First off, I would like to state that I have great admiration and respect for our men and women in blue who serve on our police forces and protect our communities.
It has now been one month since the shooting death of Michael Brown. There has been a lot of controversy, new information, misinformation, character assassination, politicization, side-taking, anger, pain, hurt, frustration, and finger pointing. But most importantly there is one teenager whose future is gone and life is lost, a broken family, a divided community, and a man who has become a social pariah. There’s damage everywhere you look. There has been so much controversy and conflicting information and reports surrounding this topic that it’s hard to know what the truth is. But there are certain societal truths that can be drawn from this incident that we can learn from and that we should be aware of.
The first truth that we must face is that in our society there is a fear of black people, especially black men. There have been too many deaths of unarmed black people in recent years for it to just be a coincidence. I don’t know whether the Michael Brown shooting was justified or not, all I’m saying is that it’s part of a trend.
This is evident in the famous case of the death of Trayvon Martin. He was profiled because he was black, and even though the police told George Zimmerman to wait in the car until they arrived at the scene, Zimmerman decided that Martin was too suspicious of a character for him to wait for the police to take action. The jury seemed to agree with this and subsequently acquitted Zimmerman because they believed that it was justified due to the fact that they could empathize with his belief that his life was in danger.
This is also evident in other somewhat well-known cases such as the case of Eric Garner in July of this year. Garner, a 6’3″ 350 pound black man was arguing with a group of plainclothes police officers after they approached him due to a call by a convenience store owner that he was selling cigarettes illegally and untaxed outside his store. Here is a video of what happened next: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ka4oKu1jo. Garner would go into cardiac arrest and die.
And there’s the case of Jordan Davis, which happened just months after Trayvon Martin died. The 17-year-old Davis was stopped at a gas station in a car with his friends. They were blasting hip-hop music from the car. A 45-year-old man named Michael Dunn and his girlfriend pulled up to the adjacent spot. Michael Dunn said to his girlfriend, “I hate that thug music.” Here the perception that hip-hop, a genre of music that originated from black urban culture, is the music of thugs is perpetuated by Dunn and one stereotype is already in his head about these teenagers. Dunn asked them to turn the music down. Davis’s friend Tevin Thompson in the front seat complied and turned it down, but Davis told Thompson to turn it back up and Thompson did what Davis told him to do. Davis and Dunn began arguing and Dunn would claim that Davis threatened to kill him and pointed what looked like a shotgun from the window at him. Dunn grabbed his firearm and fired it at Davis, killing him, and would continue shooting at the car as it drove away. Police searched the vehicle for weapons and found nothing. Dunn’s girlfriend, however, during the trial also mentioned that that night he never mentioned anything about a shotgun. So there’s a good chance that Dunn may not have been afraid at all and just was a racist who decided that he needed to put these black kids in their place. If you want your modern day Emmett Till, this is it.
There are even still a few lesser known cases that show examples of how our society is afraid of black people.
Here’s a case that happened just days before the Michael Brown shooting. John Crawford was in a Wal-Mart in Ohio, an open-carry gun law state, which means that you can bring basically any kind of gun you want into a public place as long as you are the owner of it, whether you have a license or not. Crawford decided he wanted to buy an Airsoft gun. He also decided to be a moron and take it out of the packaging and start playing around with it in the store, waving it around, pointing it at people, and clicking the trigger. A man named Ronald Ritchie called the police saying there was a man with a gun in the store. Police arrived on the scene and shot Crawford. Crawford would die from his injuries and it would later be found out that the gun he was carrying was not a real firearm. Oops. Do you think he got a chance to explain himself? Or that he tried to and the police didn’t believe him? Who knows? (UPDATE: There is some new information and corrections I have to make about the John Crawford III case. First, he did not take the Airsoft gun out of its packaging but instead found it out of its packaging on a shelf in the store. Second, it turns out either Ritchie was flat out lying on the 911 call or his subconscious prejudices and fears and stereotypes were making him delusional. Ritchie basically described Crawford’s actions how I stated them above, including saying that he loaded the gun and was pointing it at children. This surveillance tape shows what actually happened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9FtNOV6Qhk. As you can see, he wasn’t threatening anyone or menacing anyone with it or pointing it at people. He certainly did not load it. He was talking on his freaking cell phone and just happened to be fiddling around with the fake gun while talking. Despite how it may appear, he actually was fired upon before he dropped the toy, seconds after police saw him. Again, I’ll remind you, he died. And also remember that Ohio has an open carry gun law.)
