The killing of Michael Brown is stirring up outrage and anger from very diverse people for very different reasons. Instances like this bring out the best and worst of our society, even if the surface emotion from either end is identical. On one hand we have the anger of the black community. Their anger comes from a place of frustration and resentment towards a society that brought them into the land of freedom under the pretense of slavery, kept them in the land of opportunity under the pretense of oppression, and toady looks down upon them for their predicaments and reactions to said predicaments, despite those circumstances still being largely created by less overt, but just as strong as ever, sentiments of hatred, fear, and dehumanization, that most explicitly become apparent above the surface for all to see in situations like that which Michael Brown succumbed to. They are frustrated and resentful towards a society that treats them as Michael Brown was ultimately treated, and then seems to not care about what happens to those like Brown, and furthermore will blame their people for the impossible situations their oppressors create. On the other hand we have the anger of the traditional white establishment. Their anger comes from a place of frustration and resentment as well, but their frustration and resentment is aimed at a minority community they recognize deep down are below their own communities to the degree they are because of how their predecessors treated their predecessors. In order to deal with the frustration and guilt this might otherwise make them feel, they attempt to rationalize their immorally won good fortunes by demonizing the victims, rather than help them up. They resent blacks for wanting to be given a fair shot to compete with whites, and they most especially resent them for pointing out just how much harder it is for them, both because of the lineage they come from, and because of how they are still treated in less overt ways to this day. Being too afraid to admit that their heritage created the inequality from which they benefit, and also being too afraid to denounce and give up their traditional statuses of privilege, traditional white America sees black America through the stereotypes and prejudices long ago established by their predecessors, because to do so is simply easier.
Michael Brown was a large black person (you can decide for yourself whether you want to call an 18 year old a “kid” or a “man”) walking down the street with one of his friends, when, according to all eye witness accounts a cop began to demand they move onto the sidewalk, and when they didn’t, he got angry enough that he eventually took out his gun and shot Brown multiple times, as Brown, unarmed, had his hands in the air, and then shot him some more while standing over his possibly already dead body in the street. According to everyone who claims to have seen it all go down, there was no physical altercation of any kind. The cop is saying that Brown was fighting him and trying to reach for his gun, so he shot him in self-defense. I’m not saying that it’s impossible that happened….I’m just saying it’s pretty damn unlikely that an 18 year old recent high school graduate about to head off to college would decide, sober and in broad daylight as a black man in America to start wrestling with a cop who told him to move from the street to the sidewalk and attempt to steal his gun. It’s pretty damn unlikely that all these eye witnesses are just covering for some potential cop killer who really was trying to wrestle a gun out of the hands of an office simply because they hate white people so much that they would all create and maintain this elaborate lie. As for what was said, that’s a whole other story. It’s very possible that the teenage Brown and his friend might have been very disrespectful or flippant towards this cop telling them to get out of the street, and it’s very possible they were refusing to get up on the sidewalk. Yet, the problem for our officer in question is that you don’t then get to fill up someone’s body with bullets as they first have their hands in the air and then are lying on the ground because they gave you some lip about not wanting to get out of the middle of some street. It seems this cop felt the only way he could legally get away with doing such a thing is if he were in a physical altercation with Brown, and considering that it has since come out that Brown was unarmed, not just any physical altercation, but one in which he feared for his life, which would only seem reasonable if Brown was really trying to steal the cop’s gun in the middle of some wrestling match.
What’s been particularly rough about this case is not just that an unarmed 18 year old was killed by a cop, when his hands were in the air, as retaliation for not following some dumb order about where to walk, but also that the Ferguson, MO police are refusing to publicly release the name of the cop who is alleged to have done this, in addition to refusing to as of yet have an interview with Brown’s friend who was obviously right there to watch it all unfold. Whether this was the intent or not, it looks very much like this was something Ferguson PD was hoping they could turn into a good old boys cover up where they just quietly refused to take any serious eye witness testimony, internally investigated the situation which would amount to a he (white cop) said, they (black community of eye witnesses) said situation where there would never be any charges filed, and it would be ruled a self-defense killing by a good cop. Unfortunately for Ferguson PD the people of Ferguson are a little angrier than the white establishment down there was expecting, and now due to protests, looting, and rioting the national media is paying attention, Eric Holder, Obama, Al Sharpton, they are all paying attention and asking questions, like why won’t you interview witnesses? why would this 18 year old violently attack a cop and try to take his gun for being told to move to the sidewalk?, and why won’t you release the name of the cop who did this? All of a sudden, their attempts at a quiet, local hush-hush cover-up are being ruined.
