From Black Lives Matter to #EndSars: A World (Un)Made

Photo: Tosin James/Unsplash

What is a world made and unmade by anti-blackness? This question feels even more apt as I reflect on recent events these past months.

Over the summer, I had spent my time organizing with friends in our community, standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States that began in an uproar following the death of Geoge Floyd. These protests were not only seminal, as the world rose up in solidarity, but it also made me question the legacies of anti-blackness in Canada as well. Police brutality has never been an occurrence particular to the United States. It has always been a global issue. From the long histories of genocide, slavery, anti-blackness, and anti-indigeneity in Canada, I was not surprised to learn that Canada also has a problem with police brutality. Between 2000 and 2017, Canadian police were involved in 460 fatal interactions with civilians, Indigenous people represented 15% of the fatalities and Black people represented 9% of the fatalities. Such racial disproportions (Indigenous people comprise about 4.8% of the Canadian population while Black people constitute 3.4% of the population) do not make sense in a system that is supposedly there to protect us. While organizing, I often spent hours researching the lives of the men and women who had been destroyed by police violence in Canada. I wanted to find out about their lives before their death, their families, their hobbies, their personalities, but it was as if every ounce of information had vanished. Their existence was relinquished. Disappeared. Such is Black Canadian life.

So it continues, as in October, I organized with my community against another manifestation of brutality. The #EndSARS movement began in 2017, as a petition signed by 10,195 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly calling for total disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). To understand this current moment, we have to go back to the 1990s. In 1999, Nigeria became a democracy, but prior to that military dictatorship ruled the country. During this period, poverty increased and crime rose as people committed armed robberies, kidnappings, and carjacking. This was the context in which SARS was founded. They were supposed to be a covert and faceless force that apprehended criminals who were committing violent crimes. But as time went on, they evolved into a unit that became notoriously attached to extrajudicial killings, torture, and extortion. The majority of those targeted by SARS have been Nigerian youth and/or queer, often happening without impunity. What cannot be left out of this narrative are the implications of class in Nigeria and its impact on the movement. SARS frequently targets Nigerians by suggesting that a victim has gained wealth through fraudulent practices in order to arrest them. If you have a computer, an iPhone, a nice car, or you have other material goods that are believed to signify wealth, then you can easily become a target. If you have dyed hair, tattoos, or dress differently than the average citizen, then SARS may also target you. While having some of these material goods or qualities does not necessarily mean one is wealthy, in Nigeria, a country where 40% of the population lives in poverty, poor Nigerians cannot afford many of these goods. It is because SARS does not make these class distinctions in their brutal attacks that the movement has taken off so widely, as police violence has been a common occurrence for Nigerians living in poverty.

The violence of SARS became global public knowledge when, in early October, a disturbing video was shared on social media of SARS officers dragging two limp men from a hotel in Lagos to the streets, where they were later shot by a police officer. Simultaneously, on October 3rd, a video showing a SARS officer shooting a young man at Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State, and running off with this man’s car. This was the proverbial match that lit up the flame, and the #EndSARS movement was shared widely around the world. Again, I was barraged with images and videos of Black life being taken away on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The lack of care for citizens by the Nigerian government was not surprising, as governance in Nigeria has never been something to write home about. In response, the president, Mohammed Adamu Buhari, announced the disbandment of the unit and declared that a new force called SWAT would be formed, and we were all skeptical and so the protests continued. Tensions mounted, and on October 20th, the governor of Lagos a 24-hour state-wide announced a curfew. On the Lekki Toll Gate, more than 1000 people gathered to continue protesting and became alarmed as officials removed what they believed to be CCTV cameras. Soldiers flanked with guns arrived at the scene and there was an immediate open fire on the unarmed protestors. This carnage was there for all of us to see on Instagram.    

No respite.

Afterward, the governor of Lagos state claimed that there were no casualties, and the state later confirmed that 12 people were injured while 2 people died. I was incredulous. I had just viscerally seen a person get shot by soldiers and die on my screen. The contempt for civilian life made absolutely no sense to me. I have never expected much from Nigerian leaders, but the adamant denial of the deaths on Lekki Toll Gate was appalling. It became even more evident to me that much like the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, ending a police unit is never going to be enough to disrupt the deeply anti-black and colonial structures in Nigeria. 

With the uproar of protests happening in Nigeria, other uprisings in Africa came to my attention. From the protests by youths in Namibia demanding political action against gender-based violence in Namibia, a country where 33% of married women aged 15-49 years have experienced, physical, sexual, and/or emotional violence from a partner, to the anglophone crisis in Cameroon, and child labour and modern-day slavery in the cobalt mines of Congo, black people on the continent are bleeding. Colonial myths of the “dark continent” often obscure the depths of anti-blackness on the continent, but like those in the diaspora, black people on the continent are also suffering under this structure. 

What is a world made and unmade by Slavery? Colonialism? Genocide? Anti-blackness? 

We owe it to ourselves to understand how all of our struggles are inter-connected through the mores of an anti-black world.

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