On #Ferguson

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Often I wonder how much more news I am receiving because of my involvement online: I’m on twitter, regularly reading and sharing blogs, interacting with people in comments and tweets. Most of my friends don’t do this. Last night, I figured that out.

 

On my iPad, I scrolled through twitter, up and down over images that left me confused, panicked, and breathless. I couldn’t stop thinking: Isn’t this America?

Well, maybe it is.

Maybe I am just seeing this America for the first time, or maybe I’ve just forgotten about her dark, racist, violent streak. Cognitive Dissonance can be a powerful thing, blocking out things I do not want to see. But no matter: here she is. And I can’t stop seeing her.

 

APFerguson

 

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This is America, and here, apparently, the line between police and paramilitary, between self defense and aggravated assault, is so blurred that peaceful suburban protests by black people are to be leveled over by the hand of the state. All the big tactics are to be employed: the rapid fire of rubber bullets and tear gas landing in the lawns of family homes, the shutting down of public schools, the arrests of journalists (WHAT?), all while tanks steamroll down boulevards of a suburb. YEP.

 

 POLICE HAVE ARMY TANKS. NEWS TO ME.

 

I was seeing this all play out on citizen shot videos, but you know, I was looking up at the TV, switching from news channel to 24 hour news channel and it was as if nothing was happening at all. If a town turns into a violent invasion, will the news cover it? Depends on the town. Depends on the people. Depends on what the media heads deem worthy of news.

 

I went to a friends’ house and the first thing I said as I walked in the door was, have you guys been following the stuff in Ferguson?

 

They were watching a movie, both shrugged. What?

 

Ferguson! I said exasperated and then began blurting all the things I had been reading, watching, listening to- all the chaos occurring in America!

 

Oh, yah.

 

One friend said, to which I sighed in relief: Finally.

 

Didn’t someone burned down a gas station?

 

That was all he knew. In the small cloud of media coverage over the last few days, the looting that occurred was what thundered through loudest, gained the most coverage and overshadowed everything else. Including murder by police.

 

Mike Brown? Who? They had no idea. What happened? No idea.

 

They had no idea that the context of the situation began with an innocent 18-year-old kid being gunned down by a police officer. He was unarmed. He held his hands up and said Don’t shoot! His body was left on the hot pavement in the middle of the day for hours on end (4 hours to be exact). And I have yet to hear an official explanation for why. It feels… there are no words.

 

What they knew was that black people in a town in Missouri burned down a gas station. What they knew was that’s how it started. They had no idea why there was looting in the first place. Because, MEDIA.

 

This is where White Privilege comes in and I will be the first to say, I don’t understand all the dynamics of it. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with blindness and deafness, with how a culture frames the picture for us (white people) to fit the narrative we’ve been told (blacks are innately criminal). It has to do with so much rage over a gas station burning down, but then suspicion and/or plain ignorance over an innocent black man murdered. It has to do with the images. If you haven’t checked out the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown (you probably haven’t heard about it) you should. It’s pictures of black people posting two images side by side, asking which one the media would use if police (or white people in general, a la George Zimmerman) killed them.

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Below is Michael Brown (which picture do you think the Media used?)

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I am learning to listen better and see more. I wish it hadn’t taken a whole town to be under siege before my very eyes to notice, but I am noticing now, the wide extent of my privilege and today I am sitting in it. I am feeling it. And I am trying to figure out how to be better.

 

Here’s one way you can start: INFORM YOURSELF.

 

We need to sit down, hat in hand, and listen to these voices. The truth they tell is uncomfortable, it is convicting, and you have choice here.

Will you embrace the discomfort of realizing your complicity?

Or will you wind the knob down into silence?

Your choice.

 

America is not for Black People by Greg Howard

 

This Is Why We’re Mad About The Shooting of Michael Brown by Kara Brown

 

Do Black Lives Matter In Our Community? by Nekima Levi Pounds

 

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: the images that define Ferguson’s Protests by Lauren Williams

 

The Night Social Media Exploded Over Ferguson by Chris Taylor

 

To find more links: Visit Further Up & Further In

 

If you’re in the Twin Cities, their will be a vigil tonight around 5:30 PM, which you can find details for here

  • Sheila Warner

    I’m shocked, too. An unarmed teen, holding up his hands in surrender, gunned down like nothing. Left on the sidewalk like garbage. Only a day or two away from beginning college. It’s outrageous. I fear the whole thing will be covered up. I grieve with #Ferguson.

  • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

    Thank you for this post. I wasn’t seeing much coverage at all and was angry about it. This needs to be discussed. What’s happening there shouldn’t have happened. That kid never should have died.

    And the terrifying thing is that everything that is happening now will probably be covered up and claimed that it was necessary because of a bullshit reason that’s mired in racism.

  • elizabethmekelburg

    Ben, I love freedon of speech. It’s your blog, you get to write what you want. But as a police officer for 13 years, this post really bothers me.

    Did you know that the police were looking for Brown for a stong armed robbery? Please tell me what the officer should have done. The officer is dispatched to a strong armed robbery and meets the suspect going down the street. Should he not stop him? Should he be looking for white or Hispanic suspects when the description was of a black male?

    Did you know that there was a struggle in the officer’s car? Did you know that Brown was about 6’4″ and 240 lbs? Did you know that 90% of officers that get their gun taken away by a suspect are killed by that suspect with that gun? Regardless of race, age or sex, if someone that is 6’4″ and 240 lbs. tries to disarm me, he or she will be met with significant and immediate force. Did you know that the witness that keeps saying he was in the street with his hands up was with Brown during the robbery?

    Here’s the thing. None of us were there. We don’t know if Brown was the actual robber. We don’t know if he tried to disarm the officer. We don’t know if he was in the street with his hands up. I just caution you to inform yourself, as you say, before writing about it.

    Anyway, I hope your family is doing well…..I miss seeing you all.

    Matt Mekelburg

    • DLH

      Did you know the kid who stated MB had his hands up wasn’t the only witness to state that? But they are black to so…..probably unreliable. Whatever.

      • Jason

        Did you know that according to CNN as of this morning more than 12 different witnesses have corroborated the Officer’s story that the young man struggled with him for his firearm in his cruiser where the gun went off, punched the officer, ran, and then turned and charged the officer when we confronted him again in the street? None of this should be taken as a justification for the officer’s actions and the heartbreaking result thereof, but, it does seem that the line near the end of this post sums up how I’m feeling about this entire thread . . . INFORM YOURSELF.

        It would seem that any detailed judgment as to the terrible events that happened in (and are ongoing) in Ferguson is premature – including this post. We don’t have all of the facts. Until we do, picking and choosing details that fit our agenda seems irresponsible and unfair. Until we do, accusing the police officer of “murder” is incredibly bold, and not in a good way.

        I hope Ben has the integrity to update this post as time goes on if the facts disagree with this analysis.

        • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

          It may be a good idea to not make unsubstantiated claims. That version of the story is only from the officer’s side, and it’s not even proven as fact. In fact, there is reasons to doubt that story due to other witness accounts and the forensic evidence.

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/21/here-is-everything-police-and-witnesses-said-happened-when-michael-brown-was-killed/

          There’s a lot still being uncovered. What is known is that Michael Brown did not deserve to die. It is possible to arrest an unarmed person without killing them. Also, I have not found any account that backs up your claim of “twelve” witnesses. Instead I found numerous articles that state at least five backed up the friend of Brown’s story about Brown trying to surrender and how the officer had instigated the fight by pulling Brown toward him (before Brown broke away to try to run). So again, you can’t claim the officer’s story is one hundred percent true — not enough evidence to back it up.

          http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-ferguson-witness-accounts-20140821-story.html

          http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/08/_5_eyewitness_accounts_of_michael_brown_s_shooting.html

          The point here is to show that what exactly happened is not clear. But what is known is that Michael Brown is now dead because of an unnecessary use of force. There is no need to kill him. The officer needs to be prosecuted to determine if the courts view this as murder.

          • Jason

            The whole point of my statement is exactly your first point, Aidan – it is always a good idea to not make unsubstantiated claims, especially when the claims being made are as serious as those being made here.

            I never once said Brown deserved to die. I never once said the officer’s actions were excusable–even if his version of the story turns out to be true. I never once said “the officer’s story is one hundred percent true.” I was simply presenting the other side because it was not presented here. I simply stated that there was another account that was also supported by witnesses.

            Your entire reply, however, is inconsistent.

