analyses that identify the shared roots of oppressive systems, critiques which are missing from mainstream civil rights organizations (I suppose that’s why they’re mainstream). It’s like they’re protesting wars without addressing the institutions whose profits rely on perpetual conflict, or demanding action on climate change while ignoring the economic structure that incentivizes the never-ending exploitation of finite resources.
That’s why I urge you all to read and share this report with everyone you know. And to any editors out there who are actively ignoring it: keep in mind that silence is complicity.
I’ve received emails from several readers asking why these 313 killings are so important when far more African Americans are killed in “black-on-black” violence. Since so few people understand the underlying causes of this violence, it’s a fair question that deserves an answer, which the MXGM addresses more articulately than I can. From the report (emphasis mine):
We certainly do not intend to minimize the horror and importance of the thousands of Black people who tragically die at the hands of other Black people each year. However, to a large degree, those killings are not directly sponsored or sanctioned by federal, state and local governments. On the other hand, police, sheriffs, security guards and, to a certain extent self‐ appointed enforcers of law (vigilantes) ARE “authorized” by governments and paid for by taxes. They are hardly accountable for these killings and even less frequently charged in a court of law. In contrast, both the victims who survive and the perpetrators of “Black‐on‐Black” crime end up as part of the million Black people incarcerated in the U.S. at any given time.
The report goes on to elaborate on the causes of this “intra-comunal violence” which has been provoked and fed by the war on drugs, a creation of the US government. Despite its absolute failure, the drug war has continued to devastate communities of color at home and abroad because illicit drug trafficking is lucrative for US banks, US imperialism and the countless industries that have sprung up to profit of of incarceration and militarized policing (i.e. private prison companies, less-lethal weapons makers, SWAT team tactical gear manufacturers, etc.).