A teachable, and hopefully reachable moment for the U.S.
I would be remiss if I did not utilize the Ferguson saga to bear out certain facets. The vast majority of times when people would ask me how I was doing, my answer would be that I am focused and functional. However, on Monday, November 25, I was neither focused, functional nor aware.
But honesty compels me to share with you that I was in a funk. I was in a retrospective place emotionally, trying to process some things mentally, very deep in prayer, but not at peace. Watching the grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, served as the most blatantly pertinent reminder of who I am, where I am, and what I am. It was extremely troubling as I watched the Black community’s reaction in the small town, which once again called attention to racial tensions in the U.S.
Wherever we may live in the diaspora, there is a Ferguson – that includes Montreal – and we need to use the events in the St. Louis suburb as a lesson.
It is not just my cynicism about a racially-charged case, in which the officer’s description of Michael Brown’s death has been contradicted by multiple witnesses, it’s just an empirical reality: few police officers are ever asked to answer allegations of (violent) misconduct. In fact, the government unevenly monitors police killings; furthermore, the word indictment is unknown and virtually non-existent in their legal arsenal.
Start with the simple fact that it is prosecutors who do the prosecuting, and prosecutors depend on a close relationship with the police; they see themselves as part of the same team. And they are reluctant to rock that boat, to poison their relationship with the police, which is what will surely happen if they come down hard on an individual police officer.
However, Ferguson is not about Michael Brown or Darren Wilson; if you’re Black, your interaction with the police statistically is not the same as if you’re white. Why, then, does it have to regularly end in death? Why does this not happen to other ethnic groups, despite the fact that statistics show that Blacks constitute the vast majority of interrogations, searches and shooting deaths by police; it is essential, then, that we look at ourselves and take action.
More than ever the call goes out to parents and community activists, leaders, legal representatives, the clergy and educators to dialogue with our youth about street laws and their youth flaws, about being able to understand the law, knowing what to do and above all how to behave when stopped by a police officer.
Many Black parents need to teach their kids how to speak in a civil manner to elders and those in authority. And parents, while you are on the job please do not show the kids (especially your boys) your dislike and mistrust for the men in blue.
I now realize that those who consider themselves leaders in the Black community cannot just be against racism, we also have to be against a portion of Black culture that has become increasingly anti-authority and anti-social to a point of self-destruction. This is an enemy we have yet to engage in the Black community, and I think it is a conversation that we must have now.
While the majority of Black population is showing disdain for Wilson, white supremacy and the constructs of the justice system (being unjust for black men), is it naive of us to think that Brown didn’t bring forth further agitation to the situation? Certainly, he did not deserve to have his life taken, but are we holding Black people responsible for their roles – wrongly or rightly – when going up against white law enforcers? Brown was walking in the middle of the road when the police supposedly told him to get on the sidewalk. Pardon any ignorance or temporary insanity, but my perspective is simply this: whether Brown had done anything or not, what was pivotal was that he was subjecting himself to a death that could have been prevented.
Surely, Brown, a Black American, was fully aware of the deathly results of white police-Black youth confrontation, further compounded by the present composition of Black policemen (3) on the Ferguson Police Force.
Education is important in changing youth behavior and attitude towards the police. Rest assured, I know there are systemic issues plaguing Black men, including violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And these issues are rooted in the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of Black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to Black men if we do not first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately. Black youths immediately enter a world of prejudgment but can still redefine themselves; racism exists and is far too real. As a consequence, we need to use the events in Ferguson as well as in our country as a lesson. It has happened before, and it will happen again. And until we quell the burning fires of America’s racial strife, we’ll live with the smoke and ashes, which will continue to smolder elsewhere.
The Ferguson outcome should haunt every parent of a child of color who live, every day, in fear that a hoodie, a certain gait or an off-hand remark might inspire authorities to see ‘menace’, and to strike with lethal force. Yes, every parent “of a child of colour” should live with a sense of unease over the sustained, wretched dehumanization of his or her children.
During the grand jury testimony in Ferguson, the police officer described Michael Brown in virtually super human terms that strain belief. As the officer who fired at least twelve times said, Brown was “almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.”
The connective tissue between this incident and our sordid racial history has not been plainer than in the officer’s words, in the description of his primal fear of an unarmed teen.
We are required to look broader to the growing number of incidents that remind us, not in isolation, of how easily and without consequence black life can be taken. And we are required to think harder about whom we are as a nation, and whether we can ever reconcile enough of our history to create a future built around the idea of justice.
The killing of Michael Brown has once again reminded us that our children are menacing in their very essence, and that they can be killed for the most mundane transgressions. Walking through a subdivision where they don’t live, like Trayvon Martin, or engaged in petty crime, like the unarmed robbery committed by Michael Brown, which was captured on video.
The fear sweeping Black families across this country is not about their children’s innocence or guilt, but about the brutality with which authority is exercised, and the insistence that it’s always justified. I won’t pretend that I know what it is like for African-Americans to navigate current day Canada, but the reactions to the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, and the subsequent lack of action by a grand jury, spotlight yet again that while white and Black Americans occupy the same country, many seem not to be living in the same world.
In Canada, like America, we have two systems of justice: one for Blacks and one for whites, particularly for young Blacks. This is a fact supported by an ever-growing body of evidence. Every day, it seems, in America we hear about and watch graphic images on videos of white police officers inflicting unnecessary violence – often fatal – on young Black men who moved too suddenly, reached into their cars at the wrong moment, or used toy weapons.
[Incidentally, the first recorded beating of a Black male by white police officers, all of who were later acquitted, took place on July 19, 1952. Clarence Clemons, a longshoreman, was beaten and arrested by white police officers in Vancouver, British Columbia. The police officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by an all-white male jury at a coroner’s inquest into the cause of Clarence’s death.] And similar results in the shooting deaths by police of Marcellus Francois, Anthony Griffin, Leslie Presley, Freddie Villanueva, and lately Alain Magloire.
Last year, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, I wrote that Black people needed to wake up, organize, boycott, vote, demonstrate, and demand…
As Martin Luther King said in 1966, while describing riots as “self-defeating and socially destructive,” a riot is the language of the unheard and what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the economic plight of the Negro poor, which has worsened over the last few years. Add to that a current and stubborn lack of equality and justice, and you wind up with people taking to the streets from Ferguson to all corners of the diaspora.
Divers solutions have been proffered to help combat this ongoing injustice. Transparency and accountability, independent investigations, as well as equipping police officers with body cameras are all good starts.
Aleuta! The struggle continues…