Do Black lives have a
price tag attached to them? Are Black people reduced to a dollar
amount as the ultimate value of their bodies? The police departments
who take Black lives seem to think so, and in their eyes, our value
is very low.
New York, the mother of Ron
Singleton, a man who died in police custody in 2014, received a
$1.25 million settlement. NYPD officers placed Singleton, who was
reportedly under the influence of PCP, in a so-called protective body
wrap because he was acting erratically. Singleton was kept face down
in the restraint. The death was ruled a homicide.
These days, there are
few police officers who face prison time for killing Black people, as
if ending Black lives is an accepted, acceptable and expected part of
the job. Typically, they will not lose their freedom, and at best
they will lose their jobs, and at worst they are rewarded with a
promotion. So, while Black people rarely get justice for police
violence, which is what the protests among the NFL and elsewhere are
all about, they will throw some money at the victim’s family in
an effort to make the problem go away.
Brown’s family settled for $1.5 million with Ferguson,
Missouri over the death of their son. There has been no justice for
Michael Brown, and since then St. Louis has erupted into protest over
the acquittal of another white cop in the murder of a Black man, and
the subsequent white police riot. The city of Cleveland paid Tamir
Rice’s family $6 million to settle a lawsuit last year in
connection with the boy’s 2014 shooting death by police.
Gray was worth $6.4 million to the city of Baltimore, and Eric
Garner had a $5.9 million price tag associated with his
suffocation murder by the NYPD.
year, the family of Sandra
Bland, who was found dead in a Texas jail cell in 2015, reached a
$1.9 million settlement. In Australia—where there has been an
epidemic of Black Aboriginal people killed
in police custody--the state attorney general of Western
Australia paid A$1.1 million (US$870,000) to the family of a 22-year
old Black Aboriginal woman known as Ms.
Dhu, who was arrested and jailed for unpaid fines, and died in
custody for lack of medical attention. Her pleas for help were
ignored, as police accused her of being a drug addict and faking her
illness, and dragged her body like a dead kangaroo. Her family still
plans legal action.
is what white supremacy is all about—the dehumanization of
Black bodies and the discounting of their lives, and the
normalization of the violence against them. In America, a nation that
always valued property rights over human rights, Black folks always
were measured in terms of dollars. After all, we were chattel. Under
the slave codes, white
men faced no punishment for killing their own slaves while
correcting them for resisting their authority, and at most a fine for
killing another man’s property. The slave patrols, the police
of the day, could kill Black people at will for attempting to leave
the plantation or stage an uprising.
the eyes of the highest court in the land in the Dred
decision, Blacks were "regarded as beings of an inferior order"
with “no rights which the white man was bound to
respect.” And we were three-fifths of a human being in the U.S.
Constitution, deprived of our rights while our bodies were used to
bolster the political representation and economic power of whites.
This is why the
government will attempt to pay off a Black family--as if the death is
part of a financial transaction--rather than punish the murderer, or
make the system right so that Black men, women and children are not
dead in the first place.
As Frederick Douglass
once said: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit
to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which
will be imposed on them.” The system has decided to bear the
cost if we allow them, as if a slave has been killed and the lost
inventory is a write off. Meanwhile, they continue to write us off
without addressing the systemic problem of racial injustice and white
This commentary was originally published by The Grio