God knows there’s enough of these articles bouncing around on the internet without me adding my two cents, and I’m positive nobody wants to hear another one, but I hope you’ll bear with me for just a bit.
I think it goes without saying that Michael Brown didn’t deserve to be shot in the street when he was A) 30 feet away from the cop who shot him, B) unarmed, and C) surrendering, and it similarly goes without saying that the cop who shot him should be fired, charged with murder, thrown in jail, and should rot in Hell.
That being said, what confuses me about the uproar over Michael Brown is: why is his the inciting event to which everybody is now clinging as proof that we have a long way to go as a country in terms of racial equality? I’m not arguing that that’s not true, but why is Michael Brown’s story so special? Why not Trayvon Martin, who was provoked by a tiny-faced racist with a big fat head and shot for reacting? Why not Ezell Ford, a mentally ill unarmed man who was shot by the LAPD for, basically, being mentally ill? Why not Oscar Grant, who was shot while handcuffed and lying face down on the BART platform in San Francisco?
And why not Eric Garner, who was choked to death by the NYPD after trying to break up a fight? I would argue that Eric Garner’s case is even more egregious, for the simple fact that he was fucking choked to death. That’s different from pulling a trigger. Charles Manson once said:
“What’s violent about pulling your finger across the trigger? There’s no violence. It’s just a person there and you move your finger and they’re gone. What’s violent about that?”
And while I’m loath to quote an anthropomorphic pile of shit like Charles Manson, there is truth (however horrid) in that statement. There is something that seems so much more personal about putting a man in a chokehold while he gasps for air and tells you that you’re killing him as opposed to the simple pull of a trigger. The way most police officers are trained, the act of firing a gun is reflexive and the consequences of the act are an afterthought. Which makes sense in a vacuum: if a violent criminal is pointing a gun at an innocent person, even a moment’s hesitation can lead to disaster. The results, however, differ greatly in practice, as too many cops pull their Dirty Harry bullshit at the first sign of trouble.
But I digress.
We’re oddly ambivalent to the idea of a black man being shot by the police. (Well, we’re oddly ambivalent to the idea of anyone being shot by the police at this point, but particularly black men.) The act itself apparently isn’t cause for concern, if we’re being honest; after all, how many times has this happened? And how many times does the reaction consist of unbridled outrage for a few days, only for it to subside once the Next Important Thing enters the news cycle? So if the act itself isn’t a cause for concern, the only other factor that explains the reaction is how it was handled after the fact. Instead of releasing the name of the cop who killed him (Darren Wilson) immediately, the Ferguson P.D. elected for the old “blue wall of silence” defense, like that’s worked since fucking 1971. Naturally, people were upset, but I think they were less upset by what happened and more upset by the way the aftermath was handled. It didn’t follow the normal routine: a stern-faced press conference during which the officer is publicly thrown under the bus (while privately enjoying a paid “investigative leave”), the department vows to make changes, bullshit meetings are held with local civil rights leaders, and everybody waits out the shitstorm. That’s the way it’s always gone. Even when no justice is being done, the appearance of justice being done is usually enough to quell any widespread protests. You want to know why there were no marches in the streets after Eric Garner was killed? Because of the illusion that things were going to change. Of course, nothing of substance was accomplished- as far as I know, everyone involved in his death still has a job. But the promise (however hollow) of change was enough to make people forget. Conversely, the Ferguson cops not only failed to admit any wrongdoing, they actively dared people to challenge their authority. They upset the normal, uneasy balance that exists between the police and the people they’ve sworn to protect, and in doing so, they (deservedly) brought this upon themselves.
It’s not surprising to me that people are fed up with the way police do their jobs in this country. The fact that a lot of people simply accepted the news of Michael Brown at first with little more than a shrug is a clear indicator that police-community relations have become irrevocably strained. (Seriously, how many people do you know who love cops and aren’t related to or married to one?) It is surprising to me, however, that this one all-too-common yet largely random event is the catalyst for protest. The 24-hour news cycle also plays a role, since stories like this aren’t allowed to die, which is both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive for obvious reasons: stories like Michael Brown’s shouldn’t be swept under the rug, and speaking truth to power is one of the most vital functions of the media. The negative arises when the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle overwhelm the media, which leads to them feeding their own stories just to have something to report. And that’s how we end up with “DAY 10 IN FERGUSON: THINGS STILL PRETTY FUCKED UP.” We know. You’re not helping with the constant breathless (and often unsubstantiated) reporting of everything you’ve heard is going down. (And that’s a separate issue entirely: I’ve seen news outlets using tweets from people who live in/near Ferguson and may or may not even be on the scene as sources for their information on what’s going on on the ground. FUCKING TWEETS.)
None of the people I mentioned above (and the countless people I didn’t mention) deserved to die. Michael Brown didn’t deserve to die, either. I’m just wondering why the whole country is choosing this moment to start giving a shit.