Hamster lives matter. They matter more than the life of a 21-year of Black man. At least, according to Kansas City, Missouri Chief of Police Darryl Forté. On Thursday, July 9th, Javon Hawkins was shot by Kansas City, Missouri police (“KCPD”). There is conflicting information regarding the events that led up to the encounter with KCPD. Some eyewitnesses say he had a pipe, while other accounts place a sword in his hand. The encounter with KCPD sent Javon to the hospital, where he died later that night.
We know the routine well, by now. Law enforcement officer shoots and kills a Black person. Officer is placed on administrative leave. Internal investigation finds officer was justified in taking another Black life because he felt his life was in danger. Wash, rinse, repeat.
In the hours and days that followed, KCPD released almost no information about the circumstances surrounding the killing. It was virtually non-existent in local news coverage. A search of social media turned up nothing on the young man. All of this culminated to create the illusion that Javon Hawkins didn’t exist; that he was not a full human being connected to a larger community. But that’s what law enforcement is counting on. They are counting on this case to go the same way as all the others; that no one will notice another Black man killed by police; that it will be swept under the rug; that no officers will be indicted; that yet another Black life will not matter.
To make matters worse, KCPD has reached a new level of boldness in their disregard for Black lives. Due to the impotence and utter uselessness of local media – who repeatedly fail to challenge any questionable act by local police departments, including the role of KCPD in the Javon Hawkins homicide – a community member asked Forté for more information on the shooting via Twitter. This is the response they received:
Yes, you read that correctly. KCPD’s Chief Darryl Forté was delayed in responding to requests for information surrounding the murder by police of another Black man because he was busy tending to a sick hamster.
Y’all, #HamsterLivesMatter. And if the above tweet wasn’t demeaning enough, Forté followed it up a few days later with what could reasonably be perceived as tweets mocking the community member’s inquiry into Javon’s killing.Chief Forté subsequently blocked the community member and two other community activists when they challenged KCPD’s silence on Javon’s death.
This murder by police is the latest in a series of similar killings by law enforcement that have occurred locally, and across the country in the last few years.
In September of 2014, police in Utah killed Darrien Hunt, a Black man, who officers say was holding a “samurai-type sword” before he was killed from six bullets shot from behind. Some say Darrien was into cosplay and that the sword was related to this. Turns out, the sword was a blunt-edged fake replica of a katana, or Japanese sword.
In June of this year, police killed, Deng Manyoun, a Black man seen swinging a pole in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad said, “I don’t think the officer had an opportunity to transition to a less lethal option.”
In May of 2014, officers near San Francisco shot and killed Oscar Herrera after they were called to investigate reports by his sister that he was having a mental breakdown. Herrera allegedly met officers at the door with a bat. One month prior, Santa Clara, California police shot and killed a suicidal 53-year-old woman after she allegedly charged police with a bat. In February 2014, Alameda County sheriff deputies shot and killed a 61-year-old man in Castro Valley, California after he allegedly swung a bat at them.
Where there is a gang of police brandishing firearms and Tasers, is it truly reasonable that the penalty of death be imposed upon a single person wielding a bat or pole? If so, we have reached a new low in the valuation of human life in this country.
But let’s get back to the blatant disrespect on the part of KCPD. Not only do they show contempt for the lives of people of color by failing to employ non-lethal de-escalation techniques, they have the audacity to place the importance of the life of a hamster above that of a Black man. Imagine the family of Javon Hawkins seeing that tweet. The callousness with which law enforcement in this country treats Black lives is deplorable – and why a movement such as #BlackLivesMatter is necessary. When the actions from an apparatus of the state, such as the police, reflect the devaluation of Black lives, it is imperative that people who give a damn about the liberation of all oppressed people raise their voices and move their feet in affirmation of the inherent value of Black life.
Why Black life? Why #BlackLivesMatter? Because, as Scot Nakagawa stated in an article from 2012, “anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” As Nakagawa explains, “there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.” In other words, anti-Black racism is used as the primary tool to oppress Black people, but also Latinos, Asians, women, queer people, and anyone who does not present as a white, straight, cisgender, heterosexual male. This is why we unapologetically assert that when Black people get free, everyone is free. When Black people are liberated, we will all know liberation.
The system of policing in this country is built on the bodies of Black people. Police departments were birthed from the pre- and post-Civil War slave patrols and Night Watches, the purpose of which was to control the behavior of enslaved Africans. The function of early police departments continued through Reconstruction and Jim Crow all the way through the War on Drugs, trampling Black bodies along the way. Modern policing carries on this tradition. Like the slave patrols and Night Watches, modern policing is an affront to the humanity of Black people and all oppressed communities. The tweets by KCPD Chief Forté are a natural extension of the disregard for the dignity of Black people. Even in death can we not evoke some semblance of basic respect from police. If you ask any KCPD officer they will tell you the number one priority is “officer safety.” But “officer safety” is costing lives. The need for police to protect themselves has overtaken their so-called duty to “protect” the community. That places them at odds with the well-being of the community.
It appears that there is only one option for police if they encounter a person with a sword, bat, or pole in their hand – shoot to kill. If police, armed with firearms, can’t handle a person holding a sword, or if their first instinct is to shoot to kill a person holding a bat, then they need to find another line of work. If police are incapable of holding themselves accountable and are committed to upholding the status quo, it is time for radical change. This is the inevitable response to the misuse of the public trust and the false narrative that police perpetuate – that their use of lethal force should almost never be questioned because their job is unusually dangerous.
Police willingly signed up for the job. Their employment as officers is not the result of a mandatory draft. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Moreover, the dangerousness of policing is a myth and has been debunked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most police work is one of the safer jobs one can have. Law enforcement is not even in the top ten of deadliest jobs. And when they are killed on the job, most die in accidents (mostly auto), not from firearm assault, according to the FBI.
It’s time to change the narrative. It’s time for radical change. It’s time to take back power and remove the boot on the neck of Black lives – by any means necessary. The level of callousness is reaching unacceptable levels. Not only are police taking Black lives, they are mocking Black lives – openly. It’s time they are reminded that they serve at the pleasure of the public who pay their salaries; that their authority comes from that granted to them by the people; and that the people will no longer tolerate the audacity with which Black lives are disregarded.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur