Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? (Book Review)

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an American journalist and former Black Panther Party member currently serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison. In 1982 Abu-Jamal was sentenced to prison for the death of a police officer was on death row for almost 20 years before his prison sentence was commuted in 2001 to life without parole. In Have Black Lives Ever Mattered, a collection of Abu-Jamal’s writings from 1998 to present, Abu-Jamal presents readers with an alternative version of history “not written by the victor, but by one who has seen and sensed what was happening on the other side of the prison wall, who seeks to convey those impressions with truth.”

Putting recent history into context with the entire history of colonized white America laying the foundations for current inequality. Abu-Jamal makes clear that this current repression of Black people is nothing new, and is but a continuation of the same ideas that must be overturned.

“But where once whites killed and terrorized from beneath a KKK hood, now they now did so openly from behind a little badge. And while it may seem like a leap to associate the historical white terrorism of the South with the impunity with which police kill in Black communities today, it is really not so great of a leap because both demonstrate a purpose of containment, repression, and the diminution of Black hope, Black aspirations and Black life,” Abu-Jamal writes.

Abu-Jamal writes that “instead of [prisons] being a financial burden, leasing incarcerated Blacks to businesses was a way local government actually turned a profit.” In addition, the police force is merely a part of this prison industrial complex to suppress Black lives:

“Police terrorism goes back generations, and it ain’t about “rotten apples” or “broken windows.” It’s about blocking movements for freedom, and protecting a system of racist repression.”

Hate crimes, all white juries, “colorblindness,” legalized police violence, FBI surveillance, the death penalty, white terrorists, : Abu-Jamal presents us with a concise recent history of race in America- and implores us to be outraged.

“For when men fear, they are halfway to hate; for we hate that which evokes fear in us. And… we are loathe to admit our fears. It makes us angry, for it seems unmanly. A sexist view, perhaps, but there it is.” Abu Jamal writes about police interactions with black men.

Abu-Jamal asks us not only to be outraged about the current state of the world, but to rise up and do something about it. He asks us to continue to learn and fight for equality as he writes about the events in Ferguson, Missouri:

“Movements are a lot like volcanoes, which appear dormant, or sleeping… until one day, usually a day none had foreseen, they erupt… that’s what movements do, and what they are. If hot enough, they can change everything. Everything. But political, media and state forces don’t want change; they want continuity, for therein lies both their profits and their power, and who wants to lose either of those things?”

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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