Totalitarianism at 38th and Chicago: A Minnesotan lie

Minnesota’s ‘don’t-cha-know’ country of hockey try-outs, picket fences, and swing sets has blood on the leaves and death marches in the cracks of the sidewalk.

A Minneapolis policeman looks down Plymouth Ave in Minneapolis on July 21, 1967, hours before hundreds of National Guard troops arrive to patrol Black communities as part of a larger movement against Black rebellions in the 60s [Robert Walsh/AP Photo]
A Minneapolis policeman looks down Plymouth Ave in Minneapolis on July 21, 1967, hours before hundreds of National Guard troops arrive to patrol Black communities as part of a larger movement against Black rebellions in the 60s [Robert Walsh/AP Photo]

Minnesota, like every other US state, begins with a lie. Explore Minnesota tourism ads present the state as a natural paradise, as if the US military-occupied land of Mni Sota Makoce is God-country, some blessing bestowed upon God’s own settler-colony.

Popular culture presents a narrative about the state as pure and as white as the opening scene of Fargo. The upper Midwest is full of hearty, plaid and parka-wearers and white homemaking mom’s you betcha and don’tcha know-ing over a stack of unfinished pancakes as the ruddy-cheeked children grab their hockey sticks and run out to the frozen-over pond.

Like the myths of Southern hospitality, with its tea service smudged with the flogged slave-girls’ blood, or of the lone and noble cowboy from out West who knew the rapist was one among the runaway negro-hunting party, the prairie has a genocidal history and the little houses on it have always been settlers’ posts.

Minnesota is a lie. The okey-dokey of the folksy folk. The state of black cherry ice-cream, honey-crisp apples and blueberry muffins was host to the largest mass hanging in US history. Four-thousand cold Minnesotans gathered the morning after Christmas, 1862, blowing into gloved hands to watch 38 Dakota men be murdered. These 38 were the ones selected by the Great Emancipator President Abraham Lincoln, who picked them after studying the transcripts of the often five-minute-long trials, from a list of the 303 sentenced to death.

The Sioux men were hung on a hastily built mass execution scaffold in the frosty air. Their bodies were left exposed to the elements and spectators’ gaze for 30 minutes, “painted-up in war style” save the “half-breeds” who were dressed in citizens’ clothes. They were destroyed for their alleged participation in the Sioux Uprising of 1862 which led to a pacification campaign allowing the colonists to take what was left of the ever-diminishing space of Indian Bantustans.

Under clouds of stones thrown by white mobs armed with knives and clubs, periodically dragging the elderly, beating them and throwing at least one nursing baby to the ground, killing the infant, most Dakota were force-marched – under pain of extermination – from Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling. There, hundreds died in congested and disease-riddled prison camps.

Governors Alexander Ramsey and Henry Swift ordered the extermination of all Dakota left in Minnesota after the removals. Twenty-five dollars were paid for each Dakota scalp (PDF) any volunteer of the newly formed ethnic-cleansing expedition could bring back from Big Woods. In snow boots instead of jackboots, Minnesotans searched hiding places in the woods, hunting and killing Indigenous people just as British and Afrikaaners would search the Aberdare forests being “allowed to shoot any black man … because he was a Mau Mau” on the theatre of another settler-colony a century later.

The government eventually raised the price for a Dakota scalp to $200 and made payouts available not only to members of the expeditionary group but to all citizens. The deputising of the lynch mob, from the whites-only volunteer reserve forces created by most settler-colonies in the early 20th century to Clay County Sheriff’s Darryl Daniels performative threat to deputise all “gun-owners” last year, prove the hard border between the colonial state and the white mob is largely fictional. The invitation of the entire settler public to join the extermination campaigns of the state is never completely removed from the call out to conservatives to wave the blue-lined flag of police violence.

The execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862 [Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images]
These armed, racist groups licensed to kill should not be seen as the exception. As a Northern Minnesota settler explained in Anton Treuer’s The Assassination of Hole in the Day, “If we did kill anybody in those days, it was not a crime; you couldn’t hang a man for killing ten Indians.” The right to go on a racist expedition to stop, harass, and kill with effective impunity was not invented by the modern police but was woven into the settler project of the US colony. It is an assumed birthright in settler culture. Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of flashing a white power sign at a bar while out on bail for killing a man during the Kenosha protests for Jacob Blake, is praised by members of government for his expedition. He was said to be “protecting his community” despite travelling across state lines – open acknowledgment, perhaps, that the community spoken of is not a place.

