Policing Black Male Bodies: Tamir Rice and Odell Beckham Jr.

Dr HerukhutiBy Dr. Herukhuti

They said he was big for his age of 12 years. Too big. That he wore oversized clothing. It was reasonable for a grown man, a police officer with a gun, an equally armed partner and the power of the State to shoot him within seconds of meeting him. Tamir Rice was a reasonably considered threat justifiably murdered because his embodiment said so. He had been playing in a park. Being a kid in a society that does not permit Black boys to be so, not without consequence. Black boys shouldn’t play with toy guns in a country where white men carry real ones.


Emmett Till was two years older than Tamir when he was murdered for being a threat. Men racialized as white and nurtured upon white supremacy from birth abducted him from his family, beat him, mutilated his body, shot him and then attempted to sink his Black body in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. His crime, the justification for his unlawful arrest, conviction and execution, was he crossed the racial-gender-sexual borderline with a woman racialized as white and nurtured upon white supremacy from birth. They said he was a threat to common decency and, therefore, deserved to die. Black boys need to learn their place and stay in it.

He is suspect. That’s what they say. He moves his body in ways that no Black man should. Too freely, crossing the racial-gender-sexual borderline. They wonder. Why does he allow himself to be captured living his life with such joy and pleasure? Something must be up with him. He’s dancing and demonstratively pleasured by dancing. With his friends, people who he loves, other men. He dances with, in front of, and along with them. He enlists his whole Self in moving. It’s undeniable joy and pleasure. Freedom of movement.

For these reasons, he is suspect. Suspected of being…? Other. People racialized as black are questioning, 23 year old, Odell Beckham Jr.’s sexuality because their racialized understanding of Black masculinity is troubled by a Black man’s performance of movement in dance–expressing joy, pleasure and freedom–unless he is not heterosexual. Certainly, they estimate, a heterosexual, Black man who is a professional football player–one of the more hypermasculine forms of labor in the United States–should not be so free to dance, so free in his dancing and celebration of life. And so, these self-appointed agents of community policing wish to confirm what their conflation of gender and sexuality have suggested to them–a Black man not conforming to the role assigned to his body in a imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy must be gay or bisexual, rather than merely free.

When we say or hear the phrase “Black lives matter” what does it really mean? Maybe it can be an invocation like the chants and incantations of rootworkers, juju women, and hoodoo men with the power to change the material reality–a reality in desperate need of healing and transformation. In repeating it over and over again, maybe we can call forth ancestral forces and elemental energies that conspire and converge to make the truth in the phrase “Black lives matter” come into being. Maybe it will seep into the consciousness of everyone who hears it and Black boys and girls can be children without the threat of death, sexual assault, or violence; Black cisgender women can live and work without the threat of death, sexual assault, or violence; Black transgender women and men can love and live without the threat of death, sexual assault, or violence; Black cisgender men can dance and love without the threat of death, violence, or policing.



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