When we look at the way that people of color are represented in the media, we often see what is referred to as ‘problem people stories”–stories that position people of color as the cause of society’s–and their own–problems. What does this look like, Guliani, on this week’s Meet the Press is textbook:
Two fun facts: first, most homicide is perpetrated within race–black people are most likely to kill black people and white people are most like to kill white people, and second, the unrest in Ferguson is because a white Police Officer did the killing. no amount of focus on black on black crime would have prevented that.
Every life matters, and every killer should be held accountable. When the killer is retained by the state to act as an authority, they deserve to be held at a higher level of accountability.
Oh, and I have an open seat in class for you, Guliani: you clearly need to be schooled.
Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon August 9th. While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man. The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.
Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.
Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”
First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control. In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government. That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something. After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”
Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case. While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest, Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit. Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th. Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force. That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.
You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred. Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.
In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible. Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused. Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied. Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.
And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted. Don’t get mad, they say. Don’t act out, they cajole. James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog. To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves. To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.
Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together. Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible. Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. . Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.
Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically. Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches. Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.
After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ” The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart. Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist. We as a nation must do better. Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.
It’s been 22 days since Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson and left to lie in the street like a dog. For the first time in three weeks, the story of the shooting, the protests that followed it and the insane military police response is slipping down the news cast and out of the spotlight.
Much has been said in the last three weeks about the case, about race in America and what we should or shouldn’t do about it. A lot of what has been said is important and thoughtful, from addressing the systemic racism inherent to the case to exploring a wide range of activist responses for black people and white allies.
There has been a provocative and valuable outcry against media representation of black people, particularly #iftheygunnedmedown, which paired two pictures of a young person: one more socially acceptable and one stereotypical. The hashtag asks which picture is like to accompany a story of them being shot by police.
I haven’t yet said anything about the case. I’ve written to you a thousand times only to crumple up the web page and throw it at the wall. I’ve written through all the stages of grief, though admittedly too much from anger. In the end I am left feeling that there is little worth saying that has not been said a thousand times already. I don’t mean that I want an idea that stands out, I mean only that this seems too much like a script from beginning to end that I’ve heard before: the incident, the outcry, the authoritative denial, the protests, the smack down, the prayers, all devolving into an argument about whether racism exists.
And here is where I get stuck–in the face of a case that throws systemic racism into clear view, the dialog still trends to denial. I find my writing has been a defense, a plea that this is racism, that what the people protesting in the streets are saying is true. That black life matters.
In a Pew Research Center poll, less than half of respondents thought that the Michael Brown case raised important issues about race, and 40% thought that race was getting more attention than it deserved. The division deepens when broken down by the race of respondent.
Despite a million tweets and a thousand blog posts that clearly outline how and why the police shooting of unarmed black men is a problem, the public response, especially from non-black people is one of doubt. It reminds me of this scene from color of fear, a documentary about race when a group of men participated in a long dialog to untangle issues, and this happened:
Despite the wail of protesters, despite the avalanche of facts of he activists, despite the dead bodies of black men lying cold in the ground, still people choose not to believe.
Police kill black people with impunity. Race is the issue. Please imagine a summer when a young white mother of five was choked to death going to the store, when a recent white high school grad was shot in broad daylight, when a laid back young lady was shot while browsing Walmart with a sporting good sold in the store under her arm. You must imagine it because 5 white women weren’t gunned down by police this month.
This is the heart of white privilege. It’s not just accumulated wealth or housing or education or even political access; it is the power to deny the very existence of others and to negate their experiences even as they unfold before your eyes. It is the power to turn public discourse from the facts-in-evidence to your feelings while looking for the truth. It is the power to not see it, and therefore deny others see it. It is the power to think that others deserve what you do not for reasons that amount to little more than victim blaming and denial of overwhelming evidence.
In a country where some people are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, there must exist a similar bias for people of the dominant group. Too often, we get mired in discussion about where the white whale of privilege exists–it does–and if this means all white people are living the dream– they’re not. But let’s not get sidelined by a conversation about white privilege.
The debate about white privilege masks an even deeper truth, one that may just draw us together. We are all–black, white, latino and asian–disadvantaged by a system of racial privilege. No matter your race, the shooting of Mike Brown matters to you and the ability of your family to life a happy life. Denying racism keeps the country dependent on a broken system. A country that is unfair to millions, that has laws legitimizing marginalization a and criminalization of some humans, while providing others economic and political immunity can never be safe, can never be just, and therefore can never be stable.
The massive militarization of American police forces was very profitable for the military industrial complex. Continued conflict between working- and middle-class whites and working- and middle-class blacks, stoked by a racist, fear-mongering mass media, diverts attention from the real economic challenges both races face in an increasingly corporatized culture. Since the recession, we’re all more aware of how close we could come to ruin. The politics of division don’t serve us. Fighting each other, and killing innocents when we have real villains lurking behind unfair tax laws and politicians’ pockets is madness.
Black, brown, female, poor, working class, elderly, disabled: isn’t a person on this list in your family? We can’t allow our national dialogue to run like a broken record every time evidence of inequity surfaces. We can’t stall out the conversation in “if it is”, or how to feel, and we can’t allow you to feel like you don’t have some skin in the games. No matter the color, your skin is a part of this system of privilege and disadvantage. You live in this game.
It’s time to end racism so we can unite to fight our greater challenges, like economic injustice and resource management. It’s not communist to want America to provide opportunities for upward mobility– currently we are 22 on the list of developed nations. It’s not un American to want our police and our politicians to represent people not super pacs. It’s not revolutionary to demand safety on your own street–it’s time.