Today, I am finally going to talk publicly about Michael Brown and the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. I have made it a point to remain quiet on the matter until now, until I had assembled everything I felt was necessary to say and until I had watched the coverage enough to get some sense of what is going on underneath the shooting, the controversy, and the riots. This is what two weeks has given me.
On Saturday, August 9th, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson while he and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking in the street. According to Johnson’s statements made regarding the incident, Officer Wilson screamed at the pair to either “get the fuck on the sidewalk” or “get the fuck out of the street”, to which the young men replied they were “not but a minute away from [their] destination, and [they] would shortly be out of the street.” Wilson drove past them, then backed up, nearly hitting them with his car. He is said to have asked them “what did you say?” and flung the door to his vehicle open, hitting both Johnson and Brown, resulting in the door of the vehicle swinging back on Officer Wilson. In contrast to Johnson’s version of events, a woman named “Josie”, who had called into The Dana Show (on St. Louis’ Radio America) and claimed to be relating the incident as Officer Wilson described it, said that Officer Wilson rolled down his window and told Brown and Johnson to get out of the street.
There was a struggle between Brown and Wilson, which no one is refuting. According to “Josie”, Wilson heard a call on his radio about a cigar robbery that had taken place at a local convenience store just before he ran into Brown and Johnson, and having noticed the two with cigars, he attempted to get out of his vehicle. Brown then pushed Wilson back into the vehicle and reached for his gun, prompting Wilson to fire at Brown through the window. The shot hit him. This version of events is in stark contrast to what Dorian Johnson, and two other witnesses, had to say. According to Johnson, Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck through the window of his vehicle, prompting Brown to try and break away from him. Furthermore, witnesses Tiffany Mitchell and Piaget Crenshaw stated that Brown was trying to get away from Wilson, using the car as leverage.
According to “Josie”, after the first shot was fired inside the vehicle, Brown and Johnson ran away from Wilson, prompting him to exit the vehicle and pursue according to protocol. When Wilson told the two to freeze, they turned around. She states that Brown told the officer that he wouldn’t shoot him, then charged Officer Wilson, to which Wilson shot, and subsequently killed, Brown. Again, the statements made by “Josie” don’t mesh with statements given by Johnson, Mitchell, and Crenshaw. They say that while Johnson and Brown were running from Wilson, the officer fired another shot that appeared to hit Brown. Brown then turned around and put his hands up, resulting in Wilson firing at, and subsequently killing, Brown.
Everyone agrees that Brown was unarmed, and preliminary autopsy results noted that Brown had been shot six times, including two shots to the head. 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed just days before he was to start his first semester of college, and in the days since the shooting, the community of Ferguson, Missouri has plunged into absolute chaos and the subsequent investigation into the incident has been brutally mishandled by nearly everyone involved. The local police are showing themselves to be incompetent, but have militarized and attempted to assassinate the character of the victim, the city and state governments have made the mess bigger, Ferguson has become restricted airspace, the community is shouting for peace while members of outlying communities are inciting the riots, the Missouri National Guard has mobilized, and in what is probably the most important detail, the credibility of any information given is, at best, suspect. This is particularly interesting when it comes to “Josie’s” description of events, since they seemed to be verbatim from a Facebook post attributed to Officer Wilson, but has since been debunked by CNN.
And the riots are the perfect visual example of the capacity of this entire situation.
Eyewitness testimony is circumstantial, and since that’s really all anyone has by way of evidence, I’m not going to weigh in on what I think actually happened. To me, it’s police brutality, no matter how you spin it. The death of Michael Brown is significant for another reason, one with far more impact and one that is more heinous than the individual incident. This shooting has become another chapter in a long-standing tradition here in the United States. A tradition that sees black men as little more than urban thugs and gang-bangers deserving of whatever happens to them. A tradition of racial disparity when it comes to justice in the United States.
When Ferguson police revealed the name of the officer that shot Brown six days after the incident, they also released footage from the alleged robbery, claiming Brown had stolen the cigars. No one has said definitively if it was Brown in the surveillance video, and furthermore, there is speculation as to if a robbery even took place, since the footage appears to show the person in question exchanging currency with the clerk. Furthermore, both the owner and the employees of the store have said no robbery took place and were surprised when police asked for the security feed. One would think that if a robbery did take place, the owner of the location would admit to it and provide any additional information they could on the matter. With that in mind, the Ferguson police’s insistence of Brown having robbed the store doesn’t seem to be anything more than an attempt to assassinate Brown’s character. Brown is spoken of highly by his family and friends, and had no criminal record whatsoever. Brown is said to have been ambitious, with plans to be an entrepreneur after he graduated from college. Unfortunately, character assassination is something law enforcement and the media indulge in frequently when it comes to black victims. Law enforcement and the media vilified Trayvon Martin, they vilified Renisha McBride, they vilified Jonathan Ferrell, Oscar Grant, Robert Davis, Malice Green, and countless other black victims who suffered at the hands of white law enforcement.
