Liberalism Will Get Us Killed

“I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I have heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject. As far as I can tell, you have the extreme right, who are fascist racist capitalist dogs like Ronald Reagan, who come right out and let you know where they’re coming from. And on the opposite end, you have the left, who are supposed to be committed to justice, equality, and human rights. And somewhere between those two points is the liberal.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary. History has shown me that as long as some white middle-class people can live high on the hog, take vacations to Europe, send their children to private schools, and reap the benefits of their white skin privilege, then they are ‘liberal’. But when times get hard and money gets tight, they pull off that liberal mask and you think you’re talking to Adolf Hitler. They feel sorry for the so-called underprivileged just as long as they can maintain their own privileges.” -Assata Shakur

“Loose lips sink ships” and liberals’ inability to shut up substantiates that saying. They are constantly exposing  contradictions most are too stubborn or too isolated from electoral politics to notice—- liberalism will get us killed. 

Recently, the internet was set ablaze over “out of context” comments made by 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that went viral. At the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum event at Benedict College, an HBCU in Columbia, South Carolina, Sanders conducted a Q&A session. At the session, a student asked, “If I was your son, what advice would you give me the next time I’m pulled over by a police officer?” 

How did Sanders answer? He said:

“I would do my best way to identify who that police officer is. In a polite way, ask him or her for their name. I would respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head. But I would also be very mindful of the fact that as a nation, we have got to hold police officers accountable for the actions that they commit. So to answer your question. I would be very cautious, if you were my son, in terms of dealing with that police officer, but I would also defend my rights and know my rights and make sure, if possible, that police officer’s camera is on, what goes on.”

Some foolishly insisted on arguing that what Sanders said isn’t different from what Black parents tell their own children. However, that is a false equivalence. What Black parents tell their children is a reactionary response to the systematic oppressions that we are faced with which is rooted in trauma and FEAR. What Sanders said was rooted in white chauvinism. In both instances, Black parents and Sanders are wrong. Subsequently, so are those who agree with them and the idea that police can be held accountable while putting the onus on the state’s eventual victims. 

When we are being killed in our homes, in our cars, as we sleep, and while we play outside, then the logical conclusion should be that proper decorum does not determine whether or not we “get shot in the back of the head”. Logically, we ought to be acutely aware that those upholding the state, because it is their job to do so, can not and have not been held accountable by the state. 

When the debate over Sanders words finally settled down, former President Barack Obama decided to make unprovoked comments about phantom “woke”/ “cancel” culture and hashtag activism. He is no stranger to attacking grassroots organizing that challenges the status quo (as opposed to upholding it). He has a history in constantly faulting Black people for our own material conditions, 

Speaking at the Obama Foundation summit, Obama told his audience, “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you”. 

I’m sure Obama considers things he has done in his eight years of neoliberal presidency “flaws”. But the reality is Obama’s legacy is tainted far beyond a tan suit. We must consider his anti- Blackness in regards to youth and protesters (ie calling them “thugs” and the “cousin Pookie” voting commentary), his drone happy finger, the expansion of AFRICOM and MASSIVE deportations under his administration, his bail out of Wall Street which now pays him quite well for speaking engagements, his position on Standing Rock and the Keystone Pipeline, the signing of the Blue Alert Law, lying about the safety of water in Flint, Michigan, the bombing of a hospital where Doctors Without Borders worked, interference in the Honduran government which has led to a refugee crisis in the US, and keeping Assata Shakur on the most wanted terrorists list. 

It should go without saying that Obama has some nerve. But really one would have to question why, in this moment, would he choose to reinsert his relevancy by unironically calling out “purity politics”?

Well let’s examine the current material realities of colonized communities. In the last five years, New York City has been increasing fares for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) due to alleged severe money woes

In an effort to make public transportation actually accessible to the poor working class, #SwipeItForward, a hashtagged movement, sprung into action, encouraging those with unlimited cards (weekly and monthly) to swipe those who could not afford to ride in. This is a completely legal action yet it was met with police repression. Why? Because it was cutting into city profit. 

