By Puso Saul
‘There is something about the black body that makes it the repository of gratuitous violence’- Frank Wilderson III.
I was reminded of this quote when it was reported that the number of murdered civilians in our country are five. After just five days of national lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 – a pandemic that currently wreaks havoc the world over, the police force has already murdered five black bodies. Assuming this brutality would go on unmitigated, it is not farfetched to suggest that after this lockdown the police could’ve claimed more lives than the virus itself.
Normally, such callous aggression against civilians by the police force should not only elicit widespread condemnation and outcry, but the officers involved should be brought to book and decisively punished. Unfortunately, there’s no normalcy whenever black bodies are involved. What is rather normal, in this country, is police aggression and unmitigated abuse against black bodies. Black people’s relation with the State, especially the repressive State apparatus ( police, military, security forces, etc), is always marred by violence and coercion. Blackness is a never ending state of terror in this country.
There is also never justice to this gratuitous violence against black bodies from the repressive State apparatus, the police always abuse and kill blacks with absolute impunity. Our collective memory still has images of Andries Tatane brutally beaten to death by the police force. All officers charged with his gruesome murder were all acquitted even when the whole world saw them beat him to death in broad daylight. Marikana massacre is perhaps the defining moment of police violence in the entire post-94 dispensation. To date, no one has ever been held accountable, neither the police, government officials or mine officials. Families of the slain miners are unlikely to ever see the dawn of justice, and are left to fend for themselves after the mass murder of their breadwinners. Such is the extent of impunity within the police force.
This police violence is uniquely targeted at black bodies. It’s as if the black body is the only body within the community of bodies in our society that magnetizes gratuitous violence. The relationality of our bodies to State sponsored violence is one which is shared by us alone. White bodies have a complete opposite relationship, almost special, with the same repressive State apparatus. In white demonstrations, the police always act with complete restraint, they never employ any form of aggression and it is normal to find police officers holding phones of demonstrators taking them pictures. Yet the very same officers are always trigger happy and ready to unleash torrents of abuse at black demonstrators.
The foregoing is a reality in this country because, at the collective unconscious, blacks are always already criminalized and infantilized. The most dramatic demonstration of the collective criminalization and infantilization of blacks can be seen right in this moment of national lockdown. Police and military presence in black areas far outweighs predominantly white areas. The assumptive logic is simple; blacks need to be constantly surveilled and governed just like criminals & children, whereas whites have the inherent capacity to self- govern. Even the punishment meted to blacks who don’t follow lockdown guidelines follows the same logic; they must be either assaulted, humiliated or ultimately shot dead. Whites gets spoken and reasoned to as ‘rational people’.
We have even internalized this logic as blacks, and have completely accepted that fellow blacks should always be whipped back to line if they’re found to be violating established law & order. Since the national lockdown came into effect, it has only been blacks who call on the authorities to punish those blacks who violated lockdown rules, our leaders have also echoed the same calls whilst remaining completely mum at whites who violated similar rules. It is also normal to hear blacks refer to each other as ‘black child’ or ‘Afrikan child’.Why would we refer to each other using infantile terms?
Because white paternalism and its attendant colonial logic of infantilization is embedded in our collective unconscious.
Policing of black bodies is therefore a result of that interpellation which renders black life, from birth to death, a life in captivity. The institution of policing itself is grounded in anti-blackness. Right from its inception, it functioned not just as an instrument that maintains and reproduces existing power relations in society but also social relations. Thus it is no surprise that there’s an inherent hostility between black bodies and police forces in society, that brutality is itself an expression of the underlying problem of policing black bodies.
The framing of our main question in this article should, therefore, extend beyond the underlying dichotomy between policing and police brutality in relation to black people. We should rather extend it to echo W.E.B Du Bois’ descriptive question – thus; ‘what does it feel it like to be a problem?’. For therein lies all the answers pertaining to black existence!
Puso Saul is a young emerging intellectual waging war against anti-blackness and racism.
To see more of his work, follow him on twitter: @PusoSaul
-Thank you Puso for your contribution-