NO JUSTICE NO PEACE NO BLACK FRIDAY (Hands up don’t shop!)

Activists protesting police brutality shut down a mall and joined forces with activists protesting the low-wage retail holiday psychosis known as Black Friday.

I’m sure it will not be lost on you that, strictly from a Faux News-style words-for-headlines perspective, it’s easy to notice that the term “Black Friday” provides a fertile rhetorical basis for discussing the injustice leveled upon a disproportionately African-American set of the citizenry who are killed by police. This may seem like a dumb connect-the-words kind of similarity, but consider what Senator Rand Paul said in his recent op-ed in Time Magazine:

I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform. Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.

He starts his piece blaming police brutality on the failed War on Drugs, and politicians for allowing this failed effort to continue to punish the black community more than any other racial group. I’m with him on those points. But then comes the above paragraph, and we’re right back to the wacky world of libertarian bootstraps and and bullshit. “…not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper.” Yes, Senator, nobody disagrees that personal responsibility exists and is important. But what in the world does that have to do with the tragically common occurrences of police murdering people? Should Michael Brown have known better than to walk around outdoors? Should Eric Garner have been more responsible and not had such a weak throat? This is the false argument one hears so often from libertarian thinkers – that society is not interconnected, that we are not even really a society, that we are all lone actors making decisions only for ourselves and if something bad happens to us it is because somewhere we made a poor choice. This is why we don’t have single-payer healthcare, or free college, or paid time off work for sickness or emergencies or giving birth to a child. This is why oil companies don’t have to pay to clean up oil spills, and why there is almost no financial regulation stopping banks from looting the economy: I, the individual, am solely responsible and control my own destiny.

Education and work are important. I would like to ask the Senator when was the last time he was black and lived in a black community and was policed by a white police force? Could he have so easily gotten educated and become an “ophthalmologist,” as he so charmingly refers to himself? (Rand Paul is a “certified” ophthalmologist only in the sense that he was certified by a now-shuttered medical board that he started with his father-in-law. Now that’s real libertarianism!) Could Rand Paul explain to us how poor and minority communities are supposed to function in an economic landscape devoid of opportunity? Is it nice when your dad’s a Senator?

I don’t mean to harp on Senator Paul. Yes, he’s a Republican plagued by plagiarism and phony medical certification scandals, but he is also one of the few national figures who publicly calls for an end to the drone program, and the endless foreign wars. He is the only Republican coming easily to mind who endorses ending the drug war, and, though these may be cynical and opportunistic positions, taken only for a presidential campaign, he does deserve credit for them. But he does nicely illustrate my original point: This is all connected!

Justice for those who are victims of police brutality will always be, whether by real forces or by imaginary threads, tied to economic justice. The poor will always be treated worse than the rich, and it is hard to imagine an America where racial minorities are all treated, and policed, the same. Michael Brown is one tragedy among countless tragedies, but his is not the whole story. There will be less crime in poor communities when they become less poor. Maybe that would encourage communities to to reform their police practices, maybe not, but at least there wouldn’t be so many poor people. George W. Bush told us to go shopping after 9/11 because the economic boost would help heal our battered national consciousness, or something. Protesting police brutality, in solidarity with demands for living wages, at the heart of the American shopping machine, is a good place for real change to start.

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