AUG 13, 2014, 2:00 PM
Unrest in Ferguson is about more than one police killing
The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri relating to the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, is about much more than just the homicide of one person.
Last Saturday, an unnamed white officer fatally shot Brown, a college bound teen. Eyewitness accounts state that Brown’s hands were up in the air when he was filled with police bullets. As Brown’s body lied in the middle of the street, uncovered, for four hours in the hot sun, neighbors looked on in shock which then turned to community outrage. Initial protests of the homicide of Brown were peaceful, then some persons took to rummaging businesses owned by people who do not reside in the neighborhood, causing significant property damage to those establishments.
Like Brown’s parents and the NAACP, I echo the point that destruction of personal property in response to the police shooting is absolutely wrong and that any form of vigilantism in regards to this situation is unacceptable. I do, however, know very well what motivates the angry and what has triggered some to lash out.
The death of Brown is seen by many Black Americans within the scope of structural oppression in which state violence against unarmed black men is the historical norm. In 2012, 313 unarmed black males were killed by law enforcement officers, security guards and self-appointed George Zimmerman-type vigilantes. That comes out to an extrajudicial killing of a black male in America every 28 hours.
When a group of people are faced with such violence from government entities — not including the police brutality that is non-lethal — it’s only natural that some people are going to react with rage in response to the violence of police officers who are in fact human rights’ violators.
Violence perpetrated by entities with power is very different from private citizens perpetrating violence on each other. Bringing up the issue of “black on black crime” would be a derailment of the issue at hand. Intraracial murder of private citizens is the norm for all groups; black people are far from unique in terms of primarily killing their own. “Black on black” crime operates the way “crime” operates in general, as as the primary murderers of whites in America are fellow whites. The real discussion at hand should be on how we can curtail the historical deployment of extrajudicial killings of black and brown men in America, not shifting the conversation to how black people kill other blacks too or how we should stop looters.
The public needs to also hold the Department of Justice (DOJ) accountable in this particular matter and others in general to ensure that these cases are correctly prosecuted on the federal level. The FBI has stated that they are investigating Brown’s homicide. I’m not holding my breath, however. Last year, the DOJ stated that it was going to investigate whether Zimmerman violated the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. After the media hoopla and community activists stop applying pressure, we haven’t heard a peep from the DOJ since regarding Zimmerman.
As I always say, no set of laws or policies can ever legislate away bias, prejudice or hate. Black men, since the days of slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow and today, have always been seen by those who enforce the law as intrinsically dangerous. At the end of the day, incidents such as Brown’s homicide are part of a larger narrative that we have yet to deal with. It’s a shameful legacy that dates back to the very founding of this republic.