ACCORDING TO TNT’S ERNIE JOHNSON, the then-L.A. Clippers’ head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers is a “joyful man.” (Rivers was fired by the Clippers after they lost in the playoffs to the Denver Nuggets. He now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers.) And, in my recollection of him as a player, “Doc” is a witty man possessed of a keen sense of humor. Between 1994 and 1996, “Doc” was the point guard on the New York Knicks, where he formed an effective partnership with the Knicks center, Patrick Ewing. When “Doc” and Ewing were teammates, he proclaimed the “Juggernaut” (as Walt Clyde Frazier dubbed Ewing) the “best center in the NBA.” In 1996 Rivers was traded to San Antonio, where he would play with a new center, David Robinson. Asked about the trade, Rivers quipped: “Patrick Ewing isn’t the best center in the NBA anymore.” “Doc” knew just how to win favor with his big man, wherever he went.
Interviewed on August 25, 2020, after his Clippers had demolished Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks to the tune of 154–111, Rivers spoke forcefully. With a breaking heart, Rivers held forth, in some moments overcome by anger, in others offering a candid snapshot of racism and segregation in the United States, and in still others, he just sounds like a black man utterly depleted by living in America. This is—once more—an encounter with both ontological exhaustion and the burden of over-representation:
What stands out to me is just watching the Republican Convention. They’re spewing this fear, right? You hear Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. I should just be a coach.1
Rightly, or wrongly, that choice is not available to “Doc” Rivers. He will never “just be a coach.” That is the burden that has fallen to him, Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith—inter alia. In moments such as these, the black coach, the black color commentator, the black TV analyst, will all be called upon to summon up, from both their immediate past and from the deepest recesses of their being, the courage, understanding of history, and the necessary command of language to address social injustice.
Salient about Rivers’s inveighing against racism, is his willingness to critique, directly, and in person, “Donald Trump” and white Republican “hypocrisy,” although “hypocrisy” seems a trifle insufficient to the violence and racism unleased by the GOP. “They’re spewing fear” by generating hatred. All the while, Rivers points out, it turns out that the “fear” is baseless. In quick, short, declarative statements, Rivers lists an itinerary of the violence done, still being done, to black lives, going all the way back to Jim Crow America: “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear.”
The most pernicious aspect of Trump’s white fearmongering is that the effect of this inverse displacement is that racist white America is now endorsed, with the presidential seal of approval, to (continue to) act against black bodies. Inverse displacement, or, perverse displacement, is nothing other than the license to kill black bodies. Brutal police officers, teenage white vigilantes (from out of state, brandishing a semi-automatic), camouflaged white vigilantes (Michigan, see below), white militia, and gun-toting white men of all ages, are free to act (again, see below.) In the name of (their) “fear.”
Once more, Rivers offers a pointed response:
Yo, it’s funny. We protest and they send riot guards, right? They sent people in riot outfits. They go to Michigan with guns and they’re spitting on cops, and nothing happens. The training has to change in the police force. The unions have to be taken down in the police force.2
Perverse displacement mutates, seamlessly, into (racially motivated) disproportionate force. Black peaceful “protest” must be put down by “people in riot outfits.” A fake $20 bill got George Floyd killed, but militias, and their kindred folk, “spit on cops and nothing happens.” Glenn Anton “Doc” Rivers, the son of a Chicago policeman, a black man not in favor of defunding the police force, instructs the nation into exactly how systemic racism works in the United States. This is what two systems of justice looks like.
“Yo, it’s not funny.”
Even though Rivers starts out agitating for institutional reform (“The training has to change in the police force”), he quickly transitions to a more radical—and necessary—critique. It is the police unions, including the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York,3 the largest police union in the nation, the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police4 and the Colorado State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police,5 that are determined to hold the “thin blue line.” It is the police unions where union chiefs such as Trump supporter Bob Kroll of the Minneapolis police union are genetically ill-disposed to systemic reform. (Kroll called George Floyd a “violent criminal.”)6 It is the police, either in the course of doing their routine police work or through the protection they enjoy from their (racist and) retrograde unions, the buffer against punishment that is the police Bill of Rights, that give the black community, and all minority communities, every reason to distrust them. The black body that approaches the police (also known as a “voluntary” engagement or interaction), the black body that is approached by the police (an “involuntary” interaction), always does with and in fear. Fear of brutality, fear of death. The police union that endorses Trump seeks to do nothing but buy itself lifetime immunity against prosecution.
