Crisis Neoliberalism and Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is a large, sweeping, decentralized movement borne of crisis. The immediate crisis was the burgeoning realization in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin by a surrogate for the state, and the surrogate’s unaccountability and even praise in a violent, White Supremacist society, that Black lives do not matter to the police state. Black Lives Matter was and is first and foremost a call to the police to stop murdering black and other people in the streets and a cry against the injustice of the criminal justice system. It is clear that in many respects, BLM has made headway into accomplishing its goals. In Chicago, a major hub for BLM action thanks to the efforts of many tireless grassroots organizations, coalitions and groups given steam by this raising consciousness, we are seeing dramatic changes. Police torture victims from the 1970’s through the 1990’s under infamous commander John Burge are finally seeing justice in the form of a wide-ranging reparations project. Police are so afraid of being sued and harmed that they’ve (at least temporarily) halted completely unnecessary – not to mention extra-legal – stops and frisks (mostly of young black men), we have a new State’s Attorney who has promised to hold police accountable and focus on restorative justice. We also got rid of the old Police Superintendent and have held the police board in constant check to the point of disrupting CPD and the police union’s message machine.

However, while BLM has been addressing a crisis, the crisis it highlights has been a prime “opportunity” for capitalism and its agents to exacerbate.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is known to have said while he was fellow neoliberal Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff. Neoliberalism is, at heart, heartless, and thus looks forward to crises – such as the drowning of New Orleans[1] or the wrecking ball of Haiti[2] – in order to privatize and capitalize. Where others see danger and death, neoliberals see opportunity – they see market solutions, new markets, and privatization. And thus the Black Lives Matter movement is a prime target of Crisis Neoliberalism.

Prison based gerrymandering

The warning signs were set early. Several of the seemingly home-grown face leaders of the movement were on boards with libertarians and many of the solutions that they offered – privatizing and outsourcing police and funding for tasers, training, dashcams, and body cams.

Shaun King tweeted – before he erased –

In a free market economy, when something is BROKEN, entrepreneurs create new products and services to replace the broken ones. #NewPolice

This is the product of an activist who comes from the megachurch world – the neoliberalist pinnacle of Christendom. King would come under fire from the left also for questionable fund-raising, for dismissing concerns of black women, and for profiteering by establishing a journalist career from black trauma. But even if he were clean as a whistle in these regards, his alignments and solutions are deeply problematic in and of themselves.

The other Twitter BLM superstar is Deray Mckesson, championed and funded by the education privatization megafirm Teach for America who is now using his platform as a megaphone for, well, education privatization, culminating in his run for mayor of Baltimore, where, apparently, market solutions will pave the way for a brighter future.

Note the cycles. What made the poor people poorer in Haiti and in New Orleans – let alone Bronzeville, Chicago – is proffered as “solutions”.

There are many problems with the solutions offered by the neoliberal wing of the BLM movement beginning with the fact that they do not and cannot hold the police accountable for brutality, neglect, unnecessary shootings. Remember that Trayvon was murdered by a private citizen acting on behalf of the police state before he was exonerated by the justice system acting on behalf of the police state. Remember that Blackwater is private military, accountable to no one but shareholders. Remember that charter schools are public schools run by corporations and are unaccountable to the public.

In the private realm, there is less not more accountability. Training for violence de-escalation is a good thing, but who is to say that the police will use the training if they are not encouraged to and not held accountable to? While dashcams have helped to bring some of these murders to light, there is also a major discrepancy in the fact that police have malfunctioning or deliberately cut units[3]. How many more snuff films must one watch before realizing that trauma should not be replayed in order to believe the victims and the families of the victims, let alone witnesses, forensic science, etc.? These elements were all in play before, but swept under the rug in order to prioritize the unquestionableness of the police force as a fist of order restoring justice to the “mean streets” of the ghettos and the trailer parks through cowboy tactics glorified in the White Supremacist mass media and pop culture.

Neoliberalism triumphs in crises as neoliberalism is a lifestyle that brushes aside life – that sees death as trauma that can be profited from. Neoliberalism does not care about the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the person doing the selling. In fact, neoliberalism encourages diversity as a means to open the markets to familiar faces. Neoliberalism loves same sex weddings because weddings are an expensive ordeal. Yet, what good does neoliberalism’s wedding cake do the gay or lesbian teen forced out in the street after coming out?

In the same way, what good are the neoliberal solutions for the actions of the police and prison state, when charter schools are more complicit than public ones in the schools-to-prison pipeline? Neoliberalism believes in reforming the public educational system and the criminal justice system, but in ways that fundamentally do not alter but rather enhance the flow of capital from the working and middle class to the oligarchs, whether they be old or new money.

What good does the Black Lives Matter amount to if the next steps are done through a Democratic Party president who has no real control of local police and judges and can only make the faintest of promises (if that) about policing control and demilitarization[4]?

I suggest on a national level we need to look at decriminalization of drugs and funding grants moved to restorative justice, drug therapy, and preventative measures (such as intensive reparative funds poured into poor urban and rural regions). But most of the work will need to be done on the local level with emphases on police accountability that has teeth and on emptying out prisons. The idea is that we need to put funding into the communities, rather than the current and neoliberal reform system which draws resources away from the communities in one way or another.


[1] For instance 1 & 2  

[2] See for instance The Rolling Stone piece for the bigger picture and then gasp at how Clinton’s state department aided these companies in maintaining an unsustainable wage against the democratic will of the Haitians themselves

[3] For instance

[4] Cf the chart at the end here 


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