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    Black Lives Matter protesters | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 June 2015
No one died in the recent racist policing incident in McKinney. But the fear is that someone else's name will be etched soon.

When I first noticed #McKinney alongside #BlackLivesMatter appear on social media earlier last week, I knew it couldn’t be good. Who was “next” in line? I immediately thought to myself.

It was the same feeling I had when I met up with a friend a few weeks ago in New York, when suddenly her smartphone buzzed with the hashtag #BrendonGlenn, the name of a 29-year-old unarmed, homeless Black man in Los Angeles, who was later remembered as a lover of organic farming and a proud father of a baby boy.

Late one evening in early May, an LAPD officer shot and killed Brendon outside a bar near the Venice boardwalk. One witness reported that before Brendon died, he wept for about three minutes, crying, “Why did you do this? Why did you do this?” His name crossed the screens of thousands in the ensuing hours.

But #McKinney, I soon found out, was not the “next” Black man or woman in the very visible invisible line of fire that has been aiming at African-Americans for centuries, but rather the name of a city in northeastern Texas, a region with some of the worst economic segregation in that state according to a 2012 Pew report. An entire city was on trial.

As we all know now, the incident began in early June when one white resident began yelling racial slurs at a group of Black youth at a local community pool, including things like “black effer” and “that’s why you live in Section 8 homes.” Police officers were quickly dispatched to the upscale neighborhood after complaints that “multiple juveniles at the location, who did not live in the area or have permission to be there, [were] refusing to leave.”

The “multiple juveniles” were, in fact, young Black teenagers whose skin color was deemed unwelcome in this part of town. In Rambo fashion, officers chased after the Black youth, ordering them to the ground before cuffing them. One now infamous officer grabbed a young Black teen girl in her bathing suit by her head, forced her to the ground, and planted his two knees onto her back. Video by a young, white ostensibly invisible bystander shows the officer drawing his gun on the surrounding Black teens. On the Daily Show thereafter, comedian Jessica Williams ingeniously captured the uneasiness of #McKinney when she said, “This is progress because a cop pulled a gun on a group of black kids and no one is dead.”

No one is dead. Though it’s clear that Williams said this in (mostly) jest, it’s true that a lifeless Black body has become the expectation, the marker on the alternate timeline that the Black Lives Matter movement has radically rendered visible since its inception in July 2013 when Florida jurors acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, armed with a packet of Skittles, AriZona iced tea, and his hoodie.

Since the birth of the movement in the summer of 2013, Black Lives Matter has made a real transhistorical contribution to a politics of time-making. Indeed, the movement has managed to institutionalize a radical reality of Black American temporality to the larger twenty-first century public, one that was already known far too well in African American communities for centuries.

Taking to the web and to the streets, Black Lives Matter has unearthed the graves and collected the ashes of those deceased Black brothers and sisters to connect the dots across space and time. Whether placing a historical marker in a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri or parking lot of a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, the movement has elevated a timeline created by white supremacy whereby a Black person in the United States is murdered by a police officer or law enforcement agent every 28 hours.

Black Lives Matters has catapulted this timeline of death, measured by the names of deceased (and almost deceased) Black men and women, unsettling the complacent historical foundation of white supremacy that founded this nation.

We know their names, places, and years: Amadou Diallo (New York, N.Y., 1999). Prince Jones (Fairfax County, Virginia, 2000). Timothy Thomas (Cincinnati, Ohio, 2001). Sean Bell (New York, N.Y., 2006). Oscar Grant (Oakland, California, 2009). Who’s “next”? Aiyana Jones (7 years old, Detroit, Michigan, 2010). Ramarley Graham (New York, N.Y., 2012). Rekia Boyd (Chicago, Illinois, 2012). Trayvon Martin (Sanford, Florida, 2012). Can you keep up? Kimani Gray (New York, N.Y., 2013). Eric Garner (Long Island, New York, 2014). Is there time to mourn? John Crawford III (Beavercreek, Ohio, 2014). Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri, 2014). Tamir Rice (12 years old, Cleveland, Ohio, 2014).

A seemingly endless list that almost feels like it develops its own sense of agency. The feeling of rage in making the “list,” articulating the timeline, the tears and weeping families and friends hidden somewhere lost between the letters and numbers.

Yet, Black Lives Matter has also shown us that time is no static thing. As historian Walter Johnson argues in an essay on slavery and historical temporality, “New World slave rebels were making history by re-making time.” The “list,” the timeline, is mobilized by Black Lives Matter activists and supporters to make visible the urgent temporality, to honor the dead, to fight back, to organize, and to reclaim. They are embarking on a revolutionary remaking of time that strings together the constellation of Black Power and resistance, summoning the spirit of the Amistad slave rebels, Sojourner Truth, Fred Hampton, Steve Biko, to the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, and McKinney. The movement is, as Johnson writes, unsettling this “single story of progress: the metanarrative of racial liberalism—the story of black freedom and racial acculturation, of how black slaves became American citizens.”

Yes, no one is dead in McKinney. But the timeline, the monster-like “list,” insists that someone else’s name will be etched soon.

Yesenia Barragan is a PhD Candidate in Latin American History at Columbia University, where she is writing a dissertation on freedom and the abolition of slavery in nineteenth-century Colombia.

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