Fascism is about enemies. Black people were always on the frontline. It’s the most obvious fact of American history…and one people like me never fully grasped.
When Donald Trump cleared Lafayette Park with pepper gas and the thwack of shields, when he did his lazy march to a transparently idiotic photo op, it seemed a tipping point for this country. We stared into the roiling cauldron of fascism.
It was easy to see why. Helicopters thwacked protesters away. Federal cops chased citizens into private homes. Across the country, MAGA-empowered police shot tear gas and paint grenades and rubber – and sometimes real – bullets at people protesting thuggish police violence. Good cops were
For a time, it seemed like Trump’s cruel stunt overshadowed the meaning of the protests, about the searing cry that Black lives matter. It seemed, on that terrible Monday night, somehow only two days ago as I write this, that the enemies of Black lives and of American freedom had merged, and that Trump’s authoritarianism was about to overwhelm us all.
That’s bullshit, of course. The fascism was always there. The police state was always there. It was just that white people were now beginning to be considered enemies.
Because, really, what is a police state? If there is any non-academic definition, any meaning for daily life, it is a state where the police are empowered to be an occupying force and to see the people as enemies. It is a state where the authorities entrusted with violence have a responsibility only to the class they protect.
It’s pretty obvious now, and should have always been, that Black lives have forever been lived under a police state.
There is no time, and really no place, in our history where police have consistently treated Black people as full citizens. They have never had the protection of the state. Every day has been a day where they have had to prove that they deserve to live.
This is extremely different than what white Americans are used to. Even white criminals who see the police as enemies aren’t inherently the Other. Their enmity comes from action, not blood.
And for the rest of us? For myself? The lacerating knowledge that I’m complicit. Even if I loathe the carceral state, and march and sign petitions and donate, my comfort is built upon the bones of others. Twas ever thus. It is lacerating and shameful, but that’s not the point right now. My admiration for police in my family or friends isn’t the point. My story isn’t valuable.
But…I get it now, at least a little more. Even safe in my lily fastness, it is beginning to be clear what a police state truly looks like. It looks like unidentified cops given full authority. It looks like armored cars patrolling the streets. It looks like Evergreen Park jabronis decked out like they’re in Fallujah. It looks like good cops being outnumbered, like in a cartel drama. It looks like what it means to be occupied.
That’s what Trump is doing- that’s his ultimate evil. He’s soaked up the violence. He thrives in an “exterminate the brutes” fury. He both is enlarged by and gives succor to the worst elements of the law. He draws everything into his dark gravity, unleashing a fury.
What he does, in his rhetoric and his actions, is expand the circle of enemies. There’s no real ideology here, except self-protection, but that’s what is happening. He wants to test the loyalty of soldiers, federal troops, and police unions across the country. He wants to make everyone who is against him the Other.
This isn’t to compare suffering. This is certainly not to say that my white body is a level target with Black bodies. This isn’t even to say that my life will materially change if there is a true slide into fascism.
It’s just to say that when we talk about the last few months of increasing unstable authoritarianism, that’s stupid. When we talk about the last few years, that’s nuts. When we talk about the post 9/11 militarization of the nation’s police, that’s shortsighted. All these last terrible years were doing was expanding fascism…not starting it.
So many of us ignored it for too long. So many of us ignored that the people on the front lines of fascism were real people, real humans, who feel and hurt and love and die. Too many of us thought that it was a goddamn shame and hopefully this will be a change! Too many of us thought that Black Lives Matter without ever thinking about what it meant for those lives to be alive.
And now? That police state has been empowered. That police state is growing. That police state can expand its idea of enemies. It can expand who is the Other. But that designation isn’t new. Occupation isn’t new. This country has always needed enemies. And they have always been next door.
It can happen here. It’s happened here for centuries.