            You say, “[t]he point here is to show that what exactly happened is not clear.” I agree, but then you say ” . . . Michael Brown is now dead because of an unnecessary use of force. There is no need to kill him.” That could be true, but, because “exactly what happened is not clear” you should probably withhold judgment as to whether the use of force was appropriate. Until a court has the chance to consider all of the facts, take your own advice: “It may be a good idea not to make unsubstantiated claims.”

          • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

            I expressed my opinion. You attempted to state something as factual — it is not. I stated that you have to recognize that the events are not as clear cut as you seem to think it is. And it is quite possible that the investigation will prove you wrong. I then stated my opinion that there was no need to kill him. That is my opinion and I have every right to state it. I will stand by that statement no matter who is at fault and no matter what happened. No one needs to be shot multiple times, especially someone who is unarmed.

            The use of force by the police is unjustifiable, and even if the courts do rule it justifiable for whatever reason, I will still stand and declare that as injustice. I don’t care what person did or what the altercation is. No one needs to be gunned down. No one.

            Let’s look at how systematic this is. Take a look at this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html

            http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119060/michael-brown-studies-show-racial-bias-police-shootings

            Fact checking article debunks that myth that police brutality toward blacks is rare: http://www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/08/23/fact-checker-police-brutality-toward-blacks-rare/14424297/

            This focuses on those killed by cops: http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2007/11/killed_by_the_cops.html

            Studies show blacks tend to be singled out more (despite the fact black and whites use at similar rates): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/us/marijuana-arrests-four-times-as-likely-for-blacks.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1&

            This one, especially in the use of force section, where 74% to 80% (depending on if force was threatened or used respectively) of people stopped by a cop felt the use of force was excessive: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpp08.pdf

            Police have a problem of using force when it’s unnecessary. There is a growing amount of evidence that racial bias plays a role in the use of force. So the fact that an unarmed guy was killed? Yeah, that’s a problem. This is far more than just what the facts of that case is. The police have a problem with brutality. Lethal force is unnecessary.

            Often enough white suspects are apprehended, even if they have lethal weapons. And yet, unarmed black men are killed. The statistics are starting to show that this is systematic. This is far more than just one case. It is possible to apprehend someone without killing them. I will stand by my statement that it’s unjustifiable. Police should never shoot to kill, and that officer shot Brown multiple times — the coroner’s report has verified that. That was unnecessary and wrong.

          • Jason

            Thanks for the dissertation, Aidan – you’ve now expanded this discussion well beyond the context and parameters of my comments. But since you have, I’d love your perspective on this:

            http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/aug/25/critics-see-racial-double-standard-in-coverage-of-/

          • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

            My intention wasn’t just to discuss your comments — I felt that you limited the scope on purpose, and it makes me wonder what exactly your purpose is in this discussion. My intention in these last two comments was to bring the discussion back to where it started —- the original post. The original post had already brought up how systematic and institutionalized racism is. The post also discussed the militarization of the police. I brought it back because I felt that my points weren’t being understood, and thus I brought out evidence to fully explain why I said what I said and how it connects with the original post.

            You chose to disregard the majority of the original post and focus on a small portion. So I brought it back to its roots. And now you seem like you are disregarding yet again the evidence, and instead post a link that makes me wonder if you’re hoping to incite some sort of argument. I feel like you are not taking this seriously and I feel that you are not taking me seriously. This is no longer a healthy discussion.

          • Jason

            I apologize for misreading your intent. Because you were responding directly to my comments–comments that were limited to the purpose of simply bringing the other side a voice because it previously had none–I assumed all that you were saying was directed at me and my comments.

            I’ve taken no stance as to the impact of white privilege or systematic discrimination or targeting of minorities by the police. I believe that all three problems exist and are just that, problems. It’s not clear to me that in the case of Michael Brown he was shot and killed because of his race. That was one of my other issues with this post. It felt like a springboard for talking about a different agenda, which is fine, but it may also be an abuse of a tragic situation if it turns out Brown’s race had nothing to do with his death. That was my very limited point. Again, because you were responding directly to me I felt it to be somewhat “out of bounds” to bring in a boat load of other issues that I didn’t address. It also felt like an attack to me because you’ve taken my limited comments and imputed a handful of other views to me as if I’ve staked the claims myself.