Furthermore, headlines and pictures of the events and the players involved show the differences between blacks and whites within the systems of justice and media coverage. In response to Michael Brown’s shooting and the media coverage throughout, hordes of people have taken to social media and are posting photos of themselves, a juxtaposition of wholesome and edgier images, with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, essentially asking the world “which image would the media use?”. This is a similar statement to the ones made in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting, in which people began wearing black hoodies. Here is a contrast of headlines the media uses when discussing players in situations such as the Brown shooting.
The following headlines are in reference to white suspects and killers:
1. “Ala. suspect brilliant, but social misfit” (in regards to college professor Amy Bishop, who killed three colleagues and wounded three others at a faculty meeting in 2010.)
2. “Oregon school shooting suspect fascinated with guns but was a devout Mormon, friends say” (in regards to Jared Michael Padgett, who orchestrated the June 2014 shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon.)
3. “Santa Barbara shooting: Suspect was ‘soft-spoken, polite, a gentleman’, ex-principal says” (in regards to Elliot Rodger, who perpetrated the 2014 Isla Vista killings, where he killed six people and injured 13 others, before killing himself.)
The following headlines are in reference to black victims:
1. “Trayvon Martin was suspended three times from school” (headline by NBC during the ongoing coverage of Martin’s shooting.)
2. “Ohio man was carrying variable pump air rifle — not a toy — when cops killed him: attorney general” (New York Daily News headline that ran with comments by Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine that seemed to defend the actions of the officers who killed 22-year-old John Crawford III at a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart on August 5, 2014.)
3. “Deputy killed Marine out of fear for children’s safety, officials say” (in regard to the February 2012 shooting of Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Jr., who was entering a vehicle that contained his own children and was found to not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.)
Black people, specifically black men, are frequently touted in a negative connotation and justice for their crimes is typically more swift and severe than that of their white counterparts. Michael Brown allegedly stole cigars and was killed by the police because he was walking in the street. Ethan Couch, of Fort Worth, Texas, stole beer from a Wal-Mart, got drunk and high on Valium, got behind the wheel of his father’s pickup truck and killed four people, with the end result of his crimes being treatment in a rehab center and probation. Ethan Couch is an affluent white teenager.
Also disturbing, no?
To imply that blacks are more criminally active than whites, an accusation I have heard many times during my life, is not only baseless, but is reprehensible to say. It’s bigoted and it’s wrong. There are just as many white people who abuse drugs as there are blacks, there are just as many white people who disrespect police as there are blacks, there are just as many white people who steal, fraud, and kill as there are blacks, and most importantly, there are just as many black people who are law-abiding citizens as there are whites. Of course, this isn’t information that is frequently stated in the media and this isn’t information that is frequently found in police reports and trial information. What is frequently found is the racial disparity that exists when it comes to white offenders and black offenders. Black offenders receive harsher sentences for infractions even as minuscule as marijuana possession, are targeted and harassed by police, make up an extremely disproportionate amount of the inmate population, and are commonly misrepresented in both the media and by their elected officials.
The system really isn’t fair to them.
We have this notion in the United States that everyone is equal in the eyes of the system, and while it may be true on paper, such equality does not exist within the implementation of that policy. Try as we might to tell ourselves that everyone is equally accountable for their actions and everyone is equally punished for those actions, if necessary, the stark contrasts of race in the justice system effortlessly begs otherwise. We are still a prejudiced people, with the racism being latent in most and obvious in some, and we are a people who still view blacks with the same negative connotations that have existed for nearly 500 years. The only really noticeable difference with race relations is that actors don’t use blackface anymore.
What has happened, and is still happening, in Ferguson has put this racial disparity back into the public eye. Unfortunately, as with the many previous instances when the racial disparity that exists within the concept of justice is put on display, there may very well be nothing done about it. This is unfortunate, because we the people of the United States are supposed to be better than this. We’re supposed to be a people who embrace positive change and make the strides to achieve it. But the events in Ferguson are an example of not only how far we still have to go as a society to achieve total equality among the races, but also serves as to how horribly we stumble in the process. Race is still a very real, and very large problem, in the United States, and it’s those prejudices and actions that have contributed to the chaos that has left Ferguson in similarity to Kabul, and it’s those prejudices and actions that resulted in the death of Michael Brown