In Mankato, Minnesota, as early as 1862, in the aftermath of the Sioux Uprising and the following ethnic cleansing campaign, a secret society of white settlers, the Knights of the Forest (PDF), emerged with the goal to “banish forever from our beautiful State every Indian who now desecrates our soil”. A Masonic lodge that also served as a gathering place for the elites of Blue Earth County (south of Mankato) interested in further dispossessing Indigenous people of their land, they employed armed men to shoot any Indigenous person who left the reservation and sourced “negro bloodhounds,” from the South – dogs used to hunt down escaped Black people – to hunt down escaped “Indians”.

The so-called “blue wall of silence” should not be bemoaned, as ahistorical liberalism is wont to do, as a structural imperfection of contemporary policing but instead be read as in this centuries-old tradition of the American white supremacist secret society.

Fort Snelling, where Dakota from Lower Sioux Agency were forcibly relocated, is imposed upon Dakota’s Bdote. Before the 1861-1865 Southern conservative’s war to keep Africans enchained and tortured and their children molested and auctionable, the military fort was a place of fur trading and slavery. Although slavery was officially banned in Minnesota, Southerner soldiers dragged handcuffed Africans with them on their assignments at the fort in plain view of the law. Unlike the South, where whipping and mutilations were some of the preferred forms of torture, the military fort was home to other cruel and unusual punishments. Hannibal, for example, an enslaved man punished for bootlegging spruce beer, was placed in “the black hole,” and kept there for 48 hours. The hole was a hole in the ground where prisoners were kept without sunlight. The early design stages of the torture device now referred to, officially, as solitary confinement, a weapon still used against hundreds of thousands of mostly Black people in the United States, including the political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Albert Woodfox of this trio of Black Panthers was kept in solitary confinement for 43 years in Louisiana State Penitentiary. A prison built on a former slave plantation where, today, men held against their will are made to pick cotton under the surveillance of rifle-armed men on horseback.

A group of volunteer soldiers from Minnesota, likely Company B of the Sixth Regiment, at Fort Snelling, Minnesota in 1862 [Minnesota Historical Society/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images]
Dred Scott, a handcuffed man, was forcibly relocated to Minnesota from a plantation in Southhampton County, Virginia, a county that another captured man, Nat Turner, made famous by fireworks. After being marched through several of the colony’s forts he was eventually taken to Fort Snelling by the enslaver Dr John Emerson of Missouri who was also a US army surgeon. At his captor’s death, he famously sued for his freedom on the basis that slavery was outlawed in the area. Winning and losing court battles, enslaved and then pronounced free, the case rose to the colony’s US Supreme Court which pronounced its judgment:

“[The African] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern; without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.”

The Supreme Court thus agreed with the US army doctor’s widow and in-laws, his widow left his “estate” to her brother, that Scott was an article of merchandise and, like all other Black people, slave or free, had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. Dred Scott was bound again but “freed” by the Blow family, the family of Black-people-torturers that shackled him from birth.

The colonial courts, which even at this late day are appealed to and taken to be legitimate institutions, turned the de facto dehumanisation of African people and the corresponding exposure to unrestricted, unpunished white violence – even in the “free” states – into precedent.           

II

In June 1920, the John Robinson Circus made a stop in Duluth, Minnesota for one day taking with them African-American cooks and roustabouts. A white woman and man went to the circus, entering the main tent. The next morning the Duluth Police were called by the father of the man, accusing six of the Black workers of holding the couple at gunpoint and raping the woman.

The six accused Black men were immediately arrested and jailed. Unsatisfied, up to 10,000 members of a white mob broke down the windows and doors of the jail in search of the men. Police were told to stand back, as Capitol police would be exactly a century later on January 6th when facing a similar crowd equipped with nooses and Confederate battle flags. A mob tellingly described not as a lynch mob but as rioters and insurrectionists, despite chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and carrying a gallows, and despite not wanting to challenge the prevailing order but to extend Jacksonian rule in perpetuity.

A gallows set up near the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 [Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images]
Ordered to put away their guns to protect the mob the police attempted, it is claimed, to fight the crowd off with their hands. Seizing three of the accused, the mob performed a “mock trial” – not that, in a white supremacist colony, there can be any other kind – and beat and hung Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie from a light pole with a rope that the owner of a hardware store gave to them on the house.