Then came the Inside Edition propaganda special on the overexaggerated “fare evasion epidemic” which depicted the city as running amuck with people jumping turnstiles. The tone deaf piece makes special care to mention that the city lost $215 million in revenue due to turnstile jumpers but did not take into account the fact that 800,000 New York City residents live below the federal poverty line.

Not long after, the city began strategically placing signs condemning fare evasions in trains and stations, all with the intention of making it a prominent criminal action. Once making fare evasion a prominent criminal action, the city announced an increase in cops at stations. 

Democratic Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the MTA announced an agreement made with Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, and MTA Chairman Pat Foye to add 500 additional uniformed officers to the New York City Transit system as part of a comprehensive action plan to “improve safety”, specifically addressing fare evasion. 

This agreement did not include the use of body cameras. It is no coincidence that this agreement targets predominantly Black and Brown communities. Over-policing only breeds one thing: violence. One has to question that if fare evasion is such a prominent criminal issue in the city, why are cops hiding in order to catch young civilians in the act? Why are they relying on entrapment tactics? The answer is simple. $100 fines are far more of a benefit to the city than $2.75. Also, with the vote for four new jails in Brooklyn, the city obviously intends to fill them. Beating on and attempting to kill Black and brown youth is an added bonus. 

In one week, a 19 year old young man was beaten up by a gang of NYPD officers after they pulled their guns on a crowded train over fare evasion, a response to a group of rowdy teenagers on a platform resulted in cops punching them in the face, and 2 young men were tasered, again, over fare evasion. All of these separate incidences happened the same week that Sanders and Obama insist we be pacifists. 

What hashtag culture has been effective in doing, regardless of various reactionary turns it’s subject to take, is confronting and exposing liberals and neoliberal policies. New York has a Democratic Governor and New York City has a Democratic mayor. Both are beholden to a ruling class that sought to stifle the #SwipeItForward movement, a movement fostering communal bonds by serving the poor working class, mind you, with violent and oppressive action. Actions that Sanders thinks we should approach respectfully and Obama mocks us for organizing around. 

These are silencing tools that do not serve the poor Black working class, but gives into stigmas of us. That we are aggressively inviting our own state sanctioned murders and that we are too indolent to take part in oligarchy electoral politics that uses and disposes of us.

Moreover, Sanders, who hopes to become President, and Obama, who once was President, have made no real effort towards fighting to end extreme state sanctioned violence in our communities brought on by Department of Defense bills, like the 1033 program. 

At the end of October,  President Trump promised a “surge” in militarized police forces. During the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago, while going into no specific detail, Trump announced, “In coming weeks, Attorney General Barr will announce a new crackdown on violent crime—which I think is so important—targeting gangs and drug traffickers in high crime cities and dangerous rural areas.”

The last time “surge” was used by a President was in 2007 when then President George W Bush sent troops into Iraq. Neither Sanders nor Obama have acknowledged any connection to the global violence enacted by the US military to the state sanctioned violence in our communities. Both have been silent on Haiti and helped foster the possibility of a right- wing coup in Venezuela through constant condemnation of President Nicolas Maduro who, despite being overwhelmingly elected by poor Black and Brown working class Venezuelans, they refer to as a “dictator”.

As former Green Party nominee for Vice President, Human Rights Activist and Black Alliance For Peace member, Ajamu Baraka says, 

“The US military must be seen as merely the foreign policy enforcing counterpart to the domestic policy enforcing US police. Public pronouncements, premises and media narratives that they are to serve some benevolent interests must be dispensed with. They are forces of colonization and occupation. Period. Without an understanding of this fact, everything else will only confuse you.”

The DOD 1033 program and AFRICOM are exposed the counterpart character of this fact. In Africa, it’s called “War against terrorism etc”. Within the US, it’s called “fighting drug trafficking and crime”

These are connections we must stay on top of in the midst of internet chatter over what is being said instead of interrogating why it is being said and how it impacts our material realities within a settler colony. In an era of fascism and imperialism, liberals are pushing pacifism. It is becoming more and more evident that liberalism will get us killed. 

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.