Aaron Bushnell – A Love Supreme

Commemoration for Aaron Bushnell
Commemoration for Aaron Bushnell.

By Julia Wright

“She gave up as much of her life as she could before they took it from her”
Richard Wright. Uncle Tom’s Children. Bright and Morning Star

As abolitionists, we distinguish between corporate news as fabricated by the neoliberal state and unfolding History. We do not say “breaking History” as we say ” breaking news” but perhaps we should.

Those excruciating minutes during which Aaron Bushnell chose to burn were breaking or unfolding History and as such had to be blurred and censored just as our Black History has to be disappeared.

Our police state could not wait: it had to start the twisting of the narrative even while Aaron Bushnell was burning in real time.

The photo of the cop – Israeli embassy staff or U.S. security – who pointed a gun on him as he was being self-consumed and as a paramedic called out: “We don’t need guns, we need fire extinguishers” – went around the world sending the message that the death Aaron Bushnell  had chosen for himself was a crime and a threat to the imposed status quo.

However the message received by the people who daily fill the streets of the world was the opposite.

The paramedic’s call for a fire extinguisher became our call for an “extinguish fire” or ceasefire vs the cop’s gun representing the U.S.’s military complicity in a genocide unfolding in Palestine. The paramedic’s call became a metaphor.

The state narrative is so twisted it shoots itself in the foot. In fact, Aaron Bushnell did not commit suicide: it is the state narrative that is suicidal.


Another observation about the gun pointed on a man already dying: we know how the death toll in Gaza does not take into account the existential respect of death as a human right everywhere where a genocide or even a war as recognized by the Geneva Covention is taking place: no room for mass graves, cemeteries being dug up and buried bodies displaced under the pretext there are “tunnels beneath,” bodies of Gazan hostages withheld by the IDF to serve as bargaining chips, bodies returned in freezer bags too decomposed to be identified  etc…  The human right to be respected in death, burial and mourning is being denied to a whole people  in Palestine.

Likewise the warmongering U.S. state feels so threatened that it needs to show Aaron Bushnell as threatening even as he was burning.

Having begun their attempts at proactively “nipping the real story in the bud” even while Aaron Bushnell was still burning, the police continued post mortem to work with the mainstream media to criminalize Aaron Bushnell’s gesture: news flashes were supposed to reassure that the Israeli embassy staff were “unharmed”, that a suspicious vehicle with Texas plates (we are reminded that Aaron Bushnell hails from San Antonio) was towed away, that there are no visible motives for his gesture, that the Fire, Arms and Tobacco Department is opening an “independent investigation,” that this is the act of an anarchist, of the member of a religious sect and mentally ill individual etc.. etc…

We are reminded of the good old, tried modus operandi of the police against our own abolitionist advocates: criminalizing the victims.

Tortuguita, illegally shot by Georgia State troopers, did not have the right to an impartial investigation; rather they needed to be investigated for their non-existent crimes. The Atlanta Stop cop city defenders are investigated for flyering or for having “muddy boots” or on RICO charges- no matter what their quest for justice against over militarization – abetted by Israel – and ecocide is. Mumia Abu-Jamal’s crime is to have survived his illegal frame-up by the FOP one December 1981 night ….


But the State’s crime is what we must not lose sight of – and what Aaron Bushnell reminded us of, loud and clear so that his message would not be deleted beyond his posts being taken down.

His parting words are:

“Many of us like  to ask ourselves: What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or Apartheid ? What would I do if my country was committing genocide? The answer is : you’re doing it. Right now”

These words are  foundational because they send us back to Toni Morrison’s  “Beloved” and the Love Supreme contained in an infanticide during death-bound slavery; they send us back to Richard Wright’s poem on lynching, “Between The World and Me”, where the narrator encounters the charred remains of a lynched Black man and in a gesture of Love Supreme the poet becomes that lynched brother; they send us back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s 1965 letter to Martin Luther King where he explains to the African American leader he was to meet and mentor the following year that self immolation is not suicide but a supreme way of communicating suffering and oppression to the world:

“To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance.  There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with the utmost of courage, frankness, determination and sincerity”.

This letter from a Buddhist monk who was to weigh at Martin Luther King’s side on the unfolding peace process around the Vietnam war exerted an influence on the 1967 Riverside Church speech where Martin Luther King castigates the kind of silence that leads to betrayal: ” At what point does silence become betrayal?”.

We segue to the letter that John Edgar Hoover later sent to Martin Luther King suggesting he commit suicide and I submit that Martin Luther King was able to resist that advice partly because he knew there were other ways of getting a message of Love Supreme and Truth across than by committing suicide – as long as he could continue to break the silence. He was a breaker of silence until he was taken down.

Aaron Bushnell’s cries of “Free Palestine”, as he burns, breaks the silence and sends us back to the History of our People at a time when it is being deliberately muted, pulled from under our feet. Thousands more of us can break the silence today without burning ourselves but with the fire of our Love Supreme.

Aaron Bushnell’s cries of “Free Palestine” as they resonate in our ears break the silence of white supremacy.

Thousands more of us have become Aaron Bushnell’s choir – a choir alive and kickin’ and resilient and winning and marching and singing with John Coltrane.

May Aaron Bushnell Rest In Palestine.


(c) Julia Wright March 4th 2024. All Rights.

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