WHEN HILL TOLD HIS TEAMMATES that he would not play on August 26, they all decided to support his decision. Sterling Brown was the first to voice his assent.
For Hill and his Bucks teammates, however, an individual refusal that became, as we shall see, a potential forfeit that morphed into a league-wide boycott, was not enough:
Following their walkout, Bucks players, led by Hill and his teammate Sterling Brown, called elected officials in Wisconsin to take concrete steps to hold the police officers accountable for how they treated Mr. Blake.
“For this to occur, it’s imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police brutality and criminal justice reform,” Mr. Hill said.1
Following what happened to Jacob Blake, Hill, Brown, and the Bucks had had enough. “Enough.” A statement of political will. A Nietzschean-inflected decision: “Willing emancipateth: that is the true doctrine of will and emancipation.”2 A declaration intended to end things as they were. During the playoffs, Danny Green, then of the L.A. Lakers (before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers) and Amir Coffey of the Houston Rockets, had “How Many More” inscribed on the back of their jerseys. A question that defies the rules of grammar by refusing to append a question mark, thus converting the question that is not a question into a declarative that demands address.
But “Enough” also as a critique framed by erasure; that is, for everything we say, we leave several things unsaid. That is, when will “Enough” pose itself as a term of exclusion—which athletes from historically disenfranchised constituencies are not participating in or excluded from this struggle? If so, why? Can this question, which should include but not be limited to issues such as gender inequality and homophobia in sport, be taken up even as the protest against racism and police brutality continues? These are, after all, questions that bear on a different mode of exclusion. Is the issue not now both “Enough” and “More”? Can this moment, this movement against police brutality, afford to satisfy itself that, as it is now constituted, it is indeed “Enough”?
What is more, is it not also high time that we recognize the limitations of this call for justice with its focus on, in the main, democracy as defined by electoral politics and its determination to remake policing? These are undoubtedly necessary and important goals. Indeed, especially as it pertains to the latter, more often than not a matter of life or death. As such it must be supported. This is one rail of dual power.
However, if the political—that is, the state and representation as the only horizon of possibility—remains the dominant mode of thinking within the ranks of those resisting racism, police brutality, gender discrimination (in its several articulations), then this circumscription of what it means to be in the world democratically is a priori curtailed. Equality of/in representation is no guarantee of equal access to resources and certainly does not safeguard labor against the predations of capital.
The other rail of dual power is the one which calls for the radical reorganization of society.
Life in the bubble—be that Hill’s or Osaka’s—as the paradigmatic starting point of thinking for a new society. New modes of human relationships, one in which mutual dependency and intense competition coexist, while everyone shares in the risks and everyone is guaranteed housing, healthcare, food and, yes, recreation. Fun. Downtime. But also, and here the NBA’s “campus” model in Orlando is instructive, a time to learn and a time to teach.
Inside the bubble John Lucas, an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets and a longtime advocate against substance abuse, took a moment to remind the players of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. CJ McCollum, the Portland Trail Blazers guard, remembers this moment: “When his speech concluded, the players all erupted and gave Lucas a standing ovation.”3 Lucas, a recovering substance abuser, spoke from experience. A time to play, a time to relax, a time to be instructed.
Reformism and the inclining toward utopianism in a necessarily tense coexistence.
A critical part of which will be that black professional athletes will have to directly confront their class privilege, as distinct from their racial vulnerability.
Carmelo Anthony, McCollum’s Blazers’ teammate, taken aback during the players’ meeting to discuss the effects of Hill and the Bucks’ decision where, for some of his colleagues, financial considerations trumped political ones, remarked, biblically, “Money is the root of all evil.”4 An evil from which no one is exempt.
Who among Anthony’s colleagues will commit to the redistribution of resources?
In fact, the answer might be already to hand: on the jersey, of an opponent, who declares, unwittingly, in response to, we are in agreement, Green and Coffey’s declarative: “Enough.” The number of black victims of police brutality has long since reached its limit. Enough. No More.
However, No More is a priori overwritten with a certain black futility and hopelessness. The intention to terminate police brutality is already inscribed with the expectation of further acts of police violence against black bodies. “Enough,” which adorned (during the playoffs) the jerseys of, among others, Ivica Zubac (Clippers), Frank Mason (Bucks) and Brad Wannamaker (Boston Celtics), is the declaration: Who is next? That is the presumption. An inevitable presumption. Trayvon Martin was not enough. Sandra Bland was not enough. Michael Brown . . . Freddie Gray . . . Breonna Taylor . . . Enough is the ever-receding sightline where black hope dies, only to be rekindled by and because of the memory. After Breonna Taylor comes Ahmaud Arbery, after George Floyd comes Daunte Wright, so that once more, as if for the first time, “Enough” regains its vigor, inscribed with a fresh (but not unfamiliar) intensity and a reanimated political will as an antipolice brutality rallying cry. It is always only a matter of “When?” the next black body is victimized.
A part of me is uncertain, Nip, when the critique “systemic racism” is invoked. Not because I disagree with the analysis, because the “culture” of policing in the United States bears out the truth of the critique. It is, rather, because a part of me, when we see repeated acts of police brutality against black bodies, is pushed to the outer limits of reasoning to produce an answer. At my nadir, the best—or, worst, as the case might be—I can do is offer pure sadism as an explanation, in no small measure because of policemen such as Officer Weber of the Minneapolis Police Department:
The cell phone recording went viral around the world: a twenty-four-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department threatening to break the leg of a teenager if he didn’t cooperate when stopped by police in March 2015.
“If you fuck with me, I’m gonna break your leg before you even get a chance to run,” Officer Roderic Weber told one of the four Somali American teens in the car.
“I don’t screw around.”
“Can you tell me why I’m being arrested?” one of the teens asked.
“Because I feel like arresting you,” Weber replied.5
Sadism of the, in its etymological sense, masochistic variety, inflected with the mindset of the white American police officer: the sadist is that person who has the power to inflect, for no reason, none whatsoever, cruelty, and even extreme cruelty, upon those over whom it exercises power. The logic is uncomplicated. The sadistic masochist requires no rationale: “Because I feel like arresting you.”6 To cause pain or degradation on the other in order, we can safely assume, to provide the police officer with the gratification that only the random, unchecked exercise of power can provide. A perverse mode of being in the world, no doubt limned by a psychosexual element. By no means, however, an unusual motivation for Officer Weber and his ilk.
To behave sadistically whether or not there are black kids in the car, kids about to be traumatized by police brutality. Jacob Blake’s kids were in the car with him.
In case you think me excessive, son, I watched a YouTube video in which a white Uber driver refuses to stop recording an aggressive, belligerent police officer who is arresting his passenger. It turns out that the Uber driver is also an attorney, and, as such, pronounces himself familiar with his right to keep recording.7
I know, you and I know, that had the Uber driver been black, his fate would have been different. Chances are he would not have lived to tell the tale. Instead, he might have simply been recording his own death.
America’s two justice systems at work.
Racism? Sadism? A deep, historic hatred for black life? I am reluctant to settle on a single rationale but I doubt I can get much beyond sadism. After that, well, now there’s a rabbit hole I’d rather not go down.
So you will have to accept sadism as the sign of my hopelessness. The brutal limits of my reason.