Trump has given white police officers what they most desire—a blank blue check. Under Trump, white police officers were presidentially licensed to kill black bodies. Explicitly. There should be no mistaking it. Trump and the police unions are cut from the same sadistic ideological cloth. They are driven by the same brutal impulses—black life is of no consequence.
Within this context, against the backdrop of the 2020 Republican convention, the Bucks’ slogan, “Fear the Deer,” takes on the appearance of a whimsy.
How far can antiracist America go before it encounters the vigilantes of white “fear?” As far as a gun-wielding white, teenage vigilante will let them go before shooting them.
White racism, as I argued, makes no demands on reason. If it did, how would it be able to respond, with any honesty, to Rivers’s interrogative? White Americans, in their many guises, are doing the killing—as they did the lynching, as they did the redlining, as they continue to do it. White America, Coach Rivers, is “spewing fear.”
Black America knows well enough: fear the white Republican. Fear the white Republican who votes for Trump. Fear Trump: that is where black fear, in this moment, begins. But it does not end there. Fear, because they have jurisdiction in your neighborhood, police officers, any police officers, you might be unlucky enough to encounter—they are backed by a Trumpian union.
It is here, in his denunciation of police unions, that Rivers’s and Jameson’s arguments converge. Police brutality, police unions that protect their own at the expense of black life, police unions endorsing Trump, is inured against “decisive tinkerings.” It is certainly beyond “systemic change.”
It is not, then, merely a matter of reforming or defunding the police. The primary axis of dual power (if we designate representative democracy as the secondary one, the axis must be superannuated) turns on the work of organizing a society in which there is neither a need nor a function for the police.
It is only through dual power that it becomes possible to relieve society entirely of the need to engage questions about policing. To posit a utopian outcome: the goal is a society free of policing. The work of utopian thinking is to present possibilities for how to achieve this desired end. That is the challenge that, according to Sloterdijk, philosophy must confront. Urgently. In the most successful Jamesonian eventuation we project a society free of policing. That is the only guarantee of a society free of police brutality.
For now we can say that “Doc” Rivers has, inadvertently, taken the first step on this—on his own—utopian path. By aiming his critique at the seat of police power, by calling for the elimination of police unions, Rivers offers the prospect of ending policing, disuniting police power. If the police union is eliminated, then it becomes possible to fracture the whole into a series of sedimented pieces that are accountable to specific constituencies—that is, to “federalize” it into individual precincts (at least, as the initial demand).
Fidelity to place, in Sloterdikj’s terms, makes one subject to the ethos of the specific environment. To live “in situ” has a telling effect because “one establishes oneself in a particular place and extends oneself by means of local resonances.”7 All are made accountable to the “local resonances” of the “place” they inhabit.
In other words, treat police unions in the same way that legislation deals with corporate monopolies. Break them up. They are genetically wired to ensure the preservation of the right to white brutality against black bodies. Conquer police unions through division.
White America is spitting all manner of violence. And it is doing so under the guise of the police being “under attack.” “Blue lives matter, more.” Once again, we are witness to the workings of the perversity of inverse displacement. The police who commit willful acts of brutality, like those white supremacists and their varied state and media apparatuses, the police and the white militias who have the power to inspire fear, to stoke hatred and violently upend black life, cast themselves as, if not quite the victims of, the certainly as vulnerable to a black minority.
“The horror, the horror”: inverse displacement is how the Conradian specter casts itself in America circa 2020.
The truth of fear is an American tragedy.
A tragedy for black America.
The continued destruction of black life is the only way in which white “fear” can be allayed. Those who perpetrate “fear” are asking for protection . . . from what? The fear they sow? Who has the right not to be “killed”? Or “hung”? Or “shot”?