Things aren’t just being ruined in any cover-up attempts they had for this Michael Brown case. Rather, the whole racist history of St. Louis County police departments are being revealed. It turns out just a year ago, there was a whistle blower who alleged that his lieutenant was instructing his officers to “arrest some black people today,” and “make the jail cells more colorful,” and things of that nature, while telling his three black cops (out of 53 in an area that is 60% black), “I don’t mean you guys, you are the good ones.” When they investigated, it turned out 9 other cops came forward and said, yea, this lieutenant was saying all that, so he they fired him. But thanks to a Missouri law passed back in 2000 which requires every law enforcement official to record the race of each person they stop, arrest, question, etc, we’re finding out that St. Louis County has a far more systemic race problem than one bad egg lieutenant. It turns out when you look at towns throughout the county black people make up a way larger proportion of stops, arrests, and convictions than their proportion of the population within socioeconomically equal communities full of blacks and whites. In Ferguson in particular when they look at things like disparities in everything as simple as traffic stops to arrests, black folks simply get stopped way more than their expected share based on population totals, while whites are way below their expected share based on population totals. Everyone knows this sort of racism still exists throughout America, but rarely is it so explicitly and publicly quantified as it is in Missouri as the result of that 2000 law. You’d either have to come to conclusions like, wow black people just really suck at driving and love to shoplift, while white people are awesome drivers and never shoplift, or you can come to the more reasonable conclusion that the local police departments are super ass racist. This doesn’t mean this one particular cop did or did not do to Michael Brown what all the eye witnesses say he did, but it does mean that yea, down in Ferguson Missouri there might be some pretty deep racial prejudices that make it seem a little more plausible that a racist cop shot up an unarmed black kid with his hands in the air who had done nothing legally wrong, let alone put the cop’s life in danger.
As the days have unfolded and the media attention has mounted, we’ve begun to be challenged as a society to think about some uncomfortable questions; questions that get fed up blacks and angry traditional whites equally worked up. First, this incident, at least for me, has made me think of all the ways racism exists today. Yes, we are past the days when black people are slaves in the south, and also past the days when segregation could keep them from schools, hospitals, drinking fountains, or bus seats. We are past the days when most respectable white Americans recognize it is inappropriate to run around saying nigger this and nigger that, or throwing Molotov cocktails in the window when a black family moves in next door, but this idea that after Martin Luther King marched around giving speeches, the 13th-15th amendments were passed and signed by LBJ, some affirmative actions laws were passed, and a half black guy later got elected President racism died and became some footnote in history books is just silly. It was both exciting and sad to find that we can still produce some hard, empirical evidence of various forms of real-life bigotry within Missouri, at least as it pertains to traffic stops and arrest records. It’s exciting because it’s a good opportunity to show to angry white folks who want very much for contemporary racial discrimination to be a myth, that it is not. They want it very much to be a myth as that would allow them to let go of any guilt they feel, cling harder to irrational anger they feel towards minorities, and be able to justify their inferior predicaments of minorities as justifiable. Yet we have to be able to show them that there is a reason to feel guilt and a need to channel that guilt into productive causes, actions, and policies that would help minorities, rather than to channel it into hatred and irrational blaming the victim style justification. However, the data is also sad, because it demonstrates that despite whatever naïve optimism any of us might feel, the ramifications of racial prejudices are still making profound impacts on real communities full of real people.
