This is part three of a three part series. Read the introduction to the series and the first post here and the second post here. All articles linked to in this series are free to read through 2020. To access, click on the green PDF button above the article. Publisher platform may require registration (free).
The suppression of Black gathering and protest is a mode of social control that developed during enslavement and shapes modern policing systems. These structures protect white property at the expense of human life. From gang injunctions to the abduction and arrest of protesters, Black collectivity continues to be criminalized in the United States. As the authors in this mini-issue show, the shared survival, consciousness, and presence of Black Americans is a form of protest that does indeed threaten to dismantle the very structures of racial capitalism, white supremacy, and policing. The articles locate acts of gathering in response to deliberately delineated spatial patterns of racial domination in the U.S., recognizing a spectrum of protest forms that range from acts of subterfuge to marching in the streets. The visceral poetics of Hortense Spillers and Assata Shakur, socio-psychological renderings by Edward Palmer, and lyrical prose by Edna Edet, together, theorize how to collectively build a radicalized consciousness out of embodied experience—one that can create worlds outside of past and current spatial demarcations and affirm Black life.
With “A Day in the Life of Civil Rights” (1978), Hortense Spillers offers a creative piece on memory and reckoning in which multiple characters, literary forms, and experiences layer to capture Black voices and personalities, the harrowing impacts of the day, and a broader historical context. Narratives of protest, violence, and the destructive aftermath of resistance, provide a variegated image of gathering and embodiment under the threat of an increasingly militarized police force in 1968 Memphis, Tennessee. An April 4th letter, written by one “Vivian Henderson” on the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, chronicles the events of the previous day, when she was part of a group of young Black protestors who faced martial police violence on the city’s streets. Dr. King’s final speech at Mason Temple, a space of spiritual and political assemblage, is woven into the piece as the foundational refrain, touching the lives of different generations of Black Americans. Spillers’ framing of the letter’s narrative signals the painful outcome of the protest. The speaker “Betty Trammel,” is an on-duty hospital nurse who finds Vivian’s letter. Betty channels Dr. King’s words, her own wartime and activist past, and that days’ on-going protests while tending to a young Black man injured in the previous evening’s events. This article, like Shakur’s essay introduced below, centers the experiences of Black women, not only as they care for their community, but also as they explore and reflect on how to respond to the oppression surrounding them. With various depictions of embodied resistance in the face of hawkish white claims for power and property, as well as the resounding impact of Dr. King’s speech at Mason Temple, Spillers’ work emphasizes the perils and weariness of staying “strong” amid a seemingly endless struggle for racial justice. The protagonist imagines with hope and doubt “That it was always possible tomorrow, or was it right now, to be released from the awful onus of nightmare and locate one’s own stage of action, even beyond sorrow and self-pity, even beyond the edicts of the willful and the thrusts of assassins.” In a final note of ambiguity, the narrative concludes with the nurse considering the fortifying process of building “a private myth from the tattered fragments of loss and disappointment” in order to bring a new world into view.
In relation to the threats against Black gathering, Assata Shakur’s visionary essay “Women in Prison: How We Are” (1978) explicates how different spatial and social oppressions restrict Black gathering and imaginaries. The architecture of the city, with its tenements and “transient neighborhoods” fostering “no sense of community,” is reminiscent of her experience of incarceration at Rikers Island where “women prisoners rarely refer to each other as sisters.” Shakur states that Rikers Island reflects the city where “poverty is the same. The alienation is the same.” Shakur writes the city as a site of intense coming together—in forced poverty and in common experience—as well as intense fracturing, a feature necessarily and brutally repeated at Rikers Island. Shakur states that the city “removed us from our strengths, from our roots, from our traditions.” She desires a consciousness that returns Black women to embodied cultural memory, memories of women who “carry on the tradition of fierce determination to move on closer to freedom.” Shakur describes the lives of the mostly Black and Puerto-Rican women in prison that reflect the violent institutions, social pressures, and distorting cultural values that led to their incarceration. The article explores the tension between the racist and sexist structures that the women at Rikers come up against, and the type of community and consciousness Shakur wants to cultivate. Shakur’s narrative brings us back not only to the question of crafting consciousness, but also to an awareness of how space can dictate what sorts of worlds people feel that they can imagine. When physical and psychic gatherings are threatened by enclosure and containment, Shakur hopes that we can conjure empowering connections to the past and future to form community in the present. “Women in Prison: How we are” is a presentist insurgency, a detailed description of racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist structural abuse, and the despair and hopelessness generated by these structures, boiled down into a cell. Released from prison, women feel like they have nowhere to go, nothing towards which to move. As such, it is also a declaration of desire for a collective method of activist-being for Black women, for a futurist plan that begins with a recollection of a rich past and a conscious analysis of political aggressions.
An activist for Black freedom, Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army and Black Panther Party. She participated in the Black liberation movement through broader freedom struggles including the student rights movement and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. She was incarcerated for the outcome of a 1973 shoot-out with New Jersey State police officers who pulled her over allegedly driving with a faulty taillight. Shot twice herself, the exchange of fire killed one of the officers. Two people were killed, Black Liberation Army activist Zayd Malik Shakur who was in the vehicle with Shakur, and Trooper Werner Foerster, who arrived in a second police car. Calling herself a “20th century escaped slave,” Shakur escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 to haunt the FBI most wanted list into the 21st Century. Several aspects of Shakur’s biography figure the structural war on Black life, thought, and freedom that manifest in continued fatal police aggression, hypercriminalization of Black citizens convinced of their own freedom, judicial bias, and miscarriage of justice.
