Walker Artist Dread Scott speaks out on Ferguson

Dread Scott, one of the artists featured in the Walker Art Center‘s “Radical Presence” exhibition, has written an essay for the museum criticizing the actions of police in Ferguson, and looking at the cultural ramifications of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Performance Still, “I Am Not a Man” by Dread Scott, 2009

Scott says people are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the police and other foundational values of American society.

America was founded on genocide and slavery. We all know this, but do we all think through the implications of this history for the present? White supremacy was woven into the very fabric of this country, and its Constitution was written to enshrine this. It is a document written by slave owners and friends of slave owners to rule a society run by slave owners where the foundation of the economy was slavery. Four paragraphs into Article 1, and the US Constitution is giving disproportionate congressional representation to slave owners based upon their wealth (i.e. the people they enslaved). So for all this ballyhooed freedom and democracy and “We the people” bulls**t, I’m not impressed.

Scott chose his stage name as a tribute to Dred Scott,  a slave who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in 1857 after the man who owned him, an Army doctor, spent time in Illinois, a free state, and Wisconsin, a free territory. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and ruled that slave owners had the right to take slaves into the western territories.

Scott says that ruling “pivoted on citizenship, but ideologically it hinged on whether those who governed America viewed Africans and African-Americans as human beings deserving of any rights.” He says the sentiments in the Dred Scott decision shine a light on the government’s behavior toward blacks even today.

For his part, Scott is asking people to participate in the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation” called for by Carl Dix (founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party), public intellectual Cornel West and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.

What would it mean if as part of that, for one week in October, several museums showed work from their collection that speaks to this issue and designated it as part of the Month of Resistance? How could other artists find ways to join in this collective dissent? I will be part of this and I hope other artists and my colleagues in the arts find a way to not let the deaths and injustices described here be in vain.

From my perspective all of this is an important and necessary beginning. But as I’ve said repeatedly, this whole system that cut down Mike Brown is illegitimate and it is worthless. We need revolution to get rid of this system and replace it with a new power that works in the interest of the people. Let’s work toward a world where a Google search for “police kill unarmed youth” returns only results in the distant past.

You can read the entire piece here.