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FROM LAGOS TO ATLANTA, BLACK LEADERSHIP WON’T SAVE US WHILE ANTI-BLACKNESS MAINTAINS ITS GRIP

From Lagos to Atlanta, Black Leadership Won’t Save Us While Anti-Blackness Maintains Its Grip

As state forces descend on protesters in Nigeria, it’s clear that Black leadership alone isn’t a fix while capitalism and the effects of colonialism remain. 

TW/CW: mention of blood, murder, r/pe, and other things that may be too gruesome or gory for some. read with caution.

As I write this, thousands have taken the streets of Lagos, Nigeria in protest of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)—a branch of the Nigerian Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). The reason for the protests is similar to that of the reason thousands have been protesting here in the States for over six months: SARS has long been accused of the kidnapping, raping, and extrajudicial murder of Nigerian people. A video, alleged to be showing SARS officers murdering a Nigerian man, went viral on social media in early October. Officials claimed that the video was falsified, and arrested the person who filmed it. On October 8, protests ensued, calling for the abolition of SARS through the re-emergence of the hashtag “EndSARS.”

On October 11, the office of President Muhammandu Buhari tweeted, “The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) of the Nigeria Police Force has been dissolved with immediate effect.” Inspector General of Police later announced that to “fill the gaps” left by the disbanding of SARS, they would be implementing a new unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). And while the former SARS officers would not be allowed to join the SWAT Unit, they would be able to join other forces once they’re “redeployed.” This is not the first time the Nigerian authorities have promised to either disband or reform the force; in fact, it’s the fourth time. Protestors are demanding more, and as such, they have continued to protest in the streets of cities across Nigeria.

On October 20, protests got significantly more bloody. After a 24-hour curfew was imposed and anti-riot police were deployed, claims of the Nigerian military opening fire on protestors flooded social media feeds. One death that shocked social media users is that of Okechukwu Obi-Enadhuze, affectionately referred to as Oke. The details of his murder are murky, but what is clear is that Oke had spent 12 days tweeting in support of the #EndSARS movement, and in his final tweet he wrote, “Nigeria will not end me.” That tweet went viral, and when it crossed my Twitter feed, I just sat there. Stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Not because the idea of a Black life being taken, even suddenly by police, was unbelievable—on the contrary, it couldn’t be more believable—but because I couldn’t wrap my mind around how similar that story was to what so many of us have been experiencing here in the States.

I started organizing in 2014—the year that Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Antonio Martin were murdered by police. My work, while a result of the murders of Black people outside of Atlanta, was centered around police and other state-sanctioned violence in this city. In the last two decades, police have killed many Black people in the City of Atlanta, including: Kathryn Johnston, Nicholas Thomas, Alexia Christian, Deaundre Phillips, Caine Rogers, Jamarion Robinson, Anthony Hill, Oscar Cain, Jimmy Atchison, D’ettrick Griffin, and most recently, Rayshard Brooks. Brooks was murdered just weeks after uprisings sparked across the nation in response to several murders of Black people this summer. As such, Atlantans took to the streets for several months straight with the intent to honor Brooks’s life, wreak necessary havoc on the city, and to draw attention to the continued violence Black residents face here.

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For over 50 years, Atlanta has had a Black mayor and majority Black leadership. It has been and remains one of the most important and culturally relevant cities in the country, and perhaps even the world, which is why it is so often referred to as the “Black Mecca.” In many ways, people overlook the harm Black residents experience here because it is believed that since our leadership is Black, then we must be properly cared for. Atlanta is not often looked at as a city, but rather as a safe haven for Black people to live freely and happily. To this, some may ask, “Well what is a city?” or “Can’t it be both?” The answer is no. 

A city is, by design, a place always already unlivable. Cities are structures sustained by the exploitation of the Black, the working class, and our labor. Their sole purpose is to serve as an incubator for wealth and other forms of capital for the people who run them. At their core, cities are not intended to be inhabited or lived in. It is for this reason that so many people in cities around the country live on the streets and not in actual homes; why more residents, by the year, are working further away from their home, and why they then are spending more time and money on commuting from one place to the other; why childcare and education are becoming nearly impossible to obtain for many people. 

Africa is bleeding. And I don’t just mean the continent. By this I mean that the blood that painted the streets of Atlanta this summer is the same blood that dyed the Nigerian flag red in place of its white stripe.

Life in the city is sustained only by our ability to make money for the wealthy. As disparaging numbers in employment—and in pay for people with marginalized genders who are employed—plague Black communities across the country, life in the city can be sustained even less so by us. Most of this is hardly ever considered when talking about Atlanta. Not our homelessness rates, or the number of people unemployed here, or the number of people being displaced from their homes to further develop the city.

