Guardian Voices: A place for rage


Just a few weeks ago, my partner came home from work in South San Francisco to tell me some horrifying news. A cop had killed a boy she knew, a Black eighth grader named Derrick Gaines. We looked at each other in the way we do when there is too much to say, our eyes wet, our hearts racing, our rage too big for words. We held our son extra tight that night.

Ayoka went to the funeral last Thursday, and was finally able to shed a few of what felt like a mountain of tears inside of her. She supported family and friends who were overwhelmed with grief, and listened to people’s efforts to make sense of this madness. But for anyone who can see the humanity of this young Black man, there is no way for his murder to make any damn sense at all.

I don’t know and I don’t care if Derrick was what the news calls “a good kid” or a “troubled kid,” a “gangbanger” or a straight-A student. What I do know, what matters to my heavy heart, and what is at the source of my rage, is that Derrick was a human being, that he was a kid, that a cop killed him needlessly and that he will most likely get away with it. There will be no apologies, no accountability, no recognition that the cop had many other options than to shoot and kill. And the absence of all this will be another silent attack on our psyche, an unstated affirmation of Black inferiority, of the lesser value of Black lives.

Derrick’s tragic murder has captured less attention than that of Trayvon Martin, but they both have weighed especially heavily on my heart. Both young, Black and male, they were supposedly “looking suspicious” in a non-Black neighborhood. Both Derrick and Trayvon were teenagers minding their business. Neither was in the midst of committing a crime – which would not in any case justify their murder but does draw attention to the degree to which their Blackness itself was apparently the crime being committed.

Both Derrick and Trayvon are dead, no one is safer, and Derrick’s four-year-old brother is left to struggle with the reality that his big brother will never be coming home again. I’ve been to more than my fair share of police accountability protests. But today, on this 4th of July, something is rising up in me that is new. It has to do with the place for rage.

Anybody Black in America has a strategy, conscious or not, for dealing with rage. Some of us are lucky and stumble upon socially productive paths – we serve, we organize for change, we become leaders in our church. Others are less lucky and make choices that lead to violence and self-destruction. Some of us stay permanently in a place of rage, and become one kind of crazy or another.

I confess to having been, for all these years, a fairly reasonable sister, reticent to fully voice my heartbreak, pain and rage about the state of my people. But I’m reconsidering this path.

The moment clearly calls for a new way. We may have a Black president, but these are dark times. It’s Trayvon and Derrick. It’s the Supreme Court’s racist ruling on SB1070, allowing the blatant racial profiling of the “papers please” provision to move forward. All the talk about government agents stopping black and brown people in the street takes me back to slave times, when we needed papers to leave the plantation, when white men were paid to hunt for fugitive slaves, and why my great great great grandfather took his family to Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. It was time to protect his family and leave the madness of the United States of America.

The Black Community faces Depression-level unemployment, a resurgence racist Right and a level of state violence in our everyday lives that is largely invisible to most non-Black people. We have the greatest number of Black people incarcerated of any time in American history; there are more Black men under the control of the criminal justice system today than there were in slavery in 1850. In supposedly progressive San Francisco, Mayor Lee is openly considering New York’s notoriously racist “stop and frisk” policing policy. And even without such a draconian measure, the data already tell us that the majority of Black boys in San Francisco have been stopped, harassed, or arrested by the local cops by the time they become adults.

In the face of what can only be considered extreme conditions, extreme violence and extreme disenfranchisement amongst my people, I confess that I have failed to take the extraordinary measures that are plainly necessary.

See, the thing is, I had good home training and was socialized to be a nice Black girl. I can code-switch and communicate with nearly anyone with a passion that generally gains respect. Even when in the midst of political battle I don’t scream and holler, and have allowed any number of white people to do and say racist things and get away unharmed. Like so many of us, I try to be a Black person with dignity, without losing my shit. As Michael Jackson would say, I’m a lover not a fighter. This strategy has helped me gain social status, an elite education, and some middle class comforts of American life.

So what to do with this rage? What’s the path beyond reasonableness that does not lead to self-destruction? On this 4th of July, I’m remembering our freedom fighters Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and asking them for wisdom. In my own way and in these times, I want to walk with faith and fearlessness as they did, and not be afraid to put my body on the line for freedom. What sacrifices will we all need to make? What creature comforts or career plans will we need to put aside? What will it take to build a movement that lifts up the value of Black life and our place in a better, more just society?