Edward Palmer’s vision for an alternate world addresses the character of Black policing. His essay changes in tone from pessimism to pragmatic hope in a revolutionary consciousness among Black police officers essential for Black liberation. Palmer’s “Black Police in America” (1973) saliently conveys white threats to Black gathering, not only in so-called white spaces but also in Blacks’ own neighborhoods. Palmer was a Black policeman for the city of Chicago and was exposed to the oppressive power structures in place that target Black sites—both spatial and psychological. He follows the metonymic figure of the Black police candidate from his childhood in the “lower-middle class ghetto” to his metamorphosis into “super-citizenry.” In the midst of this transformation, Palmer notes, the candidate is armed with a uniform and a gun that separates him from his community and, subsequently, his identity. This follows a similar thread from articles by Robert L. Allen and Terry Jones, published earlier in the Social Justice Handbook, that take internal neo-colonialism and epidemic police violence as theoretical lenses from which to view anti-Blackness. What distinguishes Palmer is his thought-provoking, if controversial, statement on the potential for Black police officers to radically transform the police structure from within by “protect[ing] Black people from white oppressors and from themselves.”
Arguing that the act of protest is fundamentally human, Edet’s historical survey “One Hundred Years of Black Protest Music” (1976) attests to how Black musical forms emerge from and respond to their social, spatial, and material conditions. During enslavement, Black people consciously found ways to express their grievances surreptitiously through spirituals that “referred to the conditions of slavery obliquely” and, thus, went unnoticed and unrestricted. Work songs and convict songs—developed from the experiences of individuals brought together under conditions of captivity—illustrate how protest music houses and manifests the embodied cultural memory that Shakur conjures as possibility on Riker’s Island. The song leader, who Edet calls “a psychologist, able to select the exact song for a particular situation,” would attune the melody and accompaniment to the physical movement the labor demanded. Protest music vocalizes resistance within and against disciplinary spaces. Through these songs, which erupt forth from Edet’s pages, Black people express collective visions of Black liberation and “Say ‘em loud, say ‘em clear, for the whole round world to hear.”
Police brutality, incarceration, deprivational segregations, and work gangs bind and quarter. Violent incursions on Black struggles for freedom take endless state-sanctioned forms as Black insistence on freedom persists. These authors provide a specific vision of persistent structures and deployments of racism that transmit structures of slavery into new generations through white civilian aggression, racist policing, the court system, and incarceration. Systems of quartering are upheld by violence. There is no romance to such forms of abuse or their calling out. In these articles, authors identify avenues for activism as thought practice and labor that remain pertinent in 2020, a watershed year in its undeniable display of the immediate deadly consequences of identifiable racist structural violence. They animate the necessity of fundamental shift in structures of thought around Blackness towards anti-racist conceptions of Black life and Black citizenship that support freedom and also legal protection for all. The systems that condition and precede the body, that condition white supremacist racialized citizenship require dismantling in order to begin to disrupt the vile loop of the state’s structural disposition against Black liberty.
The instrumentalization of diverse comings together and recognitions of chosen and forced collectivities distinguish this mini-issue. Alongside the violence they call out, these pieces identify the power of insistent collectivity, creativity, self-definition, and mutual recognition as mundane conditions and tools of Black life. By illustrating Black critical and creative practices within, on the margins of, and boldly beyond racist geographic and structural boundaries, these articles speak to how violent policing of Black spaces and people both impedes and catalyzes the body’s ability to shift, develop, and regenerate itself. It is in these transformative processes, sometimes as tenuous as they are hopeful, that Black Americans have led, and continue to lead, coalitions of people from around the world in the collective fight against global injustice.
Stephanie Leigh Batiste
Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara, Departments of Black Studies and English
Nadia Ahmed, Anita Raychawdhuri, Erick John Rodriguez, and Maite Urcaregui
Graduate students, University of California, Santa Barbara, Hemispheric South/s Research Initiative
*The Social Justice Handbook Series authors would like to thank Louis Chude-Sokei for his co-curation and support of this archival project.
 Hortense Spillers, “A Day in the Live of Civil Rights,” The Black Scholar, vol. 9, no.8/9 (1978): 20-27,.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 12.
 Assata Shakur, “Women in Prison: How We Are,” The Black Scholar, vol. 9, no. 7 (1978): 8-15, 13.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 15.
 Bim Adewunmi, “Assata Shakur: from civil rights activist to FBI’s most wanted,” The Guardian, Sun 13 Jul 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/13/assata-shakur-civil-rights-activist-fbi-most-wanted. Accessed by authors Nov 2, 2020
 Edward Palmer, “Black Police in America,” The Black Scholar, vol. 5, no. 2 (1973): 19-27, 19.
 Ibid., 23.
 Robert L. Allen, “Reassessing the Internal (Neo) Colonialism Theory,” The Black Scholar, vol. 35, no. 1 (2005): 2-11; Terry Jones, “The Police in America: A Black Viewpoint,” The Black Scholar, vol. 9, no. 2 (1977): 22-31, 36-39.
 Edward Palmer, “Black Police in America,” The Black Scholar, vol. 5, no. 2 (1973): 19-27, 27.
 Edna Edet, “One Hundred Years of Black Protest Music,” The Black Scholar, vol. 7, no. 10 (1976): 38-48, 38.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 48.