Elizabeth Hintons America on Fire, packaged as the untold story of police violence and Black rebellion since the 1960s, is a timely meditation on historical continuities and differences between previous cycles of urban rebellion and the present.
In the unfolding of social antagonism which drives human history there are spectacular moments when a hitherto-invisible threshold is crossed and great masses who have long appeared to suffer in silence thrust themselves onto center stage to claim their place as breakers of chains and makers of history. The 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was one such event. The 2016 plan to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline across sacred indigenous land and water was another.
STAND WITH MEEK MILL greets me on a billboard as I drive along Philadelphia’s I-95 and the Vine Street Expressway. Downtown, a local city SEPTA bus passes by, advertising similar messages of support.
While the original incarnation of Black Lives Matter focused on blocking infrastructure, like highways and bridgesostensibly to wake up a slumbering public to the brutal reality of American policing, and press for reforms that would make Black lives matter in the eyes of the lawthis time around protestors have unleashed an often frontal attack on symbols of carceral power: police precincts, courthouses, department of correction buildings, to name a few. As these rotting avatars of social control draw increasing fire, sometimes it seems that anything is possible but a return to the status quo that they serve to prop up.