Content warning: Police brutality, violence, racism.
My heart hurts.
It’s been a week and a half since police in Ferguson, MO shot and killed Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager. A week and a half later, and the system has devolved into a nightmare. Police responded to what were originally nonviolent protests with riot gear and military equipment and tactics. They’re using tear gas and firing rubber bullets. A curfew has been instilled. The Ferguson police seem to care little for the Constitution; peaceful protesters have reportedly been forced to stay on the move if they want to protest, violating their right to assemble, and police have arrested journalists and interfered with their work. It’s so bad that Amnesty International has, for the first time in its 53-year history, deployed a team of observers inside the United States–in this case, to collect information on what’s going on.
There’s so much that’s wrong with this. First and foremost is the blatant racism at work–Mike Brown’s murder was only the latest in a string of shootings committed by white Americans against young black Americans. Once again, America has proven that it views the lives of black teenagers as disposable, that they don’t deserve justice or fair trials, that they could be executed on the street by any white cop who thinks they look suspicious. It’s fucked.
Then there’s the terrifying amount of police power on display. This, like nothing else in the last few years, has illustrated how damn militarized our police forces have become–and what happens when you blur the lines between police and military. Seeing the police ganging up, turning on civilians, trampling on civil rights, and treating an American city like a warzone and American citizens like enemy combatants… it chills me to the bone. This is not how democracy works. This is not an acceptable use of state power. But this is what we’ve allowed to be built in this country.
All of this is weighing on me, and I feel an obligation to write a blog post about it; to write all of my remaining blog posts about it, but I don’t think that’s feasible. In lieu of that, here are a number of important links about the situation in Ferguson that you should read.
1. “Tense Night in Ferguson,” from Amnesty International
Last night in Ferguson, after 11:00 pm CT, police were on loudspeaker announcing that anyone who was not credentialed media must leave the area. The Amnesty observer delegation decided to leave. They walked to leave the area, which required them to move toward police who were holding guns. The Amnesty observers put their hands up proactively as a sign that they did not hold weapons and were not a threat. A police officer stopped them and told the first three observers to kneel, which they did. The observers explained to an officer that they were human rights observers who were leaving as requested and they were granted passage.
2. “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson,” by Janee Woods
White people who are sick and tired of racism should work hard to become white allies.
In the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, may he rest in power, here are some ways for white people to become white allies who are engaged thoughtfully and critically in examining the situation in Ferguson and standing on the side of justice and equity. This list is a good place to start your fight to dismantle racial inequity and shine a light on the oppressive structures that lead to yet another extrajudicial killing of a black person.
3. “Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends,” by Greta Christina
I keep thinking about the children in my life, and the young adults in my life. I keep thinking about what my fears are for most of them: global warming, gross economic disparity hand in hand with political corruption, loss of anything resembling privacy.
And then I think about the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life. And I realize that my greatest fear for them is that they’ll get shot by a cop.
4. “Fear of a Black Victim,” by Matt Bors
[It’s a comic. Go to the link to see it.]
5. “I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System,” by Bobby Constantino
From Brownsville to downtown Manhattan, I would estimate that I passed more than 200 police officers, some from a distance, some close enough to touch. Though I was conspicuously casing high-profile public targets while holding graffiti instruments, not one of them stopped, frisked, searched, detained, summonsed, or arrested me. I would have to go further.
I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.
6. “Suspect Hides in Woman’s Basement, Assaults Officers,” by KMOV St. Louis
Officers went down the cellar steps of Freed’s home and tried to open the basement door, but Miner allegedly slammed it back shut, breaking an officer’s hand in the process.
Officers said they forced the door open, causing Miner to fight back. Miner then allegedly kicked an officer.
Miner was arrested…
7. “Michael Brown and the Danger of the Perfect Victim Frame,” by Jamilah King
Today, if we are to believe law enforcement and personal responsibility-loving politicians such as President Obama, black victims of white racism must still, as Colvin put it, “fit the profile.” Their victimhood is only supposed to matter if their lives are pristine. That’s why St. Louis County law enforcement keeps trying to chip away at the popular image of Michael Brown as a college-bound gentle giant. Last Friday, while identifying the 18-year-old’s killer as Officer Darren Wilson, local police released surveillance footage from a convenience store that allegedlly shows Brown stealing cigars and assaulting a clerk. (Later that day, Police Chief Thomas Jackson admitted that Wilson didn’t know that Brown was a suspect.) On Monday, unnamed sources from the St. Louis County medical examiner’s office told The Washington Post that Brown had marijuana in his blood at the time of his killing.
These tidbits are an obvious distraction from the most urgent matter: a police officer’s killing of an unarmed young man.
8. “What Is Tear Gas?”, by Facing Tear Gas
The term “tear gas” is a misnomer. For one thing, “tear gas” seems to imply something innocuous— you would think it’s just a chemical that makes you tear up. In fact, tear gas is a dangerous, potentially lethal chemical agent which is outlawed under the Chemical Weapons Convention for use during wartime. As the Omega Research Foundation argues: “Less-lethal weapons are presented as more acceptable alternatives to guns. But these weapons augment rather than replace the more lethal weapons. Euphemistic labels are used to create the impression that these weapons represent soft and gentle forms of control. CS is never referred to by the authorities as vomit gas, in spite of its capacity to cause violent retching.” NGO Physicians for Human Rights believes that “ ‘tear gas’ is a misnomer for a group of poisonous gases which, far from being innocuous, have serious acute and longer-term adverse effects on the health of significant numbers of those exposed.”
9. “How Ferguson Exposed Facebook’s Breaking News Problem,” by Charlie Warzel
If your friends don’t interact with the news, by either commenting or liking it, you’re less likely to see it, meaning that a decent part of the reason people aren’t seeing a glut of Ferguson coverage is that people don’t want to see it. Or that they don’t care. Or that they’re sending some other signal that Facebook takes to mean that the story is undermining their user experience. That, for better or worse, is the algorithm at work.
10. “A Message to the People of Ferguson,” by Eric H. Holder, Jr.
This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson: Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent. And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders, and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding — and robust action — aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve. Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community.
11. “Failing in Ferguson: How the Police Are Doing Everything Wrong and Why It’s Dangerous for Everyone,” by Melissa Byrne
You don’t wear your party shoes if you don’t want to dance. When the police dress up in their riot gear and plastic shields, they are sending the message that they are ready to fight the crowd. They are saying that they are protected and that they are willing to inflict harm on the demonstrators. This causes the demonstrators to up their anger level and it creates a cycle of escalation. It’s also is a slap in the face to the first amendment.
12. “Officer Friendly,” by Tom Tomorrow
[It’s also a comic. Go read it.]
13. “Tips for Being an Unarmed Black Teen,” by The Onion
With riots raging in Ferguson, MO following the shooting death by police of an unarmed African-American youth, the nation has turned its eyes toward social injustice and the continuing crisis of race relations. Here are The Onion’s tips for being an unarmed black teen in America:
- Try to see it from a police officer’s point of view: You may be unarmed, but you’re also black.
There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.
Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica
If you have more relevant links, please share them in the comments.
If you’re looking for ways to help out, read this post on “Things You Can Do For Ferguson“.
I don’t get that many comments normally, so I don’t really have a comment policy, but I’m going to take a leaf out of Greta Christina’s book here and institute a zero-tolerance policy regarding the subject of Mike Brown’s death. If you, for whatever reason, suggest that the murder of Mike Brown was justified or that the police responded reasonably, I’m banning you without hesitation. My blog will not be a place for that shit.
Header image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.