Why would a 75-year-old lady, a community leader, be left dead in the trunk of her car? This is the question Baton Rouge Police are trying to figure out today, as a community mourns. Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a renowned activist, was found dead in the trunk of her car last week, just 3 miles from her home. An autopsy concluded the cause of death was “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.” She was not strangled — her nose and mouth were blocked. Among other things, Roberts-Joseph founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum.
We must wait for the outcome of the investigation but regardless of who is responsible, the murder of civil right workers is, sadly, not unique. Since the murder of Michael Brown, activists linked with the Ferguson protests have routinely come up dead and often mysteriously. The death of Amber Evans, an activist who loudly called for police accountability, was ruled a suicide. But the conditions of her death seem to fit a running profile of strange, when it comes to Black activists. All of this recent history links to a very long and pronounced pattern of terrorism. From lynchings to the murder of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, the pattern is clear and very present. The better question is, what to do now?
The issue is power: significance, the ability to determine one’s course and defend their interests. The U.S drops bombs on weaker nations with little thought because those nations have no power. While many loathe the United States, they dare not send drones to Washington; not out of admiration but fear. In the final analysis, whether these deaths are prosecuted or not, holding an individual responsible will change little. Indeed, the very notion of Black America holding its breath, waiting for “justice” simply underlines the larger point that Black people in 2019 are still appealing to more powerful, oppressive forces to be more benevolent to us. That is a losing strategy and one that is completely unnecessary because no one can oppress us unless we give them the money to do so.
We protest police brutality and afterward gladly deposit our dollars into multinational banks, which built capital through the slave trade and currently invest heavily in a racist prison industry. We are angered by an unjust criminal justice system and yet continue to allow political actors- funded by corporate interests we empower with our dollars- to guard the status quo. We express outrage when local, elected representatives of the justice system act heinously but will not contribute to campaigns so as to allow more progressive actors to unseat those individuals. There is no single ounce of oppression we could not rid ourselves of in a ten year period if we simply rerouted the energy, anger and Facebook posts from protest into action economically. Replacing the “justice for” post with a “move your money here” post and following up will change these conditions and not the reverse.