As of today, donors have raised over $200,000 in support of the police officer that shot an unarmed black teenager six times* — while a similar campaign on GoFundMe in support of the family of the unarmed teenager who was brutally shot 6 times by a cop has only raised $150,000.
There are literally more people willing to shell out money in support of a police officer who has not been charged with any crime and is currently on paid vacation, than people who could monetarily support the family who has to deal with the fact that their innocent son was gunned down for absolutely no reason.
Please tell me that you see what's wrong with this.
I wasn't going to post about Ferguson. Mostly because I'm a middle class white dude from New England who doesn't have anything new or unique to contribute to the the conservation, so I felt like anything I wrote would just be baiting for hits. If you've gone anywhere near the Internet, you know that there are many people smarter (and often, darker-skinned) than me who have already written and spoken eloquently enough about it. For instance, you can try this great piece by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Time magazine about the intersection of race war and class war. Or if that doesn't open your eyes, you can try this one on What White People REALLY Mean When They Talk About Ferguson.
The latter article in particular is what leads me to this post. The current situation in Ferguson, MO represents a frightening explosion of many major issues facing our country (most of which have to do with race, and by extension, class). Unfortunately, judging by the way my Facebook newsfeed looks, a lot of people with similar pasty dispositions to mine still don't care. Or they care inasmuch as violence is bad, racism is bad, and so on, blah blah blah, good upstanding citizens, but they (meaning you, meaning me, meaning all of us, probably) refuse to genuinely engage with the nuances of the situation. We were all taught growing up that racism is bad and that segregation / slavery were shameful periods in our history — but we're told not to talk about it, to act "color-blind," that maybe it'll go away if we pretend it doesn't exist. Then when someone does bring up the issue of race, we turn it around and blame it on them for "making it about race" when really, they're just addressing head-on the elephant in the room, which is the fact that people have different skin colors and that it affects the way that we perceive one another, whether we like it or not. If more people were willing to open their eyes and open their ears and listen and actually pay attention to the subtext, they might finally understand the dire scope of everything that's going on, and we'd be one step closer to addressing and potentially resolving it.
Because the truth is, you're a racist. I'm a racist. Everyone's a racist. And the sooner we admit the fact, the better off we are. Because it's only by finding and acknowledging our faults that we can begin to repair or change them. If we just go on insisting that the mere act of not consciously discriminating against people of color is enough, while continuing to lock our car doors whenever a black person walks by, or criticizing someone's natural hair as being "un-professional," or assuming that a god damn teenager could ever, ever, ever, ever deserve to be shot six times for jaywalking, then we are never going to change.
Let's consider that last fact. As you read that specific reference to the death of Michael Brown, or even the first time you heard about it at all, I want you to consider your reaction — specifically, your first impulsive thought. Did you think, even for a moment, that, well, he allegedly robbed a convenience store (which is either unrelated to the shooting, or entirely false), so maybe it was okay for him to get shot six times? Did you think, well, if there really was marijuana in his system, then maybe it was okay for him to get shot six times (despite the fact that marijuana can remain in your system for up to 3 months, and that, well, it's not that big of a deal because it's legal in several states now and lots of suburban white folks use it, too)? Was there a tiny part of your brain that said, well, if he was walking towards Officer Darren Wilson at absolutely any point in time, than the police office may have legitimately feared for his life and was therefore justified in shooting an unarmed teenager six times from thirty-five feet away?
If any of those thoughts, or anything relating to those thoughts, crossed your mind, then I'd like to point out that your first instinct was to blame a victim for his own death, rather than considering the larger systemic issues at hand that are ingrained in our society and our upbringings. (hell, even if Officer Wilson genuinely feared for his life and was therefore justified in his actions — big "if" there, everyone — maybe you should consider why he was so dreadfully terrified of an unarmed black teenager walking down the street)
And for the record, Officer Wilson did not suffer from a fractured eyeball socket, nor did he know that Michael Brown had any connection to a convenience robbery (nor did anyone else, until after the fact), nor did anyone even write an incident report until 10 days after the fact.
Consider this video, which was filmed this past Wednesday in St. Louis, in which an unarmed black male is shot nine times for walking past the Police Officers that are yelling at him. WARNING: this is actually video of someone being killed and I wish I never watched it.
For some of you, I bet your honest gut reaction was, "Well maybe he should have cooperated with the cops," and I understand that impulse, because sometimes I still have it, too, and I work every day to try to erase it. Consider the fact of the actions you just justified. That you just blamed an innocent dead man for getting himself killed — for what? For being angry? How many white folks have you seen get shot for being angry? No, angry white people just beat their spouses and set off bombs and shoot up movie theaters. But black men who are outraged at the social injustices they've been forced to endure their entire lives? Who are legitimately bothered by the fact that people lock their cars and cross the street to avoid them in urban settings, just because of the color of their skin? If you had to deal with that every day for your entire life, I'd think you might be justified in being a little upset — especially when there's a police state occupying a town right near you because of a racially charged act of police brutality.
I've already expanded on some of my thoughts regarding Riot Cop Culture, and my friend Nathan Leigh — himself a repeat victim of Riot Cop violence, and a white dude — talks about his own experiences with Riot Cops and actually being in Ferguson, over at AfroPunk.com. But again, if you're one of those people whose instinct is to criticize the "looters," consider first that looters are a very, very, very small minority of those participating in the protests, and that the majority of the minority are actually from out-of-state and are taking advantage of the situation.
By comparison, consider this side-by-side perspective of coverage from Hurricane Katrina, which might make the situation, well, more black-and-white:
And if you're someone whose reaction is, "Well, why are they protesting in the first place?", I'd like to remind you that peaceful assemble is a constitutionally protected right — along with the freedom of press and speech, which are also being oppressed by the police (and if I dare criticize my use of the word "peaceful," then you clearly didn't read what I just wrote above). There's also that whole "Right-to-Property" thing protected by the 10th Amendment. I know the legalese wording can be difficult to parse, but I don't think that shooting unarmed people with tear gas on their own property is legal, either, especially without a warrant.
Speaking of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — well, ain't it such a shame that some people don't know how to express themselves without rioting and destroying property?
*note: GoFundMe suspended the campaign this afternoon. Also, apparently the GoFundMe campaign in support of Office Wilson was actually created by the Ferguson Police Department themselves.