I am a very socially and politically aware person. However, I try to keep politics and social issues (not dealing with women’s health) out of this blog. Mainly because I want to keep this a neutral place, and for the most part, a light place. But there are always exceptions. The events of this past week is one of them. As a woman, a Black woman, and a daughter, niece, partner, and a potential mother of Black men, I could not let this moment go by without using my voice to say something.
Unless you live in the deep woods with no communication with the outside world, by now you know about the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer, and the subsequent anger and protest in the town of Ferguson, MO. Before I go any further, let me make these few points clear in an attempt to lessen any confusion or misinterpretation.
1) I understand that most law enforcement men and women do their jobs properly and risk their lives every day. To those men and women, I give my respect and support
2) I am aware that there are some people in the midst of these protests that are agitating by looting, fighting and shooting. I do not condone violence, including looting of stores and riots.
With those points out of the way, lets get into it. Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. He did not have a weapon. Allegedly, Michael and a friend were walking in the street when an officer approached them in his vehicle and demanded that they move to the sidewalk. At this point, details and accounts vary, but some type of altercation/tussle happened with said police officer and Michael. He ran, but stopped, putting up both hands in the universally recognized sign of surrender. There are multiple eye witness to the shooting and its aftermath. The Ferguson Police Department left Michael’s body in the street, uncovered for 4-5 hours. When they did retrieve the body, there was no EMS or coroner van, just a police SUV. In the following hours and days, the police department would not release any information on the incident. The citizens of this community, many witnessing the shooting and living under the tense relationship between them and the police, began to protest. Some people took that opportunity to loot and riot. As tensions mounted, the police donned full on riot gear and used teargas,flash bombs, and other heavy equipment in an attempt to control the situation. The protests continued. Anonymous gets involved. Days passed with no word from the Governor, the Police Chief, or the President. Several journalists and media outlets report harassment, threats, and an attempt to block them from covering the events. After all of this, the Governor of Missouri and The President speak out. After almost a week, the police release the name of the officer, Darren Wilson. They also release footage from a local corner store that allegedly shows Michael stealing cigars and arguing with a store clerk. The family is upset about this newest revelation and accuse the Ferguson PD of smearing Michael’s name. The police Chief releases another statement that the offending officer did not know Michael was a suspect when he approached Michael and his friend for jay walking. That night, some people loot and riot…again. A curfew is instated as of Saturday afternoon, August 16. The unrest continues….
In this case I see several issues:
1) Police Brutality
2) Racial Profiling and the default criminalization of Black males
3) The violation of the First Amendment by police in the attempt to prevent the people of Ferguson from protesting and attempting to restrict journalists from covering the situation.
4) The militarization of local police
I’ve already gone on long enough, so I’ll try to make my points brief. All of the above listed issues should disturb you as a human and as an American. If the fact that people’s rights are being violated does not bother you, no matter your political affiliation, religion, ethnicity/race, please make an appointment to have your humanity checked.
Police brutality and harassment over petty offenses like jay walking have been going on in Black neighborhoods for years. Is it poor police training? Is it “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” policing policies? Is it over zealousness? Prejudice? Probably a mix of any of those elements at any given time or situation. I can expand that point to say its been going on in poor neighborhoods for years. Because of the years of tension and mistrust, the relationships between minority and poor neighborhoods and the police is fragile at best. This strained relationship leads to everyone, cops and citizens, being on edge all the time. Point number 2 means one thing: Black men are criminals. Period. No amount of money, education, success, or clothing options can change that in some people’s eyes. And some of those people happen to be police officers. That leads to profiling, and sometimes worse. It happened to Henry Louis Gates Jr, a Harvard professor, it happened to Tyler Perry, and it can happen to any Black Man or boy. When was the last time a WASP man was stopped for simply walking in his neighborhood and asked for his ID? I’ll wait. When was the last time it happened to a Black or Brown man? Probably 5 minutes ago in any given town or city.
