Welcome to the Black Spring

Sidi Bouzid is a modest city of about 120,000 in central Tunisia. Mohamed Bouazizi was a fruit vendor on its streets. He never graduated from high school, toiling every day, earning about $150 a month, supporting his mother, uncle, and younger siblings. He was even able to put one of his sisters through college through selling his produce.

Mohamed’s life was not easy. Not only did he work a job where he was barely able to maintain his life of poverty, he also lived in an utterly corrupt town. The city officials of Sidi Bouzid constantly harassed Mohamed, threatened his livelihood, and demanded bribes. On one particular morning in December 2010, a municipal official approached him, confiscated his produce, and destroyed his cart. Mohamed had finally been pushed too far. He marched down to the governor’s offices and demanded answers from the government, the same government that was supposed to protect him. Witnesses say the governor refused to see or listen to him.

Riddled with humiliation, neglect, shame, and abandonment, Mohamed Bouazizi entered the middle of traffic on a busy street and set himself aflame. News of his story spread quickly on social media. Fellow Tunisians, who knew his story all too well, took to the streets within hours. Police tried to crush the protests, to no avail. Three weeks later, the president of Tunisia was gone. Movements spread throughout the Arab world, changing the landscape of decades of dictatorships, from Egypt to Libya to Yemen. A fruit vendor changed the world. He launched the Arab Spring.

We don’t have a city named Sidi Bouzid in America. But we do have New York, Ferguson, Cleveland, North Charleston, and Baltimore. And the same things that went on there are going on here. Government agencies ignore poverty, impoverished populations find themselves mired in crime and corruption, and those that are unaffected pretend like nothing is wrong.

If we want to learn anything about the events of the past year in America, we might look at the case of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. We might remember that Scott was shot by a police officer as he was attempting to flee. His killing was caught on camera. With Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray, we have yet to see any sort of accountability. In some of those affairs, the cases are closed. But in the case of Walter Scott, Officer Michael Slager was quickly arrested and charged with murder. Great news, right? A sign of hope? A sliver of justice throughout these crazy episodes? No. What it tells me is something else, something horrifying. The only time we can hold a law enforcement professional liable for the death of an unarmed black man is when all the stars align. When he shoots at him eight times. While he’s running away. In the back. On video. Then, and only then, can we get some sort of accountability.

It is that calculation that lies at the essence of #BlackLivesMatter. It is precisely that reality that we are being screamed at about. This past Wednesday evening, as marchers demonstrated in Baltimore, more protesters sprang up in New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, and Denver. They are telling us that this is not the case of a few bad cops acting badly every now and then. It is the case of bad system performing badly all the time. They are telling us that this is not about rioting and looting. It is about illegal chokeholds becoming more important than illegal cigarettes, and broken spines becoming more important than broken windows.

If we hear nothing else, we should hear perhaps the most important thing these loud Americans are trying to impart to us. They are telling us that this all didn’t just start happening. They’re telling us exactly what that fruit vendor was telling his countrymen in Sidi Bouzid back then. Like him, they are proclaiming, loudly, finally, that enough is enough.

Today, we might be witnessing the Black Spring. I’m sure that Trayvon, Michael, Walter, Freddie, Eric, and Tamir never imagined that their deaths might start some sort of massive movement. But then again, I’m sure Mohamed didn’t either.


About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Amer,

    Another poignant piece, but. . .Having been a police officer for 32 years the current atmosphere between law enforcement and those we are sworn to protect is most troublesome. Having served those 32 years with the Wayne County Sheriff, I can honestly say that I saw miniscule situations where I saw a citizen being brutalized. Those that I did witness were nothing close to the murders and brutalizations of citizens perpetrated by various police officers across America. My point is that these violations of Americans civil and Constitutional rights are being carried out by individuals who have either lost control of their tempers or are “Cowboys”. I use that term not to degrade those pioneering Americans who helped open up America’s heartland, but to the mentality of police officers who think that since they have been entrusted with enforcing the law it gives them carte blanche to do so in any manner they feel warrants the situation.

    These “Cowboys” have a warped sense of their authority. Every police officers goes through hundreds of hours of training before and during their careers to insure that they too are obeying the law. Unfortunately, too many forget what was being taught to them the minute they step out of the training room. Their badge and their weapon are the only instruments of authority they feel are necessary, Thankfully, these people are in the vast minority of law enforcement, but they are the ones who stand in the bright lights of the media, as they should. I know that there are many, many hundreds of thousands of polices officers who feel the same as I do each time we have to witness another cop gone rogue and that feeling is pure embarrassment and humiliation. No law abiding police officer wants to see the career he or she has dedicated their lives to besmirched by hooligans wearing our uniforms.

  2. GREAT article and perspective Amer. If you haven’t read it, I recommend to you read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindess”. It is a wake-up call documenting the history and facts of the military industrial complex that the United States has become, which systematically targets Blacks and Browns. For example, the War of Drugs has effectively become a way to incarcerate for marijuana possession, but who is arrested? Not White college students, but Blacks. Although the United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s incarerated, and for every one White incarcerated there are 17 Blacks and Browns. And, btw, the military industrial complex we see arming everyone in the Middle East from Israel to ISIS, is one and the same with the tanks, automatic weaponry, spread of FEMA camps, and move to increase the size of the police force in many American cities. Someone is getting rich.

  3. PS Michelle Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow”.

    PPS If one is not aware that the United States is an apartheid state, it may be because of White privilige or cognitive dissonance. To hear more on this, check out David Letterman’s interview of Prof. Colonel West on YouTube.

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