But as I said, the data is about more than the data. It’s a crack in the window that should make us think more deeply about all the other ways aside from traffic stops and arrests our society is holding down people of color from their full potential. I’ve been thinking about things like differences in outcomes in court (we know for example that the Florida stand your ground law is 250% more likely to be found as a cause for not guilty verdicts when it is a white “standing their ground” against a black than a white “standing their ground” against another white, or a black “standing their ground” against another black), or differences in the ways laws are applied (for example the crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine mandatory sentencing laws which specifically target crack cocaine since it is more popular in black communities), or differences in qualifying for a mortgage on a home (for example we remember how when the Donald Sterling thing came out we also heard about his past trying to keep housing he was developing away from blacks), or differences in qualifying for a car loan, differences in qualifying for a small business loan, or differences in getting into universities, or differences in the tax funding K-12 black schools and white schools get, or differences in hiring practices, firing practices, differences in how teachers view black and white students, encourage them discipline them, etc, or differences in what kind and how many businesses will invest in black communities vs white communities, or differences in how parents feel about their son or daughter dating a white or black boy/girl, marrying a black or white man/woman, differences in whether white or black kids get adopted more frequently, or differences in how books and movies depict black vs. white characters, or even just differences in how people look at black vs white people, and how often they do things like clutch their purse or lock their doors when they see one. These are just some of the “little ways” racial prejudice can and still does exist today, even though blacks can sit where they want on the bus and won’t have to hear white people call them niggers before they lynch them. Racism isn’t dead.
The fact racism isn’t dead, or at least the accurate suggestion of such, is precisely what is angering the traditional white crowd so much right now. They specifically don’t want to accept that some white cop in Ferguson, MO, even if not an n-word dropping type racist, could easily have shot a completely innocent, harmless black person to death because of the subliminal racism that still exists within society. Look, maybe this cop shot up Michael Brown because he really just hates black people and some black person telling them they weren’t going to move from the street to the sidewalk was enough to set him off and make him murder Brown. However, I’d like to propose a more likely explanation, and one that traditional whites probably would much less prefer. This is that this cop was not racist per say, but living in a culture that still perpetuates the notion of animalistic black people.
Obviously, historically blacks where first portrayed as sub human animals to help a largely religious society justify their enslavement. If they were just a sophisticated animal, a lesser type of human, you could own them like a dog and it would be okay in the eyes of your god, which was not necessarily their god. Over time, after slavery ended, whites had long convinced themselves that blacks where just a bunch of sexually crazed, violent, emotionally impulsive, morally inferior, intellectually incompetent beasts, so they kept on viewing them that way within free society. Furthermore, as time went further on and newer generations that had never lived during slavery saw blacks, they didn’t necessarily see an inferior sub-species of humans, but rather humans just as capable as themselves whom they feared having to compete with, and also feared having to beg forgiveness from. Since they were afraid of retaliation and competition they kept up the dumb, horny, violent, lazy stereotypes to justify oppressing them via the power of numbers. After the 1960’s when it became clear that blacks were no longer going to tolerate these traditions and fight back, perhaps even violently, for equal opportunity and social recognition whites recognized that giving lip service to equality and getting rid of the most overt forms of racism, while still oppressing blacks in less obvious, but equally effective ways was the best chance they had at being able to avoid competing with them on a truly level playing field. In order to justify the outcomes of that process, the old stereotypes about blacks being a bunch of big, dumb, lazy, violent people is kept up within the good old boys white culture. You see it perpetuated throughout all forms of media, entertainment, and such, and if you simply look out at the results of the world (black people living in inner city ghettos where nobody graduates high school and everyone is shooting each other up and having babies while collecting welfare) you can say, oh I guess all that stuff about them simply being violent (killing each other), lazy (no jobs), horny (having tons of babies), stupid (dropping out of school) people is true. It looks truer than ever before, because the surface perception is that racism is a thing of the past. Giving up on screaming the n-word, burning crosses, and water hosing people sitting at lunch counters while still oppressing blacks in all the important socioeconomic areas of life was the smartest move white racists ever made, because now mainstream society is led to believe old racist rants and stereotypes about blacks were actually true.