The murder was photographed and printed on postcards as souvenirs. In the most widely circulated published photo, a tightly packed crowd of white men could be seen, some dressed in three-piece suits and Tucker Carlson-style bowties, posing and smiling with the bodies.

White mob violence, white mob violence directed at the white supremacist state it deems not sufficiently violent against Black and Indigenous people, is characteristic of settler activism. Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes of the reaction of the white mob after a white man in Kenya, settler Peter Harold Poole, who fatally shot Kamawe Musunge for throwing rocks at his dogs in self-defence was sentenced to death in 1959 (PDF). “[T]he whole colonial Herrenvolk cried in unison against this ‘miscarriage of justice’. Peter Harold Poole had done what had been the daily norm since 1895. In 1918, for instance, two British peers flogged a Kenyan to death and later burnt his body … The two murderers were found guilty of a ‘simple hurt’ and were fined two-thousand shillings each. The governor later appointed one of them a member of a district committee to dispense justice among the ‘natives’.”

In 1907, three settlers flogged three Kikuyu men in front of the magistrate court and a mob of more than 100 armed settlers in East Africa Protectorate in defiance of colonial administration in a demonstration that it was the settlers, not the colonial government, who could determine how the native would be punished. They were found guilty, not for the flogging as this was common on streets and farms, but of “unlawful assembly”, and were briefly placed in what one settler, Russell Bowker, called “the Nairobi N****r Gaol.”

The mob of armed settlers threatened to break them out and free them, and the conflict escalated to talk of a settler overthrow of the colonial administrative state that drew so much concern as to lead then-Under-Secretary of State to the Colonies Winston Churchill to agree to send the HMS Hermes warship to the Kilindini Harbour as a show of force. The white settlers were eventually placed under house arrest where they could throw parties. Africans, on the other hand, if they were to commit too great an infraction in those days “in the plantations or estates, the ‘bwana’ (settler farm owner) would simply have shot them and buried them, or fed them to his dogs.” The same settler vs colonial administration conflict operated in the Americas where “plantation justice” was preferred by settlers to magistrate “slave courts” and the slave patrol. Where there is unity between the mob and the state factions of white supremacist violence, as was approached in Trumpism, there is a white supremacist peace – which is always to say a pogrom for all others.

Even as the mob is now projected as the “woke mob” onto those who resist lynching today, by the far-right who a century ago were populating lynching bee spectator crowds, it remains central to the white supremacist tradition.

A mob at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC [Brent Stirton/Getty Images]
Conservatives know about the mob. It is essential to their iconography. Black darling of the conservative movement Sheriff David Clarke declared it was “pitchforks and torches time” in a nationally broadcast speech supporting President Trump. As a man accused of running a jail where Black people were locked alone and starved to death or lost their baby after giving birth shackled to the bars, Sheriff Clarke may well be a walking fusion of white supremacist mob and white supremacist police power. It is as if within him both colonial administration and settler mob found peace.

It is important to note that the three Black men in Duluth were not simply unfairly or “extrajudicially” killed. Duluth came out to kill them. Thousands of white Minnesotans shared in the spectacle and the act of lynching three Black men – and this has happened thousands of times in America. This lynch mob’s instinct is extended in the public’s insistence in believing the worse of the victims of racial violence and the best of its perpetrators. This is why a cop who immediately fired upon an intoxicated youth was defended by references to the 21-foot rule. The point that Laquan McDonald could perhaps ninja-leap through the air across a highway and knife an officer who “feared for his life” while rushing out of his cruiser’s door, gun blazing, is, in the colony, well-taken. This is why it is a sound defence strategy to have a pleading man’s “I can’t breathe” presented as a form of “resisting arrest”. Resisting arrest and running in police totalitarianism, as it was during plantation totalitarianism, is understood to be the violent act, rather than the arrest.

In a tradition that has represented Black masculinity as the brute, it follows that pinning a Black person’s neck to the ground and not letting up one’s knee for fear of the superman strength of a man dying and calling out for his dead mother will seem reasonable. In this society it is reasonable. For the police in this society, it is reasonable. In this society where Black people were said to have stronger “hides” and Black women are not believed when they say they are suffering on hospital beds, it is reasonable. It is reasonable in a society that intends to adapt the violence of slavery to the conditions of Emancipation. It is not reasonable in a society that is working against racism.

