Sunday, 30 November 2014

Nothing's Changed: The Lesson of Ferguson

by Ayesha Gyening

‘Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger kill a ***** he’s a hero.’ Tupac Shakur from his song Changes in 1998

On the ninth of August, in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old teenager, was shot at least six times by police officer Darren Wilson. His body was left in plain view, for four and a half hours, in the sweltering heat while his distraught family, who were not allowed to go near the body, and were held back with tape, could only look on.

There has been much dispute about the events leading up to Michael Brown’s death, with many eyewitness testimonies that support Dorian Johnson’s account of his murder. Both Brown and Johnson were jaywalking when policeman Darren Wilson told them to ‘Get the **** off the pavement.’ They told him they were less than a minute away from their destination and he drove away. A few seconds later, upon seeing that they were still walking in the middle of the road, the policeman reversed, almost hitting them, and grabbed Michael around the neck, pulling him into the car through the window. Michael struggled to get away. Darren Wilson then shot Michael twice before he managed to escape, and tried to run away. After feeling a bullet graze his arm, Michael put his hands up and cried out ‘I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!’ He was then shot four more times. Two bullets hit him in the head, killing him immediately.

Darren Wilson’s testimony, parts of which have been leaked, contradicts most eyewitness accounts, claiming that the teenager charged at him after the initial struggle in the car in an attempt to grab his gun, and never raised his arms in surrender. Photos of his ‘injuries’ have been leaked which look like he cut himself whilst shaving. Surely if he was being attacked and in fear of his life, (even though Michael was unarmed), he would have more to show for it. Although this may be the truth, it leaves one wondering what person in their right mind would try to a grab policeman’s gun and charge at an officer when they had already been shot. Secondly, Michael Brown was unarmed and thus unlikely to have presented a serious threat to the life of the police officer. Moreover, it also conveniently doesn’t mention the second round of shots fired when Michael was running away, four of which hit Michael, nor does Darren Wilson talk about why he aimed for Michael’s head, if it wasn’t with the intention to kill. Surely if he really was being attacked he would shoot Michael in the leg to prevent being attacked any more, instead of the head, when he knew it would kill him immediately.

The response of the police to protests about Michael Brown’s death, which were initially peaceful and are ongoing, show their disregard for the law and the people they are meant to protect. They shot tear gas and stun grenades at innocent and unarmed protesters, even children as young as eight, many of whom were marching with their arms up or carrying posters that read ‘Don’t shoot’. The policemen also used excessive force to control and disperse protesters, firing wooden and rubber bullets at them, which broke the skin, leaving deep bruises up to five inches wide. One hundred and seventy two arrests were made with 132 of these being innocent protesters who were arrested for refusing to disperse. Nineteen reporters were also arrested for documenting what was going on, and others were physically threatened which was against the law. In one particularly disturbing video, you can see a police officer pointing his gun at some journalists and threatening to kill them. This is just a snippet of the disgusting behavior from the Ferguson police, who were equipped with military gear and were walking around pointing their guns at peaceful protesters, something the military are specifically told not to do as it only causes the situation to escalate. However, it has been argued that this is exactly what they wanted so they could label black people as violent and justify Michael’s murder. Amnesty International, which had sent a team to monitor what was going on in Ferguson, called it an abuse of basic human rights. Margaret Huang, their deputy director of campaigns and programs, said she had never seen anything like it. The protests soon spread across America to large cities such as New York, and many striking photos used create a parallel between the Ferguson protests and those led by Martin Luther King of the civil rights movement, leading me to question: what has really changed?

The shooting of Michael Brown reinforced the amount of racial profiling and discrimination black people still experience in the United States, including unjustified stops and searches, ill treatment and excessive use of force from figures of authority. Multiple videos on social media emerged from the protests in Ferguson and other large cities, of the police targeting innocent black citizens for seemingly no reason other than to exert power over others. Although black people are ‘legally’ equal to others, they still have many more obstacles to overcome in their life. Another example of racial profiling is that of foster child Deshawn Currie which happened last month. After Deshawn returned home from school, a neighbour, believing him to be a robber even though he had entered with a key, called the police to the home, who then assaulted him, spraying pepper spray at him after saying he didn’t belong in the white household.