So, our white cop probably wasn’t personally racist, but he probably was convinced both by movies, TV shows, the nightly news, plus whatever he knew about who lived in what kind of neighborhoods, that black people were probably more impulsive and violent amongst other things. Thus, it was much easier for him to get unnccessarily spooked when some 6’4 300lb black person like Michael Brown and his dreadlock wearing friend probably started cussing at him or something when he yelled at them to get on the sidewalk. Everything our culture tells this cop, and all the results of our society that this cop sees, suggested to him that in all likelihood the next thing this huge black guy was going to do was pull out a weapon and come charging at him screaming die motherfucker die. It doesn’t excuse his shooting Brown when Brown put his hands in the air, but the reality is that our society trains people, probably most especially white cops, to think that black people are the enemy always out to hurt you and for whatever irrational reason the dude spooked himself into thinking he needed to unload into Brown. What the cop did, assuming this isn’t all some huge community wide conspiracy lie, is indeed murder. However, what white establishment America would rather the case be, if it can’t be that Brown really was some violent thug killed in self-defense by the white cop, is for the white cop to have been some rare racist prick who just wanted to shoot a black guy. That is easier to explain away as “not emblematic” of society at large, than it is to explain away a not so racist person in day to day life thinking that any large black man giving him some verbal attitude is a threat to kill him like a wild beast. The latter scenario suggests that racism is not actually dead and that pisses white America off.
Thus far, I’ve yet to talk about the black response to this situation, aside from saying they are quite, seemingly justifiably, angry. Yet, we have to talk about it in more detail. The peaceful protesting is obviously going to be accepted by all, even if what they are protesting about makes traditional white America uncomfortable enough that they respond with a defensive, snarky anger. The rioting and looting that took place is something else. All the prominent black leaders and major players in the case are saying the politically correct things. They are calling for peace. Yesterday, Al Sharpton said “you can’t be more angry than Michael Brown’s parents” to a crowd that probably wanted to go do some violent things after nightfall. Yet, I’ll say what I am sad to acknowledge black people and leaders cannot safely say within our current societal climate. That is, black people are justified in breaking some shit. The double standard in America that pisses me off most is how white people doing anything to blacks throughout history are, yes, eventually, very slowly finally told what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable, but all the victims of their unjust behavior are told that they have to turn the other cheek and just be happy that eventually the wrongs were acknowledged as wrongs. That’s such bullshit. I wish Jackie Robinson could have gone all Ron Artest on the fans screaming racial stuff at him, instead of him having to just be happy with the end result that decades later all the teams were accepting blacks and all the fans were cheering for black players. It’s like white people are made to be “doing something for black people,” when in fact all they are “doing” is finally deciding to be less of horrible oppressors of black people. Blacks are always told to smile as they are oppressed while saying yes sir and no m’am, and then told to be sufficiently grateful when a certain kind of oppression is lessened or stopped. They shouldn’t be thankful they can sit anywhere they want, they should be angry it took so damn long, and when they weren’t allowed to, anything they set on fire or broke in protest was a righteous expression of anger. Of course, our racist society loves it when black people get angry, because it helps perpetuate the stereotype of them as animalistic lesser humans. It’s really easy for white people to say they wouldn’t start busting up their neighborhood if blacks were in charge of the country and doing things to their young people the way whites are in charge and doing things to people like Michael Brown, because white people will never have to “prove” they would “show more moral restraint” (they wouldn’t by the way, nor should they if that were the case), as they will never be the oppressed race in this country no matter how much fear mongering talk radio blowhards try to say they one day will be.
Perhaps what pisses me off most about the situation is the way white people in this country take instances of whites doing something horrible to blacks as an opportunity to get up and preach to black people in a condescending, paternalistic fashion. Two nights ago, the king of paternalistically talking down to black people, Bill O’Reilly took that opportunity. He had a segment on his show where he started lecturing the parents of Michael Brown of all people. He said that they were “speaking through an emotional prism” and “didn’t have all the facts,” while instructing them (as though they were watching) to “trust the police.” Bizarrely, O’Reilly also said he would be reacting the same way and saying the same things they are saying if it had been his son, but somehow he hinted that such was okay because, I don’t know, I guess white people think rationally, make sure they research all their facts, and have the proper trust in law enforcement when their child is murdered, whereas blacks are just a bunch of dumb, emotional, impulsive, distrusting people, basically too stupid and paranoid to figure out when it’s proper to complain about your son being gunned down. It was really ugly.