About 2 weeks ago, Chris Lollie was sitting in a skyway when someone called 911 to report a man loitering in the area. Lollie was waiting to pick up his kids from the New Horizon Academy school. Officers approached him and questioned him. Lollie assured them that there was no problem. Here’s what happened next: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWH578nAasM. Lollie would be tasered and arrested for disorderly conduct, trespassing, and obstructing legal process.
The point I am trying to make here is that because we as a society have a fear of black people, it makes us more likely to pull the proverbial trigger. I don’t know whether Michael Brown was charging at Officer Darren Wilson, whether he was stumbling forward from being shot, whether he was shot as soon as he turned around, or whether his hands were up. I don’t know whether Wilson’s life was in danger or not or whether or not this was a justified shooting. But I do think that if Michael Brown were white or at least not black, there’s a chance Wilson may have been less likely or less quick to pull the trigger.
Some examples can even be found in the Michael Brown case where people have tried to capitalize on American society’s fear of black people.
The first would be when the police released the video that showed Brown robbing the convenience store a week after the shooting. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson claimed he was forced to release the video due to numerous requests to release the video that met the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, but later it would be found out that little to no direct specific requests for the release of the robbery tape were made. So this was clearly an attempt to paint Brown as a dangerous thug and make the shooting look justified.
Another attempt to paint Brown as a dangerous thug and assassinate his character and perpetuate this stereotype was perpetrated by “journalist” Charles C. Johnson. Charles C. Johnson claimed that he had two law enforcement sources that said Brown had a juvenile record. He said this record included a charge of second degree murder. He claimed Brown was a member of the Crips and that his death had actually brought the Bloods and the Crips together. However a judge would review Brown’s juvenile record and find that he was never even convicted of a felony.
Another attempt to make sure Brown looks like a violent dangerous character came out in reports by Fox News and ABC News. Whoever the source was was trying to make Brown look like a dangerous thug and perpetuate this stereotype. Fox News described the source as close to Ferguson Police Department’s “top brass” and ABC News described it as someone close to Darren Wilson. The source claimed that Wilson was beaten nearly unconscious and suffered a fractured eye socket. Time out. First of all, we should be able to tell that this is complete and utter bullshit right from the start. There is no way that someone could be beaten nearly unconscious and suffer a fractured eye socket and be able to fire a gun accurately and effectively. Second of all, it would later be reported by CNN from a source within the Ferguson Police Department that x-rays of Wilson’s eye socket came back negative. There is also currently a picture circulating around the internet that people claim is of Officer Darren Wilson in the hospital with his facial injuries. This photo is actually of a motocross rider named Jim McNeil who died in a crash in 2011. The photo is of an injury he suffered in 2006. This article shows the false picture and a picture of the real Wilson: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/darren-wilson-injury-photo-ferguson_n_5768510.html.
All of these are attempts to make the shooting look more justified or at least more understandable when the only thing that might justify the shooting is if Brown was on the offensive and was a serious danger to Wilson’s life while Wilson fired at him. We as a society need to admit our prejudices to ourselves and recognize them. The only way we can prevent ourselves from falling victim to our prejudices is if we are aware of them. Many of these prejudices are subconscious and we may not even realize we have them. But by being aware of what happens in our society we can stop and think about whether we have them or not. If you don’t believe me that these subconscious prejudices exist, check out the difference between how we write about black victims of crimes and white crime suspects, criminals, and killers in this article that provides numerous examples: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html. We need to get out of this state of denial we are in that these prejudices don’t exist anymore. They do.
The second truth we need to face is that many of our police have the wrong mentality about what it means to be a police officer. A cop’s duty is to protect and to serve their citizens. They are public servants. The police should work with their citizens as best as they can to make their community a better and safer place. They should not view their job as a duty to wage war on criminals, but to rather to protect people from crime; there is a difference between the two mentalities.
Also, a cop’s first duty is not to their fellow officers. While being part of a police force is a brotherhood, that duty is a lower priority to their duty to society and their duty to the truth. Too often officers after committing serious transgressions are given very minor or no consequences, such as being put on desk duty. Also, too often officers cover for each other’s mistakes. This happened in the case of Eric Garner.
Perhaps the best illustration of the militaristic, war-like mentality many officers have towards their citizens comes from Ferguson, Missouri. In a protest about the Michael Brown shooting, one of the officers who is there to keep things in order shouts to the protesters, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” Is this not a war cry? Aren’t these the citizens you are supposed to be protecting? Why do you want to fight them?