            Once again, while you’ve acknowledged your purpose in responding to me was to go beyond my “limited scope”–my intention has never been to go beyond that. I was very intentional about my initial comments and have been similarly intentional about my responses to you. My only interest in making a comment to Ben’s post was to encourage even handedness where it seemed to be extremely biased without all of the facts. Period. That’s it. Whatever you’ve read into my comments beyond that was not my intent and I make no claim to. You’ve pointed out a number of other valid issues, many of which I have no rebuttal to because I happen to agree. But, that was not the point of my comments.

            I hope that helps to clarify. It was also not my intent to bring this beyond the point of being “a healthy discussion”, so for that I do apologize.

          • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

            As for Brown’s case, we may not know the specifics of what exactly happened, but I can show you, through all these links and reports, that this is just one case in a larger, more systematic problem. And that is more of what Ben’s article was about — recognizing this systematic problem.

            Here’s a few more:
            http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/1-black-man-killed-every-28-hours-police-or-vigilantes-america-perpetually-war-its

            I agree with this opinion piece: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/19/opinion/dansky-militarization-police/index.html

            The
            militarization of the police is the worst idea in the universe. They
            don’t need military grade vehicles and weapons. That’s also completely
            unnecessary and only puts them at a higher risk of messing up and/or
            using unnecessary amounts of force.

            The whole point of Ben’s
            article was to raise awareness that this is more than just what happened
            to Brown, and yet you only focus on Brown and not anything else. We’re all trying to state this is larger than that. His case sparked anger, justifiable anger, because people are sick and tired of the militarization of police, the unnecessary use of violence against citizens, and the racial profiling and bias that many police forces engage in (whether unconsciously or not). Until you are willing to recognize this has become more than just one case, there’s really nothing more I can say to you.

      • elizabethmekelburg

        It has nothing to do with race. He is not credible because he was in on the robbery. All the others have to be questioned and given a chance to write a statement. Take them at their word. But you also have to question the multiple witnesses that are corroborating the officer account. Let them write statements and take them at their word. You then see how the statements match the physical evidence. The prosecutor’s office is possibly reporting that the officer’s orbital bone was fractured as a result of Brown striking him. Hasn’t been verified…..may or may not be true.

    • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

      Did you know that the police chief came forward and admitted that the shooting had nothing to do with the alleged robbery? The cop who killed that guy didn’t even know about the alleged robbery and had claimed it was for jaywalking. This is highly problematic and does make this seem highly racially motivated. Would he have done those same actions if the guy was white? It’s doubtful; the statistics show white people are the least likely to be shot and killed by police during moments like this. This is systematic, and that’s why people are angry. Brown’s death served as a reminder of how often this happens to people of color. This isn’t some isolated occurrence.

      An unarmed guy shouldn’t be shot dead in the street. Especially when numerous witnesses state that he had his hands in the air and was pleading for his life. Also, many of these numerous witnesses stated that Brown had been a good thirty five feet from the police man.

      Did you also know that police can be biased and hurtful at times? They are human beings, and sometimes they aren’t objective and make terrible mistakes. And it is possible for them to try to justify their wrong deed by writing biased reports. Does that mean all police do that? No. But there is such a thing as corruption, and no, you can’t always trust a police person. That’s simply a sad truth.

      You may also want to check out some statistics in this article: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

      Brown didn’t have to die. There was no need to shoot him dead. Trying to justify the killing does not erase the fact he should not have died. It doesn’t erase the fact that his life has value and no matter what he did or didn’t do, he still shouldn’t have been shot dead.

  • Greenville Caleb

    Thanks for drawing attention to this incredibly upsetting reality. I live less than 30 minutes from Downtown St. Louis, and it’s absolutely insane to me that someone wouldn’t know what’s happening here.

    Racism and oppression have been a part of life in St. Louis for far too long, and the looting and violence that have occurred from protestors are a reaction to generations of oppression. But part of privelige is getting to decide how others should react to oppression instead of honestly seeing ourselves as oppressors.

  • http://www.betamotivation.com/ Kola

    Man, i honestly don’t know what to think about the whole situation. Race is a really complex issue that I’m still (very slowly) pulling open the lid on. I grew up in Nigeria where EVERYBODY looked the same. Lol

    To come to America and see stuff like this is genuinely baffling. I sometimes feel like a Martian visiting earth when I hear whites and blacks discuss race-related issues in America. I truly just don’t understand it. I don’t think I ever will.