What was actually ugliest about it was the fact Ben Carson was there. Carson was on because within the traditional white media they always need to have a “good” black person on whenever a racial situation arises, so they can have that black person sit there and talk shit about black people, basically calling them lazy, violent, and somehow responsible for things like this happening, while avoiding having a white guy be so blunt about it. Unfortunately for O’Reilly Carson didn’t take the bait. Instead he started talking about how he “feels the pain” of the Brown family, and said he wanted to have the Ferguson police release the name of this officer and have him explain why he felt he needed to kill Brown. Obviously, O’Reilly quickly shut him and the segment down, but the point is that, even though Carson failed to take the bait in this particular instance, there exists a sort of pseudo-elite group of black Americans whom kinda, sorta racist white America (the kind watching Bill O’Reilly) use as a tool to justify their prejudices against blacks and the see the predicaments blacks are in as fair. Traditional America always has to have some black person at the table, like Carson, who they will prompt in situations like this to start rambling about how black people need to have more trust in white authority, gain some better moral discretion and stop angrily rioting, and while they’re at it stop caring so much about “isolated” incidents like this (remember, this to them needs to be some isolated racist prick or a lying guilty black community, not a white guy influenced by kinda, sorta racist culture to overreact and murder the black dude) and focus more on getting a job for your lazy ass, stop having so many babies, and stop shooting each other as you sell drugs. They love these non-white, white apologists who demonize the rest of his or her fellow blacks, because it serves their agenda of justifying prejudices whites hold and the life circumstances of blacks those prejudices in reality produce.
The black people that will accept these roles are usually some average black person that ended up successful and mainstream enough to have finished high school, gone to college, got a middle class job, had a family, and obviously never sold drugs or joined a gang and killed people, thereby allowing them to be accepted by white culture. They basically want to be white and like looking down on black people who endured different, more common circumstances for blacks in America, and did not end up in the respectable mainstream culture. These people don’t all have to be as successful or famous as Ben Carson. Any regular black person in middle class America who is ashamed enough of being black and desperate enough to “be white” will take the “black people are violent, lazy, stupid, immoral thugs just like you white folks say” position. It helps them to feel “elite” even when they are just normal (an average person is just average, but if they are black and average it can become, oh look at how the rest of my people aren’t as good as me thing), and it helps them justify in their minds why they were one of the lucky black people not born into poverty created by whites, or one of the rare few who found a way, despite all the obstacles lined up against them, to make it out of that poverty, telling themselves any and all black people could have done the same if they were just harder working and more moral like themselves.
Finally, our last but certainly not least thing that everyone is thinking about as this situation has unfolded is the militarization of our police force. As a society begins to crumble, as the middle class begins to disappear, people become increasingly more tribal. The fear of the instability such desperate tribalism might bring has prompted police departments around the country to start loading up for war against their own people. No longer are police here to serve and protect, but rather to intimidate and power their way to peace against unhappy, downtrodden, disenfranchised enemies, er I mean citizens. The situation is Ferguson is basically this: A defenseless, harmless black man is murdered by a white cop, and that cop’s name is not released and the internal investigations seem to want nothing to do with black witnesses, so the majority black community starts getting angry, protesting, and even destroying some stuff. In response the largely all white police force has decided to deck out their officers in militarized looking SWAT gear, roll around in what essentially amount to army tanks, with guys on top pointing loaded assault rifles at unarmed, peaceful protestors, all the while indiscriminately spraying rubber bullets and firing tear gas towards crowds. While we can know all this because we have a free press, it appears the Ferguson PD view that as yet another obstacle. They’ve already arrested two journalists for being journalists taking pictures and videos of cops, and they’ve roughed up other members of the media, and shot gas canisters at TV crews. All the while the police chief is going around telling people he’s so proud of his force for “showing so much restraint,” basically meaning, “boy, they really could do so much more harm to these black animals if they wanted, but they are above that.” A local white reporter who was on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show slipped up and said it was so important to secure the area because there are very nice middle class homes just a bit away from where all this is going down, which meant, “white people live close to here and the town is taking all extreme measures to make sure these black animals don’t spill over into that area, so this is all justifiable.” He quickly realized what he had just said, and backtracked stuttering about how it wouldn’t matter what kind of homes were near the protestors.
So, lots of seemingly disconnected thoughts, but overall there is a lot we can think about as we process what has transpired in Ferguson.