Essay Kevin Cooper

Kevin Cooper: Those Eyes

In the history of racist violence against Blacks, something remained the same in those oppressors, across time and place.

By Kevin Cooper

“Under slavery we were the master’s slave, but after slavery, we became everybody’s slave … [T]here has always been open and closed season on hunting and game, but there has never been a closed season for killing Negroes.”

John Handcox, poet, folk singer & labor organizer (1904-1992)

For most of our existence in America, we African Americans were mostly valued as a piece of property and never valued as human beings. As John Handcox put it, “when we became free, we lost our value.” We Black people became not only an endangered population, but an endangered species as well-hunted, and tortured and murdered by any white person who saw us as mere game, his for the taking.

From the white man’s slave patrols, to their KKK and other such terror organizations, to the white citizens councils and of course the police, and much of white society as a whole, all of which to one degree or another had a very rich and tortured history of oppressing, brutalizing and murdering us descendants of slaves, just because after all, it was not illegal to lynch Black people.

In all of this manmade death and madness, something remained the same in those oppressors, no matter what time in the history of this country their reign took place—their eyes.

Did you see those lifeless, cold-blooded, cold-hearted, mean spirited, uncaring, inhumane eyes that are in the face of Derek Chauvin, that cop who murdered George Floyd by refusing to take his knee off of Floyd’s neck, as well as the eyes of those other three cops who either held him down or stood to guard against interference in Minneapolis?

Have you seen the eyes of that ex-cop and his son who cold-bloodedly murdered Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia?

Have you seen the eyes of those cops in Kentucky who murdered Breonna Taylor?

They are the same eyes that were in the face of that cop who murdered Eric Garner in New York. As they were in the faces of those cops who murdered Tamir Rice in Ohio, Sandra Bland in Texas, Walter Scott in South Carolina, and all the other Black people who have been murdered throughout the history of this country by the police and their progeny.

They are the kind of eyes that our ancestors of yesteryear said they saw peering out of the holes in bedsheets that the KKK wore, or the slave master and overseer wore. They are the same eyes that I saw in the faces of those San Quentin prison-guard excutioners who planned to murder me legally by burning me alive from the inside by way of lethal injection in 2004.

Derek Chauvin mugshot.

In each of these cases, those eyes don’t see our humanity, or see us as anything but disposable things. They refuse to look at us as human beings, or they don’t know how to do so.

Those eyes see our Black skin as unforgivable, as ugly, as undeserving of life, liberty and justice. They see our bodies as something that is to be defiled, beaten, dishonored and violated. They see what they were taught to see in we who are Black. To them we are non-human, like an animal that needs to be brought down and made to heel, as Hillary Clinton once stated.

Those cold-ass eyes that see not in a colorblind way, but in a way that color, especially the color Black as in skin color, is a thing that needs to be destroyed without due process. We as a people want people with that type of mentality to keep their knee off our neck, to keep their chokehold off our bodies, to keep their bullets out of our backs, their chains off our feet, their handcuffs off our wrists, their foot out of our asses, their needles out of our arms, their teargas and gas chamber gases out of our lungs, keep their racism to themselves, keep their death penalty confined to history.

We demand that they keep their lies and coverups out of the criminal justice system, and stop those white supremacists from joining any and all law enforcement across this country.

We demand that they stop murdering us, stop framing us, stop putting us in prison for unbelievable lengths of time, stop torturing us and executing us in the name of the law that we see is corrupt. Stop lying to us and saying that your criminal justice system is fair, just and colorblind and free of bias when everyone knows it’s not.

Stop it. Stop It! STOP IT!

We are tired of those eyes seeing us as their prey. And until things righteously change for the betterment of us and this country as a whole, we must continue to stand up, speak out, protest and fight back whether they like it or not.

After all, as Trump said of Black people in 2016, “What the hell do you have to lose” by voting for him. We have nothing to lose but our chains, and everything to gain by fighting back as our ancestors did.

As Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote in his poem “Warning:”

Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble and kind:
Beware the day
They change their mind!
In the cotton fields,
Gentle Breeze:
Beware the hour
It uproots trees!

We aren’t Negroes anymore but we most definitely “changed our mind.” No more being sweet, docile, meek and or anything else that describes us as a weak people.

We are a strong people, and we are tired of dying by and at your hands for any reason you make up, or for no reason at all.

We Will Be Free
We Will Live
We Will Breathe
We Will Continue To Be What We Were Born To Be, “Black People!”

So take those eyes, those eyes full of hatred, off of us, and join us in peace and become one with us “Americans!”

Kevin Cooper
Kevin Cooper

In 1985, he was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized in a June 17, 2017, New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof and by 48 Hours, March 21, 2020  Visit and for more information. 

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