I heard the news of the shooting on the morning of my eighteenth birthday. This was the last day of a ten day house-sitting gig where I was tasked with caring for a family’s dogs, their plants, and their house as a whole. A moment that should inspire pride for a job well done, or joy for payment well received, or excitement for my future was soured by the bitter reminder that racism and its many vices still exist in our society.
How? Just how can another young black man die so easily, so quickly in a society that claims to be “post-racist”?
On Saturday, August 9th, an 18 year-old man by the name of Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That is as far as the confirmations go.
The only other confirmed aspect of this situation is that a major demonstration occurred in response to the killing. Hundreds of people took to the streets—with police reporting nearly 1,000 demonstrators at its height—in protest of the policeman’s actions, with signs that read “Justice is Peace” and “Police stops should not = dead kids.” There are many reports that certain members of the crowd were chanting “Kill the police.”
Various community leaders, including the Alderman of St. Louis’ 21st Ward and some religious leaders from Ferguson, have been involved in drawing attention to the situation and trying to help in their own ways.
The story grows murky once we leave what has been confirmed.
The Ferguson Police Department’s official stance on the situation is that Michael Brown was resisting arrest, going so far as to push the officer back into the police car after he tried to exit, and attempted to take the officer’s weapon. After failing to do so, the officer then fired one shot from the vehicle. Then Brown was eventually shot again about 35 feet from the vehicle.
Again, that is the report from the Ferguson Police Department. Eye-witness reports are in stark contrast to that record of events.
Eye-witness reports allege that after the encounter with the officer, Brown was shot once by the officer while he was in the car and then around nine more times after Brown had raised his hands and faced the officer in an act of compliance. Dorian Johnson, a friend who was walking with Brown when the officer confronted them said “He (the officer) shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air,” continuing “He started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for the FBI to conduct an investigation so as to “protect the integrity of the investigation.” Many references from both the NAACP and the Ferguson Police Department have alluded to the fact that this case could draw similar if not identical media coverage to that of the Trayvon Martin case. And it is becoming incredibly obvious that the police force in Ferguson is trying to avoid such comparisons in the name of saving face.
We cannot uphold the blasé attitude towards the murder of a young black man, as if because it “happens everyday” is something to grow complacent with. Yes, the coming weeks will reveal the facts of what actually happened that tragic day. It may become evident that the police officer who fired at Brown followed protocol, or it may become evident that he in fact did abuse his powers as an officer of the law; it may become evident that race played an insignificant role in this death, or it may become evident that this was a racially motivated instance of violence.
Given history—even recent history—we can begin to understand why people feel Brown was killed based on racial prejudices. Besides the abundance of racism that has existed in the United States from our country’s inception to the Civil Rights Movement, we have quite a few instances of racial conflict relating to our police and justice systems that we can draw from.
We can look to the Trayvon Martin case, in which popular opinion generally believed that race was the leading reason for that young man’s death at the hands of an unwarranted vigilante. We can look to Rodney King case, where police officers mercilessly beat King after a high-speed car chase and footage of said beating further inflamed racial tensions around the world, leading to the 1992 Los Angeles Race Riots. Or you can look to the death of Eric Garner just this year, a man who can plainly be seen on video complying with the New York Police Department officers that eventually choke him to death even after he can be heard saying “I can’t breathe.”
The African-American community in the United States has a laundry-list of reasons why not to trust our police officers and justice system.
While I cannot condone the act of resisting arrest, if that is in fact what happened, I can understand the universal fear that is instilled in black youths across the country that could have made Brown resist. We are raised to avoid police officers and bend over backwards to please them if we do find ourselves in such a situation, because there often is no mercy for us. We are taught that police officers do not need a reason to arrest us because we are black. We are forced to show more respect than our non-person of color counterparts if we want to be treated anywhere near the same as them. This is taught not because our parents hold a grudge against the system in which we live, but because they have the empirical understanding that learning this lesson is usually a matter of life or death.
I am the same age as Brown now, in a similar racial climate, leaving for college in a few days as well. It’s difficult not to go through the “it could have been me” thought process when, in all honesty, situations like this happen regularly under varying circumstances. As I leave the house that I have so diligently cared for in the past ten days, I remember that it is not common for a young black man to be given such trust and respect from a white family in our country. And I wish that Brown, that Garner, that Trayvon, that King, and that the many other victims whose names we do not know across our country had been given that same kind of trust.
Image Credit. The mother of Mike Brown, Sid Hastings/Associated Press
McLaughlin, Eliott. “Fatal police shooting in Missouri sparks protests.” CNN. CNN, 2014. Web.
10 Aug 2014.
“Ferguson, Missouri Community Furious After Teen Shot Dead By Police.” The Huffington Post.
TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2014. Web, 10 Aug 2014.
“Multiple investigation underway in Ferguson shooting.” KMOV. KMOV, 2014. Web. 10 Aug 2014.