On August 9th, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting sent the city into turmoil as protesters took to the streets to vent their anger over another, seemingly, senseless killing. Over the next few days, the police would do their best to paint Brown as a thief by releasing surveillance footage that showed what seemed to be Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store. The would also make the bold statement that, when confronted by Wilson, Brown attacked the officer and tried take his gun from him. A person with common sense might look at the latter statement and think to themselves, “Why wouldn’t he just run if he had just allegedly committed a crime? Why chance attacking a cop?” Multiple witnesses would come forward and state that they saw Brown standing in the street, with his hands raised in surrender, as Wilson took the final shot that would take Brown’s life. These statements would also be disputed by law enforcement, further angering a community that already felt as though their concerns of police aggression were not being heard. The Prosecuting Attorney decided to play it safe and take all of the evidence and present it to a Grand Jury and let them decide if Darren Wilson was in the wrong and should be charged with a crime or if he was in the right and should be left free to go. Both decisions – that of the prosecutor and that of the Grand Jury – would be separate sources of further tensions and serve to fuel further protests in the future.
I grew up in the South, in an environment where racism wasn’t hidden or whispered, but where it was the norm. I can recount being enrolled in a school at one point in my childhood and watching the entire cafeteria fall into complete silence. The event was one that left a lasting impression on me. A new student showed up in the middle of the day. A young teacher led the student into the cafeteria where no more than 150 backwoods caucasians sat eating their lunches. The new student was black. As I sat eating my lunch, the cafeteria began to fall silent. At first, I didn’t understand what was going on until the kid next me gave me a nudge and nodded towards the door. I looked up and saw the kid standing there with the teacher. At which time, the kid that had nudged me leaned over and said, “Looks like we got us a N***#r.” (Understand this: I despise that word. And I absolutely refuse to even type it. So, you get the point.) That was in the 5th grade.
I tried talking to my parents about it when I got home. However, my parents, at that time, were of that same mindset. They had been raised in that same environment. But, for me, it was a matter of just not seeing any justification for it.
Things changed right around high school. My family had moved and the school that I was going to was 1/3 minority students. I was playing football and basketball and hanging around with mostly athletes. I had five guys I was with daily. Two of them were white, one was Puerto Rican and two of them were black. My parents became more accepting and actually began to change their outlook on things. But, outside of the home, it was a different story.
I’ve been in the car that was pulled over and searched because the cop “smelled weed.” Keep in mind, my friends and I were athletes and we really did abstain from drinking and drugs in those days. I remember walking from my house to a friends with him and three others and being detained because our two black friends matched the description of two guys that allegedly tried to rape a girl. We were all allowed to go free after about an hour, not because the witness was brought over to try and ID my friends or anything, just because the cops searched us and couldn’t find anything. I might add that during that “completely legal” search, the two white cops took the opportunity to give me some advice by telling me that I shouldn’t be running around with “these types of people” because they were all “animals” and should be caged. They did nothing more than push me closer and give something to fight for.
So that’s my story. I’ve seen the type of injustice that happens in Ferguson. I get what the community is saying. But, what is is that that community is really saying?
A NATIONAL PROBLEM
What we are seeing happen in Ferguson is nothing more than the pressure valve finally popping off. Unfortunately, a life had to be lost for this problem to really get the attention it needs. That problem? Our non-white citizens fear interaction with the police. (I’m going to stop and clarify again. I use the term “non-white” because this is really a problem that carries beyond that black community but stops at the white community) We have seen, all too often, reports of police brutality when minimal force or no force could have provided resolution and probably saved a life. Looking at the landscape of law enforcement across the nation, I fear that the problem is about to expand beyond non-white communities though.
There is now a culture of militarization of police forces across the nation. The government is using the argument that terrorism has become such an inevitable threat that now the smallest officials must be prepared. However, it isn’t terrorists that this equipment is being used against. This equipment is being used against average, everyday citizens. The people see this as a threat and that, alone, adds to the agitation of an already frustrated community.
The police, like the military, take an oath when they receive employment. They are hired to uphold the laws of the local, state and federal government, first and foremost. Second, they are hired to SERVE and PROTECT the people of the community. However, when you begin to look at the dynamics of the interactions between the non-white citizens and police, it would seen that the police feel as though the laws they are sworn to uphold do not pertain to them and that they only don their uniform to serve and protect those they work for, not the citizens of the community that they should be working for.
Ferguson is showing us this. And this is why we can’t turn away from Michael Brown, his family, Ferguson or the truth.