The Michael Brown shooting occured on Saturday, August 9th, in Ferguson, MO. Ferguson is a suburb of St.Louis in which approximately 14,297 of 21,203 residents are black. On that August night, an unarmed 18 year old black male was killed by a white Ferguson police officer (apparently Darren Wilson).
Despite how this lead-in sounds, this likely has less to do with race than it does with the police in the US, who routinely shoot unarmed individuals (statistically it seems that 50% of those killed who are unarmed are simply mentally ill, and who are simply not responding to commands). Still, the statistics relative to violent force and race, discussed at the end of the text, show that blacks seem make up a largely disproportionate number of those killed by police in the United States, relative to their portion of the criminal element or part of the population.
At a vigil for Michael Brown on Sunday, as numbers and tensions rose, major police reinforcements were called in. Officers who were not even called in, turned up at the scene. The expectation of violence on the part of police played into the general paranoia, which is supported by frequent police abuse of power (and its consequent shielding by the system in the majority of cases). A riot broke out.
As the rioting increased people started burning buildings, breaking into businesses, and looting. Now we are left with people who are broken, a teen who is dead, and everyone demanding answers as to why this has happened. Let me be clear, reckless violence is never the solution to any problem, and theivery doesn’t help any positive cause. It is counter-productive when you’re seeking to win the hearts of the people who can possibly make change happen. But while all of that is true, I must say I completely understand the pain and frustration the people rioting are exhibiting; I don’t have to agree with a person’s actions to empathize with them.
When I see these riots I see a cry for attention, a cry to be heard from people who are not listened to. Sometimes an injustice is so egregious or happens so often that there is a tipping point where people are fed up; this is the point people are at in St. Louis. In a nation where a black male is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement, people will eventually respond drastically and violently.
Since then, nightly riots and police overreaction have garnered international attention. Police have been harassing and driving out journalists and protestors alike, firing tear gas and rubber bullets on anyone caught in front of them, and generally show-boating with their military equipment.
On Monday, August 19th, the autopsy revealed that Michael Brown was shot 6 times in the chest. The resulting protests during the night apparently spiraled into an armed police line advancing on protestors, pictured to the right. Media has been largely driven from the scene by police. Far from calmed, the tensions appear to continue mounting.
The number of blacks who are killed by police appear to be disproportionate (in 2011, the total number of individuals killed by police was roughly twice the number of blacks killed by police in the 2012 study by the Malcolm X Center analysis linked above) to their participation in criminal activity or sector of the population (both about 14-20%). Who am I to judge how this has impacted someone else’s conciousness? The question we should be asking is: what do we do now?
How do we cope with increasing police escalation, the use of military technology like the LRADs (which the military even calls for restraint in using while defending military bases)? How can we expect a largely black community to be comfortable with military occupation by a police force containing, as an interview shown below featuring John Oliver quotes the mayor saying, only 5 black individuals. How could we expect this of any community facing frequently seemingly consistent police escalation in regard to any incident, as we are seeing across the United States?
Where do we go from here? How do we ensure that none of this happens again? Part of the secret lays in increasing accountability and self-conscious by attaching cameras to police uniforms (which is shown to reduce the use of force by 60%), and in also training more empathic and self-aware police officers. Dealing with the concerns of the community, instead of apparently deploying the Nation Guard, is probably also adviseable. A good reflection about socioeconomics and race relations in the U.S. isn’t uncalled for either. Whatever the case may be, the people of Ferguson has been heard loud and clear. Where we go from here is on us.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.