One will squint, spin and pull any filament of the police-sanctioned narrative until the slave patrol is not only defensible but heroic. The majority of the American public defends, to any point of absurdity, the police institution. An institution that it knows or should know, ignorance of the lives lived while Black is no excuse, has at all moments been an institution of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing. The police are no less a vehicle for the colony’s race oppression than the torch-and-rifle hunting parties searching for Negroes and Indigenous people hiding out in the woods. It is not simply the officer that kills, any more than it is only the man who places the noose on the neck that lynches. It is the entire town. Entire towns participated in the killings, gleefully. Entire towns run and fight to be accomplices for policing – giving them the rope on the house.

III        

The discovery of serial killers in the Upper Midwest town of simple folk is always said to be a surprise in what was previously a “nice place to raise a family”. Implied always is that the violent crimes of, say, the inner-city Black areas, are unheard of in the town of Evangelical churches, “soccer moms” and pine trees. But American suburbs are always evidence of multiple crimes. Neighbourhoods are never quiet but quieted, never peaceful but pacified. The silence would be eerie if it were not for the deafening, incessant pulsation of colonial normalcy. Minnesota’s “don’t-cha-know” country of hockey try-outs, picket fences, and swing sets has blood on the leaves and death marches in the cracks of the sidewalk. The family imagined is one that is not threatened or in any way put off by the history and incubation of white supremacist violence in the nice towns.

Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, began her 2020 presidential campaign from what she claimed was the nation’s heartland. On a wintry day, she brought out her folksy tone to butter her audience praising them as rugged Minnesotans who were not afraid of a little cold. As a moderate, a down-to-earth regular Minnesotan who wanted to “bring people together” she separated Black families and pushed for harsher and longer prison sentences as a prosecutor. To be a moderate politician in a racist society is always to offer a willingness to do Black people undue harm in order to coddle the conservative side of an electorate. Like Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, Klobuchar was to run on her record of harm to Black people but the riptide of the 2020 uprising against police murder caught and dragged these records until they were liabilities overnight and left them and their campaigns floundering on the rocks like racist trout.

The state Klobuchar represents, the folksy, two-mitten black coffee grasping population to which she appeals and in whose interests she says she fights, is a state shaped not only by genocidal violence and enslavement but, unsurprisingly, apartheid. Minnesota’s racial restrictive covenants – agreements that upon the sale of a property to a white person it would not afterwards be sold to a Jew or Negro – were already set up in 1910, before there was a significant Black population, in order to ensure the cities were cemented as segregationist upon Black people’s threatened arrival.

White areas are white not because birds of a feather flock together but because blackbirds are beaten and pushed out of the flock. Blackbirds are put on buses to be mass relocated through mass incarceration. They are race rioted out, title deeds swindled out, warplane strafed out, and, when out, legally prevented from moving into a new neighbourhood. The American suburb is the destruction of Sophiatown a thousand times to build a thousand Triomfs, but the singing has been drowned out and the red and white barber’s poll feels like it as always been there and there is no hint of bloodletting.

Police shoot tear gas at protesters after the killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota [Scott Olson/Getty Images]
Suburbs, both read as white and representative of the quintessential American life, were made white through the confining of entire populations and preventing them from moving further than the Bantustan borders set up to contain them. The Bantustans, these spaces of Black isolation, surveillance and policing known as the “ghetto,” a concept which for negrophobes around the world continues to be used as a stand-in for Blackness, are active, daily and current dispossessions represented as tragic situations where “underserved communities” are mysteriously trapped in poverty cycles and “tangled in pathology” (PDF). No matter that yesterday money was shaken out and collected by developers in the new Triomfs while Black and Indigenous people watched helpless from a cell or from behind eviction and foreclosure notices. Unlike the Blue Earth County’s hired execution squads that surrounded Dakota reservations a century and a half ago, the prison guards have all gone smart and the fleecing and scalping programmes now utilise the race-neutral language of community development and crime prevention.

On August 2, 1966 (PDF), 11 Black youth were shot at by an employee in Silver’s Market on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis. This led to a rebellion and a breaking of store windows, throwing bricks at police, and destroying profits in goods and property from shops in the North Minneapolis Black neighbourhood. In this, they joined the Black rebellions of the late 1960s in the US and around the world. A history displaced by liberal nativist, American nationalist Civil Rights lore with its pictures of supplicant negro marchers asking nicely for no more apartheid. A narrative that steals the Black insurrection in the US from the context of the global Black uprising everywhere from Africville to Sharpeville and sells it under a trench-coat along with other misleading interpretations of anti-racist struggles against the American state. Fencing them as part of the “American story”.

