Kajieme Powell, Charles Kinsey, and “Blue Lives Matter” in an age of structural racism

August 19 was the two-year anniversary of the shooting death of Kajieme Powell, an unarmed black man who robbed a convenience store, and whose shooting at the hands of responding police was clearly documented on video from a bystander’s cellphone.  Powell’s killing was within a few miles and weeks of Mike Brown’s, on August 9, and the news was buried in the coverage of the protests surrounding Brown’s death.  In a way, however, Powell’s death presented a more troubling case, as cell phone footage clearly showed to any reasonable observer that the shooting was unjustified.  As I noted at the time, the officers who arrived on the scene decided to escalate with firearms before even stopping, and even their brief interaction with Powell should have convinced them that his cognitive processes weren’t normal (the video makes this abundantly clear).  It took them about 15 seconds from the moment they pulled up on the scene to open fire.  They didn’t bother to first talk to the shopkeeper who made the call, or to the eyewitnesses who had video footage of the entire incident, and their defense that Powell lunged at them was risible. Of course, after a year, the officers weren’t charged with anything.

After the apparent lone-wolf shooting of several police officers in Dallas, “Blue Lives Matter” has emerged as a slogan.  Fair enough: the officers, who were protecting and interacting peacefully with a Black Lives Matter protest, were apparently murdered in retaliation for police shootings elsewhere.  What does it mean to say that “lives matter,” though?  I want to push the point here that when we’re talking about “lives,” we’re talking about more than the biological process of living.  After all, most of us can imagine some sort of tipping point – perhaps being in a persistent vegetative state – where we would conclude that our own life was no longer worth living: that it no longer “mattered.”  To say that “lives matter” is to say something more than the obvious truth that police officers want to get home to their families in the evening.  It’s to say that their lives as police officers should be livable, supported lives.  And if you frame the question that way, I think it is very clear that the state apparatus has failed blue lives.  Not with the relentless intensity or in the same way that White Supremacy has failed black lives (I will say more about this in a subsequent post).  But a failure nonetheless, and a failure that needs to be remarked upon, because it is related to the failure to make black lives matter.

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