As I reflected on Oke’s death, I started thinking more intently about this. Nigeria is the largest Black country in the world and is led by a Black president, a Black police force, and other Black leadership. It is revered as the richest country in Africa; Lagos is referred to as the country’s “Big Apple”—an ironic nickname considering that New York, america’s “Big Apple,” is home to one of the most corrupt police forces in the nation. When one makes mention of Nigeria, they also mention the country’s entertainment. Where America has Hollywood and India has Bollywood, Nigeria has Nollywood. And at any given moment, you could hear a Nigerian artist on your radio; from Davido, to Wizkid, to Burna Boy, to Tiwa Savage—many of whom were featured on Beyoncé’s latest album and film, “The Gift” and “Black Is King”. 

Like Atlanta, Nigeria is engaged like a Black mecca and is thought to be one of the more relevant and influential nations when it comes to creating culture the world thrives on. Yet, also like Atlanta, Nigeria’s leadership has proven to be uninterested in protecting its citizens. The government becomes wealthy by association through the culture the citizens create while upholding anti-Black structures on which a city, state, and country are built.

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Several years ago, I penned an essay about the ways in which white supremacy uses the bodies of Black subjects to protect and maintain the power it wields. In that essay, I wrote about Black politicians like Bakari Sellers, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and others whose sole purpose as elected officials was/is to push the anti-Black, capitalist agenda of the state so as to invisiblize the real harm being done to Black people. In other words, they tout zionist rhetoric, allocate more funds to police, or displace Black people from their homes while maintaining that they are “down for the culture” and “with the people.” This is an intentional act of violence by the state. 

The idea is that, as long as Black leadership exists in positions of power, they can push the state’s agenda with less blowback. I learned this almost immediately when I started organizing here in Atlanta. It’s easy to see anti-Blackness when the leadership is white, especially if you don’t yet understand this harm as something that is institutional. When leadership is Black, like it was while I was at Morehouse College and like it continues to be in the city more generally, the critique of power is no longer “sticking it to the man” and quickly becomes “tearing the Black man [woman or person] down.” It is a particular and special form of violence.

In that way, I relate deeply to the very specific type of pain Nigerians are experiencing right now. Over the summer, it was Atlanta’s Black mayor who allowed the U.S. military to terrorize us in the streets; it was Atlanta’s majority Black city council that, instead of defunding the police as the city’s residents called for, chose to allocate over $217 million to the Atlanta Police Department for the 2021 fiscal year; it is Atlanta’s Black mayor who has facilitated the displacement of Black residents for most of her career. Because of this, I also know that the issue at hand cannot be simply summed up as “police brutality” or even “police violence.” This does not disappear with the disbanding of a single police force or a transition out of office from one Black leader to another. Black leadership cannot and won’t save Black people as long as anti-Black capitalism is a global phenomenon. And to this point, the only way we can ever escape this violence is through the total eradication of anti-Blackness itself.

The organizing happening both in Nigeria and in Atlanta is essential to the dismemberment of the anti-Black carceral state and the ways in which it uses Black subjects to do its bidding. But it must be framed as such. This requires more than reform; it requires the toppling of whole structures intended to kill us. In the immediate, Nigerians need us to show up for them, but in doing so we must always be cognizant of the fact that more is required. And we must remain that much more diligent as the state pushes the idea that Black subjects leading the charge against other Black subjects somehow erases the violence of anti-Blackness when it, in fact, only amplifies it.

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Africa is bleeding. And I don’t just mean the continent. By this I mean that the blood that painted the streets of Atlanta this summer is the same blood that dyed the Nigerian flag red in place of its white stripe. That same blood stains the ground on which little Congolese children perform slave labor so that the west can benefit from the DR Congo’s natural resources. It’s that same blood that flows through the streets of Haiti as Haitians continue ongoing protests that started more than a year ago, and as they continue to be killed, harassed, and beaten by their police for doing so. That blood fills the streams of Brazil as Afro-Brazilians continue to die at the hands of their police. Africa is bleeding. Africa has been bleeding. 

I’m reminded of this as so many of us give up our bodies, voluntarily or involuntarily, to the ongoing uprisings happening around the globe. We have suffered, bled, and died since the inception of this World, and there was never a choice. From the moment we were held captive at the genesis of colonialism’s hold on the Earth, we’ve bled. Our blood, in so many ways, fills the air and covers the floor of the ocean. That’s the legacy of the World, and no form of Black leadership can undo that.

So yes, we must #EndSARS, and we must abolish the Atlanta Police Department, and we must end the US occupation in the Congo, and we must end the exploitation of Black people around the globe. But if we want to close the wound, if we want the bleeding to stop, we must be committed to destroying the World on which anti-Blackness is built. Everything must burn.

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Da’Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Harrison is the author of the forthcoming book, “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness,” which is expected to be published in July 2021. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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