Why is Atlanta burning?

When they ask you why Atlanta was burning last night, tell them it was an uprising.

If you want a quick answer, you can quote the economist Thomas Piketty

Every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of collapse.

Capital and Ideology, Thomas Piketty

Tell them that a Black life should be worth more than a pane of glass, or a store, but that nearly a thousand Black lives in Atlanta’s surrounding counties have been lost because a governor refused to take action to protect them from deaths of inequality.

There were fires and police beatings taking place down on DeKalb Avenue not far from where I live. If you know Civil War history, this was where General Sherman began his march to the Sea in 1864.

They will tell you that this 1864 march this caused a path of fire and destruction down from Atlanta to Savannah. Maybe they won’t tell you that the army burned down a system of slavery, torture, rape, and a racialized state built upon terror. They won’t tell you that Solomon Luckie was one of the first people to die in the shelling of Atlanta that year. A Black barber, who I’m damn suredied happy knowing that his people were finally free. Is it a wonder that the governor of this state singled out barbershops to begin operation with the pandemic still raging?

Maybe they should tell you that millions like Solomon were freed from dire oppression. They surely won’t tell you how my great grand parents at that moment were freed from bondage by those fires.

They might also not tell you that in 1906, the year my grandmother was born, Black communities were targeted and destroyed by White mobs in the Atlanta race riots. Along this same stretch of street, my mother’s cousin still recounts how they would shudder at home as Klansmen galloped through the street at night. Or how the Atlanta Black community watched as countless cases were fabricated against Black men and women, some resulting in death penalty convictions meted out in vengeful certitude. At least those were spared lynching.

And still today, despite decades of Black mayors, Atlanta suffers among the highest levels of income inequality in the United States — and hence the Western world. You could read The Legend of the Black Mecca to understand the nuances of why these inequalities persist. To understand why the Black laborers — the sanitation workers, the delivery drivers, the gig economy workers, the patient nurses at assisted living facilities — are vulnerable to afflictions like COVID and have few bad options in terms of health, education and food. Their families locked out of access to mobility because of structural inequities that preclude access to healthy food, healthcare, safe and affordable housing and the other factors that contribute to a stable and fulfilled life.

Fulton county in which Atlanta exists, has the highest COVID death toll in the state. That the toll is highest among African Americans should come as no mystery given the work that puts us at more risk and the factors that make access to healthcare so precarious,

They might tell you they can just vote. But I’m going to remind that racialized gerrymandering in Georgia is a thing, I’m going to remind that racist voter suppression in Georgia probably impacted the governor’s election (and will probably impact the 2020 election). I’m going to recount how I spent half a day last week tracking down an absentee voter application that I sent in that was “lost”. So tell them that our democracy is in shambles.

They’ll tell you that the oppressed should be non-violent. Perhaps with organization and time. Tell them the origins of the violence are still not clear. Remind them that there were fires in Hong Kong too. Remind them that the fires pale in comparison to the perpetual state sponsored violence ravaging Black, LatinX, Indigenous, and Asian communities throughout the United States.

You ask why is Atlanta burning. I’ll try to tell you how it feels. That it feels like the U. S. has been in a perpetual state of war on the Black and Indigenous populations since its founding. So it should not surprise you that the military is sending forces and predator drones to Minnesota.

What is it called when a country wages war on its most vulnerable civilian population? When it is ok with seeing its marginalized people die preventable deaths? Was it ok with you that there was an uprising in Lodz? Do you want us to get to that point?

When we know from all the data available that our lives are of no value to you, that our votes do not count, that the education of our children is of no importance, then perhaps the right question is why it took so long for the fires to start? This is why we say Black Lives Matter. Is in an affirmation of our existence in the face of your insistence that we just lay down and die.

If you understand the gilets jaunes in Paris, then you don’t need to ask me why Atlanta or Minneapolis is burning. If you understand the Hong Kong protests, then you have the capacity to understand and be in solidarity with Black people in Atlanta.

This is an uprising. This is democracy breaking through.

Update 6/14/2020:

Friday night (6/12), Rayshard Brooks was killed by police at a Wendy’s drive through. Shot in the back. He had fallen asleep while waiting to order, tried to run away, ran after a brief scuffle, and was shot as he ran away.

Protestors gathered immediately. I am told that the protests had been peaceful. Saturday the police showed up with riot gear and US military battlefield equipment. The protesters were gassed, and then burned down the Wendy’s and occupied the interstate.

You can also see updates from @ColonizedLocal on twitter

Please also donate to http://atlsolidarity.org if you have the resources.

16 thoughts on “Why is Atlanta burning?

  1. Reblogged this on Butterfly Mind and commented:

    If you don’t understand the protests, I beg you to please open your heart and read this from my colleague, a data scientist living in Atlanta. “When we know from all the data available that our lives are of no value to you, that our votes do not count, that the education of our children is of no importance, then perhaps the right question is why it took so long for the fires to start?”

    1. Thanks. It is unfolding. There are concerns about a state of emergency. There were also students at my alma mater Morehouse involved. Trying to make sure that they are ok.

  2. Charles,
    Wonderfully direct line penned with apt strats and fluid fluency like Sherman’s March itself. Decisive. Expansive. Torrential. And, necessary. Poignant and aptly expressed. Racism and oppression is the true plague of our times, and maybe has been throughout history. So long as there are wars….

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  4. Thank you for an informative and passionate argument for racial and economic justice in America. As a white woman, I am ashamed that we have made so little progress over these hundreds of years. I do not believe that it is a mainstream public opinion that demonstrations are bound to be violent and need to be controlled. Protester silence and lack of dramatic response has been insufficient. I have long thought that black Americans’ restraint is amazing in the face of so much hatred, disrespect and violence against Black and Brown people. While I am personally opposed to violence and the unsafe use of guns, I try to understand the frustration that lies beneath the burning, looting and other more violent forms of protest. I am sorry for your pain and understandable rage, and stand ready to listen to you and do whatever I can do to end the great American disgrace that continues to be racism in the 21st century. Enough is enough! The time for radical change is now.

    1. Thank you for that compassionate response Sue and for reading. We in Atlanta are searching for answers. I am also at heart a pacifist. I do not presume to dictate the tactics that oppressed people take in getting justice.

      Yet, even in the latest aspects of the uprising that occurred, I am understanding that when we unpack the reality, much of the violence is incited by police using military tactics and equipment. To be specific, a young man Rayshard Brooks, was murdered by police, shot in the back last night. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and specialized sonic devices for military campaigns on the protestors.

      With this kind of repression, I can only stand in solidary.

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