"Let me inform you of who I am. I do not participate in any of you guys’ side laws or any of that. I do not participate in it."
I watched the video of Korryn Gaines’ traffic stop arrest in awe. Korryn literally refused to participate in the police state, and I’d never seen anything like it.
Korryn repeatedly asked the officer who he was, what authority he had over her, and where that authority came from. (She never received as satisfactory answer- because, as I touched on in Part I, the authority of this officer sits on nothing but centuries of genocide, centuries of slavery, centuries of theft, and present day threats of violence.)
She refused to use the framing and language of the police state we have all been trained to use: "Sir. You’re tryna steal my car, and you’re telling me that if I don’t get out the car, you’re going to kidnap me, and probably planning on kidnapping my kids too."
In saying “kidnap” instead of “arrest” and “steal” instead of impound, she challenged the idea of the police as greatly different than other group of armed and organized people who impose their will on communities.
Since Korryn saw the authority of the US police as illegitimate- which is fully reasonable- and since she also saw them as non-exempt from the perception and treatment she would give any other group of armed people attempting to exercise their will upon her…. when she looked at the police she just saw 3 armed men, who were part of an organized group that had been after her for months, who stole her tags, and were now trying to take her car.
“Why would I get out of my car? Why would I allow y’all to steal my car? WHY?!”
It was as if, instead of engaging with a known state actor on a street in 2016 who was saying he was going to take her car, Korryn was a woman in 1758 who had just encountered a white man in the forest for the first time, and the white man was trying to tell her that he had the authority to take her dog because King George II said so.
I so often hear scholars and organizers imploring us to “decolonize your mind!” But how many of us are brave enough to actually do it? To literally refuse to mentally participate in the frame, the language, the cognitive control of the police state? To take our minds there, to the height of resistance?
This is important. If, over something petty- like oh you from this block and we heard you was walking around on this other block, you know that’s not allowed- a gang (who had previously hurt her and caused her to lose a child!) busted into Korryn’s house talmbout “We’ve come to abduct you, let us in!” And she was like "Naw." And held her kids close and pulled out her rifle to defend her home. And said “If y'all dont leave me alone I'm gonna kill you.” Folks would be out here like wow so brave. So strong. So motherly. But because it the armed group of people were police, and the petty infraction were legal misdemeanors, and the abductors were taking her to jail... Korryn is crazy, she’s extreme, she’s a bad mother.
In reality, the thing that is extreme and bizarre in the American police state. This is an institution that was literally born out of Indian patrols and slave catchers. It’s authority was established via genocide, slavery, and theft. Any social contract that established it, and saw citizens agree to give it power in exchange for the service of “safety” was agreed to at a time when black people had no vote and no power as citizens, when we did not count as full human beings. That social contract has been re-ratified over and over again in, as we are seeing this election cycle, a political system where (when we are even allowed to vote) black people have no real choice. And the power this institution has today is backed up only by that social contract, by violence, and by the threat of violence. Yet, in the post- apocalyptic existence of the American Negro, we are expected to recognize, defer to, be grateful for, and praise the authority of this institution as though it were something we were ever meant to survive.
I believe that Korryn saw this whole set-up as bizarre. I believe she felt that pretending it isn’t bizarre and going along with policing meant engaging in a dangerous charade. And I believe she saw participating in the charade as antithetical to her freedom, and therefore refused to do so. That doesn’t make her crazy or foolish- that makes her a visionary, it makes her not of this time. It makes her a black girl who visited us from the future- a future where the police state has been dismantled and the world of today is recognized as the bizarre social landscape that it is.
Korryn Gaines was a freedom fighter, and she taught me.
PART I. KORRYN GAINES, THE STATE'S SPECTER OF DEATH, AND THE SHAM OF AMERICAN POLICING
Korryn Gaines was a freedom fighter, and she’s taught me so much from just one one video. In a twenty minute filmed interaction where she encounters the police after being pulled over for not having valid tags on her car, Korryn makes it plain that there is absolutely nothing undergirding our police or their authority except violence and the threat of it.
Korryn: They not gonna steal my vehicle, and they not gonna kidnap me the way they think that they are. They’re gonna have to kill me today.
Officer: Nobody wants to kill you over an uninsured vehicle.
Korryn: That is exactly what you guys wanna do.
Korryn was right. The state had seized her tags, and she believed they had been seized illegitimately so she felt no need to exit her car and have it be taken from her. Because she was not going to exit her car, she knew she would be arrested. Because she felt no need to give up her freedom that day (see Part IV), she was not going to be arrested willingly. And because she was not going to willingly allow herself to be arrested, she knew she was facing potential death. See, the way our policing system set up….
a. Armed strangers approach you and tell you you need to do or stop doing something
b. You do whatever the armed strangers say, or they attempt to arrest you
c. If you resist against the strangers’ attempts to take you away and hold you against your will, they taze you, beat you up, or kill you.
This if-then sequence must proceed accordingly, no matter how petty the original order from the police. It must to proceed this way under our system of policing because, paradoxically, violence and murder are the police’s foundational tools for keeping law in order in our society.
And because America believes that it is essential for every infraction to be punished in some way or else our society will quickly unravel. And because America believes that the authority of the police must be maintained at all costs, even if it means they must kill someone in the process of making the person do what they want- lest that authority (which again is grounded only on violence) be diluted or delegitimized and the police become unable to keep us “safe.”
It is hard, under these beliefs, for us to imagine a different way of enforcing laws and keeping society running. We shrug and say “Well but we need people to do what the police say. Law and order has to be maintained at some point,” and the unspoken ending to that sentence is “by any means necessary.”
Death then becomes a reasonable, rational, justifiable, and legal consequence for any infraction. For driving without tags. For jaywalking. For selling loose cigarettes. For walking down the street minding your business and rejecting a stop and search.
Korryn knew this. She knew that her defiance and unwillingness to participate in what she called the “criminal fuckin activities” of the police during a traffic stop was punishable by death, and she called it out. She was saying she knew society accepts that in order to preserve law and order generally, the death penalty is a valid consequence for doing petty crimes but wanting to remain free. She was saying she knew society accepts that living under the state’s specter of death is a sacrifice we must make to live in “safe” communities.
And she was saying that is a sham.
Korryn Gaines was a freedom fighter, and she taught me.