In Michelle Alexander’s stunning book The New Jim Crow, she makes a clear case that since we won the formal battle against Jim Crow in the 1960s, “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” This contemporary, supposedly colorblind, system of mass incarceration and social control of Black people makes our work more complicated, our moral outrage less understandable and our courage ever more necessary.

Let’s build a movement for racial justice, honor our rage, and find a way to be the Frederick Douglass’ and Harriet Tubmans of the 21st century that these times require.

To support Derrick Gaines' family, donations can be made at any Wells Fargo to the 'Derrick Gaines Memorial Fund' account #: 1636477653.

You can check out Michelle Alexander's work on the New Jim Crow here. And stay tuned for community organizing against attempts to bring "Stop and Frisk" to SF.


rather than solves them.

Angry people aren't very persuasive. And by not describing the circumstances of this killing, you care more about being angry than being reasonable.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 3:36 am

There is a regular Guardian author who insists that the guy who shot himself while running from the cops on third street was actually killed by the cops. This is of course all while Ignoring ballistics and and other scientific methodologies involved.

The Guardian mindset is about what you feel entitled to, not what happens in the real world.

There are real racial issues involved in the real world, progressive middle class entitlement issues diminish real world problems by the out of touch nonsensical status. Progressive are angry just to be angry.

Posted by the "community" on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 4:35 am

If someone commits a crime we should not put them in jail if they happen to be of a certain race? These exposes always seem to be saying that crime is OK, if you are the victim of some sort of crime you just need to deal with it based on the race of the person who commits the crime.

If you are of a certain race, part of your sentence is being subject to others of your race making you a victim of crime with no strings attached?

Bernie Madoff, the Enron executives, inside traders, and all white collar criminals etc... Anyone who commits a crime associated with their race should get a pass. According to the mind set of the Bay Guardian "liberal" anyway.

These Guardian exposes clear all this up. We should all be angry at the victims of crime and not the people who commit them, stop reporting crime and it will go away. If you live in a poor area your sentence is dealing with people who want to take advantage of you.

By the way, the guy who killed the kid in Florida is in jail and being charged with various things, using the "logic" of this piece I suppose he should get a free pass? No one should ever call the police until they know the race of the person they have been the victim of. No laws should ever be enforced if as majority of the people who break them of are of as certain race.

Posted by the "community" on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 3:57 am

The over/under for blacks killing blacks in Chicago is 7 on any given weekend. Maybe you can shed your "mountain of tears" there for a little while.

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 6:09 am

Ms. Lee didn't provide the details of this tragic incident so I started Googling. Here is what I learned from various reports in the Chronicle, Mercury News and LA Times.

The officer stopped Derrick and a friend outside an ARCO station at 9PM based on suspicious behavior (no, they have not explained the nature of that behavior). The friend cooperated with the officer but Derrick ran. After a short chase, according to the officer, Derrick produced a handgun and the officer fired his weapon, killing Derrick.

Nobody on Derrick's side is denying that the 15 year old carried a handgun. A weapon was recovered at the scene.

Posted by Troll on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 6:55 am

"The over/under for blacks killing blacks in Chicago is 7 on any given weekend. Maybe you can shed your "mountain of tears" there for a little while."

From the Chicago Tribune today:

"Four men were killed and at least 19 other people, including a 16-year-old boy, were wounded in overnight shootings across the city, according to police.

Police responded to the violence on a steamy night punctuated by the constant calls of illegal fireworks. One of the shootings occurred in Washington Park on the South Side where hundreds of families were celebrating the July 4th holiday."

All the murders, and most of the shootings, occurred in black neighborhoods.

Of course, since none of the shootings were done by the cops, there is no need to express rage. It's just business as usual...

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 7:05 am

""The Black Community faces Depression-level unemployment, a resurgence racist Right and a level of state violence in our everyday""

And why no mention of black-on-black violence? Four people have been murdered in Hunter's Point over the past two weeks. All evidence points to gang warfare between local black gangs.

Where is your rage about that?

Why don't you find out who is going this, finger them, and get them behind bars?

Because you are living in fear in your own neighborhood and afraid to stand up for justice, that's why.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 8:46 am

So basically you are saying that ANY time a cop shoots and kills and African American it is murder, not self defense? Crazy.