In patriotism, racist atrocities committed by the state are made to be part of the tapestry of the racist state. The deaths don’t condemn the colony, but on the contrary, are forced to support the story of its redemption, its goodwill and progress, as if the dead are not left to be dead but are forced, again, into being useful, like crude oil put into some great machine.

In 1967, another rebellion broke out in North Minneapolis resulting in the deployment of hundreds of National Guard troops sent to patrol Black communities in Minneapolis as property was again burned. Black incendiarism always uniquely horrifying to the collective memory of white supremacist culture who might associate it with persons like a “Negro woman owned by Mr. Herndon” accused and killed by a vigilance committee for setting fire to an abandoned shop in the town of Henderson in northeast Texas, August 1860. A fire that burned the entire south side of the town square allegedly as part of a plan between white radical abolitionists, proto-antifascists, and enslaved Black people who were “plentifully supplied” with firearms and poison to end a racist city. It may not only be the property damage that racists mourn when they appear on racist news networks and social media to shout about “cities on fire” although this is what they claim horrifies them. It may be the collective memory of the threat that was the looming destruction of slave society.

Minneapolis police armed with shotguns patrol Plymouth Ave in Minneapolis on July 21, 1967 to suppress Black uprisings [Robert Walsh/AP Photo]
As in apartheid cultures worldwide, the Bantustan facilitates military occupation as the concentration of police firepower can be trained upon a single community without fearing white blowback about “civil liberties”. Ghettos make possible collective punishment like that waged against rebels to the colonists in Jubbaland in the 1900s. It opens people up to vulnerability like the 1980s Soweto townships made vulnerable to militarised police and pushed over by South African Police’s “Casspir” armoured vehicles. The ghetto community as a space of Blackness, police-occupied when at “peace” and violently repressed during uprisings, facilitates anti-Black political repression. At the same time, the spectacle of whirring tear gas, batons and bullets appearing on the TVs in safe, white suburban living rooms provide comfort that the racially disobedient are being checked, even if sometimes sadly mistreated.

38th and Chicago of South Minneapolis is part of such a forcibly cordoned off, Bantusan space. The surrounding area being known as the “Southside” Black community in Minneapolis, emerging from the same conditions of racist housing restriction as North Minneapolis as well as the segregation-cementing infrastructure such as highway I-35W, and the government’s Underwriting Manual where it was written that a “high-speed traffic artery” would prevent the inharmonious (racial) elements from moving to the other (white) side. Highways did in the latter what railways did in the earlier part of the century, securing whites-only space as well as inventing the “other side of the tracks”.

The introduction of drugs and their corresponding forms of violence, the mass incarceration plot on its heels coupled with the breaking of radical social movements effected “Southside” Minneapolis as it had all other traditional Bantustans in the US colony. This is the era George Floyd Jr, born in 1973 grew up in.  A product of a different and later Great African-American Migration he left his birthplace in North Carolina to the Third Ward in Houston in Texas, the state in which he spent several years of his life. Floyd grew up in Cuney Homes public housing, an institution that in Houston, like everywhere else, and like every other institution in the white supremacist settler-colony, developed within the straits of racism. President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programme established the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, which provided loans for whites-only racially restrictive homes and worked against allowing loans that would allow “inharmonious racial or nationality groups” from moving into white communities. It was the progressive’s version of keeping the blacks in their place.

Holiday cabins in Floodwood, Minnesota, with a Coca-Cola advertisement in front, circa 1955 [Frederic Lewis/Archive Photos/Getty Images]
George Floyd was arrested multiple times, a feature of life for many who find themselves raised in areas deliberately planned to be surveilled, kept available as labour reserves, and as confining spaces that prevented both upward social mobility and contamination of white areas with undesirable “racial elements” through the racial violence that is “law and order”. In India, in Lebanon, in Kenya, the lumpenproletariat can negotiate with police. In the US, they can’t as there are quotas for arrest and an interest in warehousing Black people, because, in a way, slave cabins still exist.

Police violence, which is not only killings and beatings but the trauma of stalking and arrest, of being put into the “custody” of an institution world-famous for its murder of Black people is part of the ongoing atrocity that is the conditions of the native quarter. George Floyd eventually moved from the segregated space of Black confinement in the Third Ward in the hopes of beginning anew in the segregated space of Black confinement in “Southside” South Minneapolis.

