An Open Letter to the People of Ferguson, Missouri

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.

 

Photo 1

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.

Police advance at night

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.

Keep the discussion going by commenting on the post, or sharing the article using the buttons below. 

All photos courtesy of the Associate Press

 

7 comments

  1. Whitney · August 16, 2014

    Lee, I have a few observations about race that I’ve been kind of mulling over and I would value your opinion on them.
    First, that a lot of the stereotypes about black culture and how that carries over to black people seem to be perpetuated by a lot of famous black people – mainly rappers. Obviously, people aren’t going to confuse Denzel Washington with Lil’ Wayne but the fact remains that if you dress/talk/walk like Lil’ Wayne, others will associate you with the things he raps about (drugs, crime, etc).
    Second, I have never been bullied for having black friends but there was a girl in my neighborhood who was bullied for having mostly white friends. Other black girls called her “oreo” and “traitor” to the point where she ultimately stopped talking to me for the remainder of highschool. Another guy I went to highschool with also was called an “oreo” because his parents were pretty well-off and he wore “white people clothes” like Abercrombie and Lacross and didn’t have his underwear showing above his pants.
    Third, when I was in training at Ft. Lee, I was a minority as a white female. (5 of us in a company of 100+) I overheard many conversations discussing potentially offensive remarks where the sole qualifier was the race of the person who said it. If it was a white person, it was offensive.
    I also witnessed a girl, trying to read a book about the struggle of African Americans in a post Civil-Rights movement era. She grew up in inner-city Chicago, and had a list of words she didn’t know to be looked up later. I offered to help her with these words, and had difficulty defining them for her without using other words she didn’t know, either. And I compare that to another girl I know from Chicago, also black, but who speaks a little Chinese and aced Dari at DLI, who joined a sorority in college and is acing all her classes.
    I guess my point is that there many different variables and experiences when it comes to race, and the issue may be a lot more complicated and more closely related to other variables than we may be able to see.

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    • commactivist · August 17, 2014

      Whitney, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I love comments like yours, since it gives me something to think about and also contributes to the discussion in a BIG way. So I want to thank you for taking the time to converse with me about these thoughts of yours. I will answer your questions to the best of my ability and experience.

      First observation: The surface of black culture has been largely influenced by hip-hop culture. I say the “surface” because that’s usually the most recognizable portion of black culture. Also, much of what becomes popular in black culture eventually becomes mainstream popularity (dance, fashion, slang, etc.). Also within the black community we have many satirical, accepted truths that we like to make fun of within our own behavior (i.e. black folks being late to every appointment, the way we clown or make fun of each other, and so on and so forth…) Unfortunately, many rappers perpetuate and promote the more negative stereotypes in black culture, which are then made popular, and these accepted truths–which we make fun of within ourselves–are then viewed completely different when another culture then “clothes” or adopts the stereotypes for fun only, and none of the original meaning. It’s like wanting all of the candy but none of the cavities. This is called cultural appropriation. I personally disagree with the many arguments that some in the black community uses, such as that other cultures shouldn’t adopt their own, or to pay homage to African American culture before “borrowing” (case in point, Miley Cyrus has made her career off of taking pieces of little known black culture and has made herself a millionaire). I disagree because I believe culture is fluid and can be used by anyone. African American culture is not copyrighted and we too borrow from many, many different sources.

      Second observation: Bullied for having mostly white friends (black oreos)… this is an example of regressive blacks and assimilated, cultural blacks… blacks are stuck in this cycle that considers anything else ignorant, dumb, or stupid. Aaah, the classic mistreatment of the “Oreo” black person. I can relate to this mistreatment because I was subjected to this growing up. I was laughed at and made fun of because my father had worked hard to provide for my family, and I had nice clothes and resources. I was picked at for wearing glasses most of my youth, listening to different music, loving to read and write, and having white friends. Of course all black folks are not like this to each other, but the majority of those that I knew growing up did. This is such backwards logic that it made me sick when growing up. Personally, I think that this comes from envy more than anything. The black community can be very judgmental of each other at times, and this really shows in how we are viewed when we step outside of the normal status quo for black folks. Additionally to this, there are two sides of the black community at war with one another… the social, cultural, and empowered African-Americans and the regressive, backward, to which many may describe “ghetto” African Americans. Their lack of culture, experience, and attachment to their own way makes them truly fearful of anything different. It’s true ignorance that makes them behave this way.

      Third observation: The double-standards we have in regarding offensive words and phrases is truly stupid to me. Telling someone that they cannot say or repeat something simply because of their race is foolish, however let us look at the source of this foolishness–defending words, phrases, or topics simply because we think we have “ownership” of that part of the culture. If that is so, show me the deed of this ownership (sarcasm)! Defending the right to get angry at someone because they have said a word or words that are “reserved” to black folks is completely foolish and backwards on our end, and this kind of behavior is only confusing to our white brothers and sisters. The better option would be to teach those around us the difference… it’s true, if I hear a white person say the “N-word” then I will look at them completely different than when I hear a black person say the “N-word” and that is because the word has been culturally conditioned to me to bring a certain response. So how about none of us say negative words at all, unless it’s through a respectful explanation, debate, or conversation?

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  2. joethebaron · August 20, 2014

    If anything is to change in our country, we must realize that we are Ferguson. We cannot be content to stand and watch. We must act.

    Like

    • commactivist · August 21, 2014

      Exactly Joe. We ARE that sleepy little town. It’s more than skin color. This affects each and every one of us!

      Like

  3. ravingchiapets · August 20, 2014

    I wish you had said something about the Right of Recall that’s in their own city charter, that can be used to replace the town’s officials and manager and see to the hiring of a new police chief—here’s a link where it’s all laid out:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/19/1323089/-The-People-of-Ferguson-Have-the-Power-To-FIRE-the-Entire-Police-Force

    If I lived in Ferguson, I’d both be pursuing this, and also finding some good local Ferguson people to run for office, *and* I’d get with them and start working on a game plan *now* for how to change things once those good people get elected—as I’m sure they will, with all the voter registration drives going on there now, etc.. 🙂 Perhaps Antonio French could help with this?

    Like

    • commactivist · August 21, 2014

      That is an amazing suggestion. I was not aware of the Right of Recall! In times of protest, we need individuals pushing these kinds of legislative options so that all of that public energy isn’t wasted. I’ll place this in the blog… thank you for the tip!

      Like

  4. Reed · October 31, 2014

    Great post.

    Like

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