Posted by D. native on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

wow, feels like the kkk are alive and kicking in sf based upon the vitriolic and racists comments expressed do you all address crime committed by whites against whites? do you cal it white on white crime? and if any of you knuckleheads had children murdered by cops, you'd be screaming for a full investigation, and it would be covered differently by the media, white children with criminal backgrounds or any history of trouble would be considered a "troubled" child, all mild-mannered like, when that kid could easily turn out to be the next serial killer, who, by most crime profiles is usually white, and whose victims are white... and your rage would be, what, justified? you can get angry here in your comments and expect it to be different for black folk?
if you don't like the "liberal" guardian, find a more conservative news source to jack off to...there are plenty.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

Tens of thousands I've heard - they're usually lead by the Asian progressive mayor and his Asian allies - along with a few white and black misfits and some very misguided Hispanics. But under those sheets no one ever knows - now do they?

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

"A straw man is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[1] To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.[1][2]"

The comical thing about this strawman argument is that I have white relatives who I wrote off long ago, if they ended up in jail I would encourage the sheriff to keep them for as long as possible for the safety of all involved.

These sour entitled ravings of the self appointed superior left are so comical. Black, white, or Latino, there is no reason to rationalise the criminal behaviour of your friends or relatives. The racialist progressives follow in the footsteps of such democrat luminaries as George Wallace.

Also basic punctuation and capitalisation escapes them.

Posted by the "community" on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

Right on for you, N'Tanya! These naysayers are pretty much the cheerleaders for the crimes committed against Blacks by white officers who are employed to protect the status quo.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

Don't hurt yourself
Love all forgive all
Fight the good fight with no concerns how it may end

Posted by Ray Balberan on Jul. 05, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

African-Americans are now only about 5% of the San Francisco population (down from around 12% in 1975)

Yet African-Americans get arrested for more than half of all murders committed in the City. And of those 50%, 49% are against men. So that's racism. And it is sexism.

Obviously plently profiling of African-Americans, and of Men, feel me?

Thank you and amen to Natanya for bring this up. You go girl, You go sister.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 6:27 am

so, just to clarify...they don't COMMIT half the murders, right?

Posted by Guest: on Jul. 08, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

I don't know if blacks commit half the murders. If they do, I think it has a lot to do with how this society treats black communities. But most arrests aren't for murders. Most arrests and jailings are for petty crimes, often victimless crimes, often non-violent drug offenses. And while whites and blacks use drugs at roughly equal rates, blacks are far more likely to be arrested. If the bias in murder arrests is hard to prove, then the bias in drug arrests is so in-your-face obvious that only the most amoral apologist would deny it.

Frankly, this whole country is a police state. No other nation imprisons such a high percentage of its citizenry. Scarcely any other country even comes close. But the problem takes on epic proportions in communities of color. Black men are several times more likely to be incarcerated than they were in the darkest days of apartheid South Africa. There's something wrong with that picture.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

then is it any surprise they get arrested for them?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 8:42 am

I was actually frighten by all the shallow comments that support a police state that shoots and ask questions later, if ever. The real fear is with the 'us' fearing that Blacks and other minority groups are somehow breathing the air that belongs to them only, the new minority, 'the white population'
. No consideration is focused on why so many black youth do commit crimes against themselves and others, no recognition of the Source of these actions. This knee jerk response to the problem that it is okay to gun down 15 year olds because they might or might not (in the case of Trayvon Martin) have a weapon is the real crime of society. We need to recognize ,recognize what you say? That's the problem One Love.

Posted by Guest A Young on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 10:32 am


The officer is claiming that the youth pointed a gun at him, a gun was in fact found at the scene. Assuming that his hand prints are in fact on the gun, then I am failing to see how this is murder or a hate crime. Sounding like the officer was trying to his his own life. Can't blame a guy for that.

Posted by D.native on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

The guy who killed Trayvon Martin looks to be going to jail, he seems to be pretty much loathed by the majority of the population, and yet he is part of the police state?

Is "shallow" not agreeing with you?

There is all sorts of considerations for why people do what they do, but if it reaches the point you are waving a gun around and pointing it at people, well it's past a certain point.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 07, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

We do indeed live in a fascist police whose stated purpose is to appress people of color.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

the government documents "whose stated purpose is to appress people of color."

There might be some Johnny Rebel songs or some manifesto from Henry Ford laying around, but those don't count.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 07, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

"No consideration is focused on why so many black youth do commit crimes against themselves"

What is the reason? Do tell.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2012 @ 5:14 pm