In the 38th and Chicago and the wider Minneapolis Metropolitan area, before George Floyd was killed, Black residents have been angry about being three-fifths of police shootings despite being one-fifth of Minneapolis’ population. About the impoverishment of Southside along with the gentrification and the continued expelling of Black people, and the unbroken, centuries-long tradition of anti-Black police harassment and violence. Black communities have marched in the streets and megaphone-shouted about this in communities across the US and have been doing so for years, even when drowned out by liberals who grab the mic to demand that Black voices be heard. Just as Black Studies is the most undervalued and attacked disciplines in the university and Black radical organisers and political theorists who have been working on the police question for centuries are ignored by the people who incessantly ask from their lecterns and anchor desks, “What is to be done?”

But perhaps what is partly to blame is protest itself. Perhaps, inherent in complaint, and even in demands like those of our beloved Black Panther’s 10-point programme is a refusal to look squarely at the state. A continued digging up ground to find some empathetic ear lost somewhere in the colony and a refusal to place America in the context of other settler-colonies, denying its exceptionalism. Perhaps what is required is to no longer give audience to the insulting notions of America’s “promise” and dispassionately evaluate its talk – long known to have been intended for white ears only – in the context of other nationalist mythologies. It may be time to have the slave-torturing “founding fathers’ ideals” go the way of South African apartheid propaganda videos.

An advertisement from the 1800s urging people to move to Minnesota [Minnesota Historical Society/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images]
America is a uniquely dangerous settler-colony. One that does not merely bomb the native quarters, near and far, gather for public lynchings and bullet-drag people to death in the street, but one in which the utter disbelief in the value of Black life has rendered these day to day atrocities to be responded to with the pundit’s momentarily affected face and the obligatory “tragic”. The consensus that anti-Black atrocity is not an emergency facilitates a system of totalitarian violence and totalitarianisms’ collective denial of the police-state, even in the country of politeness and pancakes. Where the public both knows an ethnic group is snatched from the streets, killed on video with impunity, imprisoned en masse and on every indicator of social wellbeing is engineered to be at a disadvantage, and yet thinks that the colony walks, if weightily, towards justice.

Of course, if police broke into homes and shot or frog-marched blonde and blue-eyed children half-naked in the street or were repeatedly shown to make up reasons to stop drivers and planted evidence or killed people with their hands up we would all know that this is totalitarianism. All white police would be treated at least like Mohamed Noor was treated after killing Justine Diamond.

The hesitation to believe that it is a longstanding totalitarianism that we have seen in the 19th-century cotton fields, the 20th-century convict leasing, and in the 21st-century new jails, the schools and the Bantusan streets is as neutral as the hesitation of medical students who are asked to believe that Black people feel equal pain. Or as former officer Mark Fuhrman once put it “Did you ever try to find a bruise on a n****r. It’s pretty tough, huh?” The inability to contend with the totalitarian present is a consequence of the inability to recognise the Black person as human.

A member of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters vigilante group patrols St Anthony, Minnesota on July 6, 2020, as demonstrators march in honour Philando Castile who was killed by a police officer four years earlier [Stephen Maturen/Getty Images]
At the time of this writing 19th-century-style vigilance committees, now as diverse as the “Minnesota Freedom Fighters,” are once again set up to work hand in hand with police. There are reports that arrested activists’ calls are being monitored, and Minneapolis police roll into cities in an army display of force and barricade entries to churches harbouring the protesting injured. This is the panic over Black freedom. One not shown when confronting an explicit attempt at an activist white supremacist takeover of government. The army, the National Guard came out because people are demonstrating at the site of the killing of a man who allegedly had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.

George Floyd’s betrayal of capitalism by his alleged use of a counterfeit bill is a trivial offence. But it is tradition, in America, for Black people to be killed and mutilated for the trivial. Running from the police is trivial. So is, in America, being armed. So is the consumption and sale of illicit substances. So is being “disrespectful” to an officer. But it is in killing for the trivial that white supremacy best reminds all that it is still the order of the day, that whiteness still rules and the African has no rights a white man is bound to respect. It reminds us that the response to white supremacist violence cannot go further than a protest or a panel discussion. White supremacy requires and must demonstrate total control and total punishment even for the most seemingly benign offences because the institutions of the state are not geared towards achieving a rational layout of justice but of maintaining the Anglo-Saxon political traditions in the New World: strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree.

Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, and the conditions in South Minnesota are not exceptional. The outcome of the trial cannot matter. Certainly, not in the way liberals will suggest it does, announcing as they ceaselessly do that this conviction might turn a new page. Black insurrection throws away the book.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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