Only a Scapegoat

Eastern Michigan University cops and administrators gushed to the press yesterday that they’d found a man on whom to pin the acts of racist vandalism that occurred on campus last year, and the mugshot they sent around showed him to be Black.

More than 60 people have been interviewed and a reward of $10,000 was offered. More than 1,200 hours of video from more than 100 campus cameras was reviewed, as well as video from nearby businesses. In addition, nearly 20 search warrants have been executed; a large number of pieces of evidence have been processed and analyzed; and, data from numerous cellphones have been evaluated.

I’d like to see the evidence before I make up my mind, but for now, there are a few things that can be avowed incontrovertibly.

First of all, if the man they’ve pinned this on did in fact write what was written on those walls, those acts must be considered within the frame of Black life lived under white supremacy. The following is from a worker in the field of mental health:

The act, separate from the identity of the author, is an expression of a current climate of systemic anti-blackness. To mimic racist graffiti while belonging to the targeted identity category generated protest over the treatment and targeting of black students—protest that should have happened anyway. This particular graffiti demonstrates that the reach and pull of white supremacy is total and the psychic costs of living in constant anti-blackness are massive and often rendered invisible and go unremarked. By creating a site of notice, the graffiti makes visible what we all know, which is that hatred is pervasive, whether avowed or not.

Second, I’d like to challenge President Smith on his revising of history. His press release states, “The many initiatives put in place as a result of the incidents are vitally important and will continue regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings.” The truth of the matter is, campus protest related to the challenges faced by Black students at EMU has a history that predates and also supercedes the vandalism. As one grad student writes, “Before we dismiss the act, the protests, all that came with those, remember what each person revealed about themselves in the past year. And remember the truth that the Black Student 10-Point Plan is not a reactionary list tied to this vandalism.” We must also recall that the vandalism is one among many racist phenomena at EMU in recent years. Others include Black Lives Matter posters on campus defaced with the words “pro white”; swastikas markered onto the cars of Jewish undergrads; anti-Black prank-calls to dormitories; Identity Evropa flyers pasted around campus; stacks of white supremacist business cards left in the library. And these are just the ones that have been brought to our attention.

Third, it’s no surprise that what some activists predicted would happen, has happened—and it’s what always happens, as anyone who’s studied the history of policing in the U.S. knows. Namely, local law enforcement agents struck a bit of gold by way of overtime hours worked on the case, but also in new surveillance equipment and staff positions procured as a result of the investigations.

What’s more, EMU Police Chief Heighes has decided to sit before cameras and use the investigation as a moral lobbying tool: “The safety of our community is achieved through the cooperation of our campus community and support for the EMU Police Department, both on campus and in patrolling areas of Ypsilanti surrounding the campus.” In other words, the police and administrators—two hemispheres of the same supremacist brain—have now moved on to suggest that it’s not agitation and organizing by Black youth that will make change, but instead it’s respecting overseers and cooperating with agencies of enforcement that will keep white/institutional property safe and Black students in line, i.e., alive.


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