I have not yet seen the video of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, La., because I refuse to watch it.
I’m not particularly squeamish or averse to violence; it’s just that I’ve seen the video too many times before. I saw it when the city of Chicago finally released footage of Laquan McDonald’s body being riddled with bullets after saying he’d attacked police officers with a knife. I saw it when cellphone video showed that Walter Scott was shot in the back in North Charleston, S.C., while running away, even though the police report said he’d reached for the officer’s gun. I saw it when police pulled into a Cleveland park and—within two seconds—gunned down 12-year old Tamir Rice. For playing. In a park.
A few years ago we witnessed the rise of a group that sought to institute a caliphate; they called themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. One of the distinct differences between ISIS and previous terrorist organizations was that they had a sophisticated, streamlined public relations arm that advertised to new recruits while simultaneously scaring the bejeezus out of everyone else.
Their initial strategy was simple: Get an intimidating-looking white man to kill people on camera.
As with the police videos, ISIS took the people in the areas they controlled and asserted their strength and power by releasing video of their murders for the world to see. Their message was clear:
We are mean.
We are all-powerful.
Don’t f—k with us.
No one remembers the Taliban anymore. Or al-Qaida. ISIS is scarier. The others were just ghost stories and campfire tales told by people who wanted oil, military contracts and territory. But we’ve seen what ISIS can do.
They are the ultimate terrorists.
Before there were video cameras and terrorist organizations, there were slave supervisors. Contrary to popular belief, the people who owned large plantations did not usually control the slaves. More often than not, plantation owners hired men skilled in the practice of keeping slaves “in line.” Just as people who own horse farms hire trainers, large slave-owning farms hired slave supervisors.
One of the tactics the slave supervisor employed to remind the bondmen of his power and control was the use of the whipping post whenever a slave tried to escape, or even intimated dissent. The whipping post was not only meant as discipline for the offending man or woman; it also served as a lesson to the other slaves. The more experienced supervisors would make the rest of their human chattel gather around the whipping post and watch them inflict punishment on the unruly slave. Slave supervisors instilled fear as a control tactic.
They were terrorists, too.
ISIS’ tactics work. Americans are shuddering in corners with collective cases of the bubble guts and are conducting sit-ins on the floor of Congress because of the rising fear of terrorism. We figure we can stop the terrorists by restricting their gun rights, putting them on no-fly lists and taking off our shoes before we board airplanes.
The truth is, they’ve already won. They have already instilled the fear by making us watch the videos and gather around the whipping posts. We ignore the gun deaths on summer weekends in Chicago because there is no public relations effort to scare the populace. Black men fear the police like Americans fear terrorists, like slaves feared whips.
Just as the slave supervisors wouldn’t want their families to watch them flogging another human being but didn’t care if the slaves on other plantations saw their whip-wielding, the police who executed Alton Sterling probably didn’t mean for the video to get out. They don’t want the world to see the assassination—just the ones who were in the vicinity watching. Just the ones who were gathered around the whipping post.
That’s why I won't watch the Alton Sterling video.
I will not feed my soul with terrorist propaganda.
Not because I don’t want the images in my head or the fear in my heart. It’s just that—I’m full. I am bloated from biting off the chunks of black terrorism. It’s the same dish, the same ingredients, the same spices—over and over again.
Google the murder of Kenneth Walker in Columbus, Ga. It’s as if the police savages hadn’t had enough and tried to re-create the recipe down to the details of an innocent man with a knee in his back, and the gun to his head.
I tasted the bitterness of the terrorism when Sam Dubose was shot while driving away in Cincinnati. I watched when jihadists put bullets into the brain of Rekia Boyd in Chicago. I went to Ferguson, Mo., when the only true, agreed-upon fact was that a uniformed thug pulled up to Michael Brown and told him to “get the f—k out of the street.” I saw a band of kidnappers pull innocent Freddie Gray inside their getaway car in Baltimore as he tried to run for his life, and when they opened the door—he was dead. I’ve seen Sandra Bland pulled over by a bully in Texas who forced her to the ground for smoking a cigarette … or failing to signal … or trying to escape. Or acting like she was free.
They always hang the unruly ones. That way the others can see. That is an old tactic of terrorists.
But I’ve decided to stop watching. I will not let that kind of fear control me.
I will not gather ’round the whipping post.