Alonzo Cox. His body, folded like a 16-year old fetus. His hands, a makeshift helmet. His wailing screams. His pleading tears. His fear.
Across the street, Woodlawn High School with its 1400 students and 100 teachers, a backdrop to 2 police officers beating a child, the very victim, they were called to “protect.”
Cries. Pain. Anger. Helplessness.
This visual echoes in our minds’ recesses, almost like de-ja-vu.
It’s reminiscent of the brutality against 15-year old Dajerria Becton by the McKinney Police Department and other children who attended a summer pool party in the Dallas suburb on June 5, 2015. Her piercing screams. Her hot tears. Her fear.
Today is the last day of Black History month, and this present-day portrait channels antebellum plantation life, when instead of Alonzo’s yells or Dajerria’s wails ascending above the assaults of the police; there were the shrieks of “Adam” bellowing beneath the blows of plantation overseers. Instead of an audience of students who likely felt unable to protect young Alonzo or who were threatened not to defend Dajerria, there were crowds of enslaved Africans - Black children, teenagers and adults, young and old - terrified, despondent and frozen.
The abuse of Alonzo Cox adds yet another traumatic memory of anti-Black violence to our mental rolodex, which is already overflowing with parallel pictures from previous episodes in today’s social media posts, news stories, movies, family warnings, and plain ol’ daily life. Our psyches are packed past capacity with agonizing ancestral memories and injuries from American history.
So for our children, what does this mean?
This repeated imagery is psychological training.
It constructs our subconscious. It teaches us to be numb. It trains us to fear.
It may be hard to believe, but the physical violence against marginalized people, past and present, is not the most influential tool of oppression.
Psychological warfare is.
Psychological Warfare, as defined by The Encyclopædia Britannica is “the use of propoganda against an enemy, supported by such military, economic, or political measures as may be required. Such propaganda is generally intended to demoralize the enemy, to break his will to fight or resist, and sometimes to render him favourably disposed to one’s position.”
Don’t be mistaken. This is not a suggestion to downplay the trauma of the brutal beatings or murders of our people. Never would I allow the minimization of the lives of the abused and slain.
Instead, this is a call to underscore the other deaths, the mass deaths that we are enduring and ignoring. Hundreds of years and thousands of repeated illustrations of assault, captivity, servitude, and murder of black-skinned people damage our psyches and kill our spirits. These images cultivate fear as a state of being within Blacks and normalize the psychosis of anti-Black racism as a regular part of everyday American life for all.
Most critically, it stunts the development of our children. No matter whether they experience the violence first hand or bear witness to it, brutality, especially from those who society teaches us to trust, severely impedes the socio-emotional health and function of our youth. In our fights for educational equity, racial justice, and equal opportunity, we must remember the most critical fight we face is that for our psychological lives.
“I was scared,” Cox told reporters the day after he was attacked by the officers. “I thought I was going to get shot that’s all that was going through my mind, ‘Please don’t shoot me’,” he added. “I was scared for my life.” — The Root, Kirsten West Savali
Consequently, immensely more children are now scared for their lives too.
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