In 2011 in Fullerton, California an unarmed 37-year-old schizophrenic homeless man named Kelly Thomas was fatally beaten by members of the Fullerton Police Department. Six officers shocked him with tasers and clubbed him with flashlights. Officers had received a call that someone was vandalizing cars. They found Thomas, who was shirtless and disheveled and they attempted to search him. According to the officers Thomas was not cooperative and resisting their efforts. Backup was called. Officer Manny Ramos slipped on a pair of latex gloves and said to Thomas, “Now you see my fists?” Thomas replied, “Yeah, what about them?” Ramos said, “They are getting ready to fuck you up.” A video of the incident was recorded in which Thomas could be heard screaming in pain while officers told him to put his arms behind his back. He responded, “Okay I’m sorry!” He can also be heard saying “I’m trying!” as the officers stretch his arms back. The police claimed that since they were unable to get Thomas to comply they used a taser on him. They tased him as many as five times. Here is a picture of what Thomas looked like before the beating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Kelly_Thomas#mediaviewer/File:Kelly_Thomas_2009_booking_photo_released_by_Fullerton_PD.jpg. Here is a picture of what he looked like after (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Kelly_Thomas#mediaviewer/File:Kelly-Thomas-Police-Beating.jpg. You cannot tell me that beating him to the point where he would eventually die from his injuries was necessarily. They decided to view the suspect of an enemy who needed to be punished immediately for his crime instead of a criminal who needed to be arrested and punished through the legal system. They waged war on a citizen. Once again, wrong mentality.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2010, Shawn Merritt was waiting for his food outside a Chinese takeout restaurant. His fiance and daughter were waiting inside. His cousin, community activist Askia Sabur, was riding by on his bicycle and decided to stop and chat. As they were talking, two police officers, Danyul Williams and Jimmy Leocal, pulled over in their car. The officers ordered them to “Get the fuck off our corner.” Merritt told the police he was waiting for his food and wouldn’t leave, and the officers demanded that both of them show identification. As Sabur reached for his ID, Officer Williams handcuffed his wrist. Sabur asked repeatedly why he was being arrested (sound familiar?) and pulled away from the officer when the officer jerked his other arm behind his back. Here’s what happened next: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQXh-v3IZ4c. The officers would claim that they were in fear for their life because there was a hostile crowd of around 300 people surrounding them. They would also claim that Sabur repeatedly bit one of them and reached for one of their guns and even grabbed one of their batons. The video evidence proved this all to be false. This sounds very much like a war scenario, almost like a gang war scenario. Sabur was on what was apparently these officers’ territory, and they had to fight for their land, so they waged war on a citizen. Not only that, but the officers lied to protect each other’s asses instead of fulfilling their duty to their community, their citizens, and the truth.
In 2010, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Martin was racing to provide backup on a call. He was upset by the fact that an ambulance in front of him was refusing to yield to him. He thought he saw the ambulance driver flip him an obscene gesture. He decided to stop the ambulance. The ambulance did not have its sirens or lights on because the patient inside was in a certain condition where bright lights and loud sounds would exacerbate that condition. Martin did not know initially that a patient was inside. Maurice White Jr., the EMT in charge of the ambulance (not the driver), came out to deal with the police officer. Here are two different videos that give two different angles of what happened. This one gives a view from the police car’s dashboard camera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SMpAHJkhm0. This one gives a view from the camera phone of one of the family members of the patient and gives a good angle of the physical altercation that goes on, in which the officer puts his hand around White’s neck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KluItc365hU. Instead of Martin focusing on the more important issue at hand, which was looking out for one of the citizens he is supposed to protect and to serve by making sure the patient gets to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible, he focuses on arresting people who work for emergency medical services who have annoyed him by giving him obscene gestures and not yielding to him. He chose to wage war on his citizens instead of protecting them. Once again we see this. It seems that many of our officers view the need to punish their citizens as more important than to serve and protect their citizens. These cases of unnecessary roughness are just that: unnecessary. Use the necessary means you need to to arrest someone and take them into custody. And know what the priorities of your job are. We need to make sure we hire police officers who are in the force for the right reasons and understand what their duty is.
