By Lee Williams @Lee_Wms
Dear people of Ferguson, Missouri,
We have watched as one of your own, Michael Brown, an unarmed college-bound teenager, was shot multiple times and killed, with arms raised in submission.
We have watched, horrified, as his uncovered body was left in the street for several hours, as though on display for the world to see. We have watched as your community marched and held vigils, like so many other grief-stricken communities before you. We have watched as your sleepy little town has become embroiled in a modern day Shakespearean tragedy.
We have watched your hopes in the spirit of civil disobedience doused by flash bangs, rubber bullets, and shrouded in tear gas. You are like David before Goliath, posing little to no challenge and given no favoritism of victory.
We have watched your anger grow—not only because of the loss of one of your own—but at the injustice of your right to assemble and peacefully protest dictated, snubbed, and then disregarded by the militarized, aggressive Ferguson Police Department, and at the horrific realization that your protectors are your captors in wait, pummeling you with rubber bullets and choking you with tear gas for peaceful, civil disobedience.
We have felt your frustration at the uncomfortable realization that your protestors have been unfairly branded as looters, vigilantes, and rioters by segments of the ignorant, sensationalist news media. Though the protests and vigils in Ferguson have been largely peaceful, you are being framed as an out-of-control mob that should just “get over it” and control your emotions, stifle your rage… to move on. How can one ignore blatant disregard for black humanity? This summer we have been told to digest this bitter pill through the graphic casualties of Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and many others (all unarmed) and now Brown joins this bloody list. The notion that you, people of Ferguson, show no rage for Brown’s savage murder is beyond delusional. It demonstrates a lack of empathy, and a refusal to accept black humanity. This is no elitism in thought for one race to another, only an acceptance or disavowal of the price of life taken senselessly… unnecessarily.
We have watched others laugh at you and minimize your experience, as Goliath laughed at David due to his gangly appearance and indifferent beliefs. Ignore those who try to deflect your rage or stifle your emotions, as they have already chosen to believe the narrative that you are all hoodlums on bloodlust, that black men go out of their way to pick fights with cops, that blatant murder is justified, that the lot of you will behave like animals on mob rule rather than civilized individuals, and that public property is more important than human life.
No. Be angry. People of Ferguson, black, white, all purveyors of justice, direct your energies to your oppressors and their oppressive practices, and heap the coals of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience over their heads. Let the 24/7 news media capture your poise, your strength, your ability to rise above the inherent double standards that American society has forced you to accept. Those who turn a blind eye to your struggle only minimize your pain and anguish, and the lack of empathy of human life lost and equal rights ignored reeks of privilege. As Brittney Cooper wrote in Salon, “I question a society that always sees the product of the provocation and never the provocation itself.”
We have watched as the injustices of your sleepy little town have expanded your community, until finally bursting at the seams for the entire world to see. Mike Brown’s murder has not only highlighted the issue of racial profiling, but has also revealed the aggressive, militaristic police state that has developed all around us. If our rights as Americans are still alive and free, then we are separated from them the moment we move outside of the status quo—the experience in Ferguson has proven this.
We patiently wait for better relations with the law enforcement. While we wait, we have watched as others have defended the use of vandalism as repressed black rage, however we encourage you to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” Therefore, root out the vandals in your community who have so brazenly (and unfortunately) tainted public perception of your protest. They may as well have stepped over Mike Brown’s body as they escaped into the night with weaves, Air Jordans, and tires and rims. Root them out and lock them away, as they are only encouraging a negative stereotype that will only jeopardize how others in your community are judged in the future.
Like David before Goliath, reserve the remaining stones for those who care not for what you stand for.
We have watched, nervously, at the increase in aggressive police tactics, with the reports of two unconstitutionally detained journalists, four nights of tear gas, and an imbalance of law enforcement aimed towards sieging protestors while the twenty-one thousand population of Ferguson were left with few options in case of emergency. (Further reading: In June of this year, the ACLU expanded on this topic in its published report on militarized policing, titled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing” with a central thesis that “the United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield.”)
This excessive force has been given little to no reprieve. If there is anything positive that can come from the events in Ferguson, then it would be that the domestic police militarization tactics can finally receive overdue attention and criticism. As Ben Collins of Esquire wrote this week, after Brown’s murder the majority of the civil protests were peaceful, with “zero shot or killed police officers. Zero names released for the shootings police committed in the last week. Zero apologies. No accountability.”
We wait, watching with the entire country, at what you, people of Ferguson, do next. We are the hushed crowd wondering how you, like those observing little David, could possibly defeat the Goliath before you. Take this vehement frustration and channel it into political involvement, economic advancement, and as a reformative measure for not only the Ferguson Police Department, but in creating a discussion that can be applied to domestic policing within the United States as a whole.
Much can be done to impact the leadership with voices from your community. The Los Angeles Times reported this week some alarming statistics that put the public outrage in Ferguson into more perspective: “Ferguson’s police chief and mayor are white. Of the six City Council members, one is black. The local school board has six white members and one Latino. Of the 53 commissioned officers on the police force, three are black, said Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.” Among these stark realities for a majority African-American population, we encourage you to take your place within the leadership of your community in order to change the long-term experiences of your suburb.
We watch, ready, as you take the catalyst of Mike Brown and set the pace for Americans nationwide, those with a color-blind vision and an equal respect for all humanity, those that cherish our neighbors and are not afraid to call out injustice from any level of society, and those ready to challenge the double-standards within our own biases and experiences. Fight the power by acting out financially, politically, socially, and strategically in order to be the rock that shatters the skull of Goliath—our own conditioned fear of the “other” and unhealthy culture of violence in America.
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All photos courtesy of the Associate Press