Furthermore, on the sixth of August a white man in San Diego, who had been waving his gun around at children and others nearby, was pleaded with for half an hour by police to drop his gun. Eventually he did, after he was shot in the leg and was then taken to hospital. This clearly demonstrates the difference between how black and white people are treated by the police. When John Crawford was approached by police in Wal-Mart after picking up a toy BB gun that they were selling, officers didn’t even bother to check whether the gun was real, speak to him or give him chance to put the gun down (which wasn’t even aimed at the police), before firing the shots that killed him. This was in Ohio, where it is legal to carry guns. Why is it that, even with a black president, black lives don’t seem to matter? Why is it that white mass-killers, such as James Eagan Holmes, who killed twelve people and injured 70 others after opening fire in a movie theater, are escorted into the back of a police van unharmed but unarmed black men are gunned down in the street?

What gives a policeman the right to decide whether someone lives or dies? What allows them to enforce capital punishment on innocent victims? And why is it that people paid to protect and serve are the ones who are killing us?

In mainstream media, black victims of police brutality are portrayed as worse than white criminals. Michael Brown, who was due to start college a week after he was murdered and who had no previous police record, was labeled a thug by many in the media. Instead of using a picture of him graduating high school, they chose to use a photo that allowed him to be seen in a negative light to undermine the value of his life and to make him appear to be a criminal. Instead of mourning the death of a teenage boy, much of the media has demonized Michael Brown and already labeled him as guilty. This isn’t new, as we have already seen this happen with Trayvon Martin and other black people slain at the hands of the people meant to protect us, and then blamed for his own murder However, killers such as Jaylen Fryberg, who shot at multiple people, killing three and seriously injuring many others, has been portrayed as a homecoming king by the media and described as ‘a good kid and well respected in the community’ by CNN.. 

The discrimination, obstacles and prejudice black people have to face every day, no matter what their economic standing or what they are wearing, leads me to question whether much has changed. This isn’t about one man killed in one town. It’s about how people of colour, no matter their socio-economic standing, face obstacles and discrimination. Ferguson isn't merely reacting to the shooting of Michael Brown; it's reacting to the shooting of Michael Brown by someone who represents an institution of power that's supposed to protect the public. In Ferguson and other cities throughout the United States, the police are perpetrating the humiliation, degradation, and murder of black dignity, souls and people.

Although in 2010 (the most recent year for which we have data) U.S. lawyers declined to return an indictment (accusation of a serious crime) in only 11 of 162,000 federal cases, the Judge’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson comes as no surprise. Out of a Grand Jury of twelve, only three members were black, compared with nine white members and only nine votes were needed to decide whether of not he should be indicted. Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor, may as well have been the defense lawyer. He was clearly biased as his father was killed in an incident involving a black man and members of his family have worked for St Louis police department. Not once did he question why Darren Wilson felt the need to shoot an unarmed boy at least four more times, when had already been shot twice and was running away. Moreover, Wilson’s claims that he shot defenceless Michael Brown in fear of his life after his ‘attack’ are completely refuted by recently released pictures of his ‘injuries’ which do not match his description of what happened to him. Darren Wilson has also said in a recent interview that he would shoot Michael Brown again. 

Not only does the verdict reinforce white supremacy but it emphasizes the complete disregard for black lives in America, ‘land of the free’ when a white man is able to murder an 18 year old boy in cold blood and walk free without it even being considered a crime (whilst all the time being on paid leave). Who will protect black people when the police set the law and the justice system as a sham that only perpetuates white supremacy? 

It is important to remember that history has not been made, only repeated. In the fifty years since the civil rights movement, what has changed? 

The same men and women who marched with Martin Luther King are marching with their grandchildren for the same reason. This is the country where at least two unarmed black men have been shot every week between 2006 and 2012 by a police officer in what some are calling a genocide. Is this a modern day lynching? Only last week a twelve-year-old child, Tamir Rice, was shot and killed for holding a toy BB gun whilst in a park. This was in Ohio, a state where it is legal to carry guns. Trayvvon Martin was shot for wearing a hoodie, and in September, policemen killed a fourteen-year-old honor roll student when he opened his front door. Since Michael Brown was gunned down, four more black people have been murdered at the hands of the police in Ferguson alone. How many more black lives have to be taken before change occurs? When will it be understood that being black is not a crime? At what age should black children be told that they are a threat? The anger, rage, hopelessness and despair felt by peaceful protestors and black people in America is completely justified. This is a national tragedy, a miscarriage of justice and a moral disgrace. Its not just about Mike Brown, but the thousands of black lives lost at the hands of those who are paid to protect them and failed by a sham justice system that has only catered to the needs of white people for over one hundred years.

1 comment:

  1. a well argued piece: this situation is an absolute disgrace.


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