A third truth that has been brought to light (once again) is that there is a certain level of distrust and divide between many black people in this country and the police. In the Ferguson Police Department there is a large history of racism. To find out more, watch this: http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2014/08/13/rachel-maddow-on-the-record-of-racial-disparity-in-ferguson/. I’m not saying that all police are racist. But there certainly seems to be more than just a few bad apples, even though I don’t think it’s the majority. However, police departments are often institutionally racist. Now Ferguson’s Police Department along with being institutionally racist is just straight up racist. But here is how it is institutionally racist. Ferguson’s population is about 67% black. The Ferguson Police Department has 50 white officers and 3 black officers. This is not even close to representative of the population. And many police departments around the country have this kind of misrepresentation of the population. This creates an institutionally racist system; whoever is in the minority does not benefit from this misrepresentation and it actually hurts them. I’m not suggesting that we make racial quotas in our police departments, or that we fire all the white people and replace them with minorities; those things would obviously be wrong. But we need to be conscious of the fact that white people are more likely to get hired in this country due to subconscious prejudices. It is a statistical fact that white people have a better chance of getting employed than minorites. When a public institution is so misrepresentative of its community, it is not by coincidence, whether it is intentional or not (something can be a unintentional and still not be a coincidence). Something more is happening than meets the eye. We need to be aware of this so we can prevent institutionally racist police forces. I would be saying the same thing if an area was 67% white and had 50 black cops and 3 white cops.
Another truth that has been revealed by the problems in Ferguson is that in this country we can politicize anything. Somehow, there are now “conservative” and “liberal” stances on the Michael Brown shooting. This is despicable. There is no left or right when it comes to a person’s death. There are only facts. When I hear things like, “This video may support those who have a more conservative stance on the Michael Brown shooting’s view,” or that someone has taken a “liberal” stance on the issue I find it absolutely sickening. We need to stop taking sides, digging our feet in about what we think happened, and wait till we have more information. We need to have malleable, working opinions that may be subject to change. My view on how someone may have died does not make me any more liberal or conservative. So let’s please stop with this stupid partisan, divisive BS.
Another truth that has been revealed by the trouble in Ferguson is that we jump to conclusions too quickly. People have decided what happened on that day and in that moment that Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. There are still many things we do not know for certain. We don’t know if Michael Brown’s hands were up or not when he turned around. We don’t know whether or not he charged at Darren Wilson. We don’t know whether or not he was stumbling forward when Wilson delivered the final shots. We don’t know whether Wilson actually believed his life was in danger. We don’t know what kind of person Michael Brown was. We don’t know what kind of person Darren Wilson is. We are so quick to assassinate people’s character, and I think it’s because we want to feel better about ourselves and our own views. I think a lot of the reason many people are so quick to assassinate Michael Brown’s character is because it either validates the comfortable subconscious stereotypes they have of black people in their minds or it gives them an alternative to facing the prejudices they have that they so vehemently deny. I think people are quick to assassinate Wilson’s character for a few reasons. One of these reasons may be that it’s easier to be self-righteous and point the finger at someone else and accuse them of and condemn them for prejudice when things like this happen instead of taking a look at ourselves and facing what prejudices we may have. Another reason may be to validate the belief that certain injustices go on in our society (and I’m not saying that they don’t). When incidents like the shooting in Ferguson happen, instead of using it primarily as an opportunity to point blame, condemn people, and assassinate people’s character, let’s instead take a look at ourselves. In the words of Michael Jackson, “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change.” Instead of spending our energy talking about what a horrible racist pig of a human being Darren Wilson supposedly is, why don’t we spend a little time looking at our own prejudices, whether conscious or subconscious, and being honest with ourselves that we all have them to some extent. Maybe Darren Wilson is a horrible racist pig who decided he wanted to go out and kill a black teenager. Maybe Wilson is a good cop who thought his life was in danger. Maybe Wilson’s life was actually in danger. Maybe Wilson is a good guy who just panicked in a pressure situation and made a horrible mistake. Maybe Wilson is just a guy who had a moment of weakness where he fell victim to subconscious prejudices at the absolute worst moment. I don’t know. But it is only by making ourselves aware of our prejudices that we can prevent ourselves from falling victim to them. Because we are all always at risk of falling victim to our prejudices. Depending on what we believe happened after the moment that Michael Brown turned around and faced Officer Wilson, we can all hope we would have done the right thing (whatever it may have been) and speculate all we want on what Wilson should have done. But if we are completely honest with ourselves, in any of the scenarios that might have happened, how many of us say with absolute certainty what, in reality, we actually would have done?