On January 9th in the woods of Lake Stevens, Washington Ben Keita was killed with no signs of hope for justice. Another one of our Black children is gone. They will say he was a man because he was 18. They will say race has nothing to do with it. They may even say he was holding a weapon, or intoxicated, or illegally selling cigarettes, or whistling at a white woman, but regardless of their justifications and dismissals, the reality is that another one of our Black boys is dead.
This is how white supremacy welcomes us into the new year.
Like Sandra Bland and Kendrick Johnson, Ben Keita’s likely lynching is accompanied by suspiciously vague circumstances. The coverage of this clear case of wrongdoing is lazy at best—most headlines simply suggest that he died, not that he was killed. At worst, this tepid coverage is another example of how much white supremacy lies at the heart of mainstream media. The FBI plans to review the situation rather than investigate. This is a clear delineation that shows just how little this concerns the mainstream (read: white) community.
To say we are outraged is an understatement.
How could Keita string himself up from a tree in the woods with a noose on a branch more than 50 feet above the ground? Although suicide is a serious and urgent issue in the Black community, everything about this screams lynching. The FBI referred to the police as their partners in this process. My instinct and even the most basic historical analysis lead me to believe that there will be more of the same. If Jordan Peele’s prolific film Get Out taught us anything, it is that Black people exist in a horror film that all white people are in on.
There were 3,446 Black lynching victims between 1882 and 1968. Police violence has killed more Black people than any comparable chunk of that era. The latest resurgence of lynchings in the US may be the start of these new dogs reverting to old tricks.
2008: Brandon McClelland
2011: James Craig Anderson
2013: Alfred Wright
2014: 17-year-old Lennon Lacy.
This is the land of free labor and the home of the slave. It is a place where Muslim women face harassment, innocent immigrant children are threatened by unwarranted ICE raids, white boys literally get away with murder, and police are routinely rewarded for murdering Black and Native people. This case is no different. The review process was not transparent, and the only reason the medical examiner changed the finding from suicide to undetermined is because of pressure from Keita’s family. When it comes to justice, we are given crumbs then called ungrateful when our stomachs growl. Several loved ones and coworkers close to Keita were never approached before the police shut down their so-called investigation.
While we watched Mahershala Ali become the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, some cop was closing a file with this young Muslim brother’s name. It is truly disgusting and exhausting to exist in this state of contradictions.
I am ready to get indignant. I am Fannie Lou Hamer-level sick and tired. Neither our lives nor our deaths seem to matter. Affluent white people are more willing to retweet adorable cats than tell their friends and family it’s not ok to post #AllLivesMatter in the midst of these Black deaths.
Why does any of this matter if we can’t do anything about it?
I am 100% sure that Harriet Tubman, Toussaint Louverture, and Assata Shakur asked the same thing at some point. We have to decide whether we have reached the same point of no return. If Harriet Tubman had a gun to your head demanding that you get free, would you stay or go? Would you be willing to swing a machete in the Haitian revolt? What is today’s equivalent of escaping from a federal prison like Assata Shakur? We are living in a state of perpetual numbness. Unless and until we are willing to sacrifice our comfort in exchange for freedom, this will continue to be the norm.
So my message is this: get angry.
Be fired up enough to finally erupt on the institutions and individuals who perpetuate and benefit from our struggle. The only way Ben Keita will get justice is if we take it. We cannot wait for a celebrity or a hashtag. We need to get mad now. The intersection of praxis and rage are our greatest asset, and it is time we take advantage of that.