The issue is that if it doesn’t affect you, you have no idea. Many people across America can’t understand what’s happening in Ferguson because they have never lived under those conditions. They don’t understand the anger. To them, the unrest just looks like chaos and disorder, but these are the actions of the unheard.
Dave Chappelle explained the relationship between Black people and the police (and White people’s reactions) the way only he can in his 2001 stand up routine “Killing them Softly”: (We need a little levity right now) The clip is kind of long (7 minutes), but in order to get the full idea you have to watch it all.
What he said was 100% truth.
What about the blatant disregard for the First Amendment?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The actions of the Ferguson Police Department definitely trampled on two of the three rights of the people in Ferguson. The people are angry and frustrated. They want answers. They want justice. They have the right to assemble and protest. Even with social media, live Tweets, and cell phone video, we still need stories covered from a journalistic point of view. Of course Ferguson police didn’t want the world to see what they were doing…look at what they were doing. The fact that two journalists were pushed and punched, detained with no cause given, then released, without an apology or explanation is frightening. “Where they do that at?!” Apparently, in Ferguson, MO. This sounds like a story from Iraq or Russia. Not the United States, but it was.
This all makes me think about my journey into motherhood. When you face difficulties getting pregnant, you often stop and ask yourself ‘Is this really what I (we) want to do?’ You think about the money, the meds, the heightened risk of complications during pregnancy, along with the questions any woman considering motherhood would ask herself: Am I ready? Do we have enough money? Am I going to be a good parent? As a Black woman, I also have to also think about bringing a Black male into this world. The thought that no matter how well I raise my son, no matter where we live, he could still be a target is sad and disheartening. He doesn’t have to be a gang member, or a drug dealer, or a bank robber. His skin tone would be enough to label him dangerous and suspicious. How would I deal with that? I don’t want to add the “how to deal with cops as a young Black man” speech with the standard teenage speeches parents give about sex, texting while driving, drugs and all the rest. How do I explain to my future son why we even have to have this talk? How do I explain that some people just can’t get past stereotypes and unfounded fears? That they’re too close minded to learn and see who he really is? I hope that by the time any child I would have is old enough, this will be a thing of the past. I’m sure Michael Brown’s mother had the same thought 18 years ago.
One of my favorite book series and movie franchise is The Hunger Games. The people revolted and they were forever punished by an oppressive government and a yearly sacrifice of children for entertainment (and as a form of repression and control). When it becomes too much, the people organize and…(I won’t tell it all because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read the trilogy). When I read these futuristic novels or watch those types of movies, where the government is extremely repressive and brutal, I think there is a small shred of plausibility in this, but it is mostly a work of fiction. Until I see it happen. Until I see police throw tear gas and flash bombs at people who are (mostly) peacefully expressing their frustrations and the need for answers and transparency. When journalists are harassed, roughed up, and arrested without cause. Most importantly, these citizens have a right to do these things under the First Amendment of our Constitution. It makes me again wonder: what kind of world will I bring my future son or daughter into? Will they be allowed to express themselves freely? To speak out against injustice without fear?
I wonder if I want to bring a child into a world like what I’ve seen over the past week. A world I know exists, but try to rise above or have hope that it will some day be a thing of the past. Instead, it seems as that not only is it not going anywhere, its getting worse. Going backwards. And it makes me sad for our country, but it also makes me angry. I am in no way naive or unaware of what happens in the world. I feel that I can’t afford to be. As they say: “I stay woke”, but I generally just choose to be hopeful. There is good in the world, and being aware and hopeful for me is the best way to go about things.
If I am so blessed to bring life into this world, I will do my best to teach tolerance, love, compassion, self awareness, to speak up against injustice, and possibly the dos and don’ts of being stopped by police as a Black man.
Lets hope I can leave that last one off.
Justice and Answers for Michael Brown and his family.
Peace and Healing for the Ferguson and St. Louis, MO community.