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.