There is a power in raising our hands for Ferguson. We do not raise our hands like the Illuminati or a Rockefella [sicknowledge]; we do not raise our hands to act out an NWA lyric; we do not even raise our hands in an “Allah Akbar.” Instead, we raise our hands in surrender. Our submission is to the police. The power in raising our hands is with the police. It’s not an act of agency, but a recognition of the value(lessness) of brown and black bodies. This submission to authoritarianism should concern us.
From within my tradition, we have the story of Imam Husayn (AS), who died on the fields of Karbala, fighting against injustice and oppression. His hands were raised in prayer and struggle. It’s a powerful image for me, because when I think about the militarization of the police, and securitization of “minority” communities, it becomes too easy to see power and submit to that. And the power of the image is in reminding me where true power is.
However, power does not come from the barrel of the gun. It comes from the way society is organized to give people power, and that power is then exercised and enforced with the barrel of the gun. At the end of the day, it is about human action and human decisions. As a Muslim, I submit to God, but am bound by the laws and norms of my country. That does not mean I acquiesce to power, but that I seek justice. As Laura Brekke points out in her own piece on Ferguson, this attitude is not unique to Muslims.
If we have a call to fight for equal treatment before the law and equal respect from the state, we must organize society in that way. Ferguson did not happen as a lone moment. It is a moment amongst moments. Coming from New York, the name Mike Brown echoes back Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and so many more. It is the history of racism, and as Ta-Nehisi Coates argues, of slavery. It is the way we structure our society, and allow it be structured.
It is also our willingness to believe in the inherent goodness of the state and its operatives. But the state is made up of people, and we need to hold those people responsible. We need to hold the state responsible for the society we want. The reality is that there is a great deal of organizing that is happening, but it is to make the state an enforcer of division, and maintain the status quo. It is now dangerous to question the state, unless you are rich, because you will be accused of treason. John Crawford can be shot for having a gun and talking on the phone in an open carry state, but other people are more lucky.
Here’s my problem with raising hands to say ‘don’t shoot.’ It may keep us alive, but it submits us to the power of injustice. Raise our hands, in prayer, in struggle, to show we are the Illumanati who run the world. We need to use our hands to shape the society we want, and claim back that power.
Image: Battle of Karbala, from the Brooklyn Museum.