Last night I had to take a short break from the Internet, which doesn’t sound weird, but if you knew me, you’ll know it was. It takes a lot for me to resist pushing that refresh button or check my notifications, but last night I had to for my own sanity. I felt numb, isolated, sad, angry, and scared… and here’s why: Yet another black person has been killed by police, and people are understandably losing it. If you’re wondering what the hell I’m moping on about, allow me to backtrack.
Have you seen the hashtags #Ferguson and #MikeBrown trending on Twitter and Facebook over the past few days? Here’s why: On August 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in broad daylight in the town of Ferguson, Mo. Details of what happened are mixed and murky; the police chief claims that Brown assaulted the officer who killed him and even reached for his gun.
Eyewitness Dorian Johnson, who was with Michael at the time of the shooting, claims that he and Michael were walking in the middle of the street and were told by an officer to walk on the sidewalk. Michael didn’t immediately comply, telling the officer that they were almost at their destination. Then, Johnson claims, the officer put Michael in a chokehold. Michael ran away and was shot in the back before turning around, hands raised, only to get shot again and again. Michael’s body was left outside to bake in the hot summer sun for over four hours.
The community was shocked and outraged and, thanks to social media, the story broke out of the small St. Louis township and spread across the nation and the world. Every day since Michael’s death, there have been vigils and protests. Some erupted in vandalism, but most have been peaceful, yet powerful. Well, they were peaceful… until the Ferguson police department decided to use tear gas and rubber pellets on the peaceful crowd in a particularly tense protest last night. Journalists and protesters alike were arrested en masse in a spectacle so absurd that even seasoned TV anchors were left speechless by the sight. Even President Obama called out the police department for its actions. The officer involved in the shooting is on paid leave and his name still hasn’t been released.
BREAKING PHOTO: FERGUSON RIGHT NOW. pic.twitter.com/CZRwMSLbvr
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) August 14, 2014
At this point, I’m not even surprised that an unarmed black person was killed by a police officer. What I’m surprised by is people deluding themselves into thinking that race wasn’t a factor. Race has played a part in this tragedy every step of the way.
Police brutality and racial profiling against black people is a well documented phenomenon. It’s not just something that angry black girls such as myself just make up, it’s a real thing. In Ferguson alone, the police are more likely to pull over black drivers than white ones; they accounted for 86 percent of all stops and were twice as likely to be searched and arrested by police than white people, despite the fact that they were less likely to possess anything illegal. What kind of mess is that? That’s a little thing called driving while black, which seems to be a crime in of itself in many parts of the United States.
Oh, by the way, how often do you hear about unarmed white kids getting gunned down by policemen? You don’t, because it doesn’t really happen, certainly not at the rate in which it happens to black people. Again, this goes back to racism and stereotypes. We’re socialized to see black people as scary and threatening. We’re socialized to see black people as violent and unpredictable. We’re socialized to see black people as uncouth and disrespectful. All of those factors lead to black people on a whole being totally dehumanized. They lead to awful comments in articles surrounding this most recent tragedy that say things like, “Well, he looked dangerous!” They lead to mainstream media deliberately displaying photos of Michael that made him look tough, to invoke the idea that this kid asked for the bullets because he looked like a “thug.” They lead to yet another death of an harmless death of another innocent black person who didn’t step on the sidewalk fast enough.
I’m outraged that this keeps happening, but I’m happy that people are using social media to call out the madness. The hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown was started in response to the media’s use of unflattering photos of black shooting victims; ones in which they’re throwing up signs as opposed to photos of them graduating from high school, decked out in a cap and gown. There is a Tumblr full of ’em if you want to check it out.
— Akilah Hughes (@AkilahObviously) August 14, 2014
This, on top of the photo of students from my alma mater, Howard University, taking that powerful photo (seen at the top of the article) with their hands in the air, surrendering, to bring awareness to Michael Brown is incredibly heartening. Even Janelle Monae is getting in on the action.
— Trudy (@thetrudz) August 14, 2014
People who aren’t able to protest in Ferguson are still able to protest in the comfort of their own homes. Woo, social media!
Still, it’s disturbing how much imagery from these recent protests look exactly like images from civil rights protests in the 1960s. Observe:
Wow, look at how much we’ve progressed as a country! Pfft…yeah, okay.
If all of this is going over your head, think of it this way: A kid who was one day away from starting college was gunned down in the middle of the street. Mike Brown could have been your friend, your boyfriend, your brother, your cousin, your future son; hell, if you’re black, it could have been you. Until we all start realizing that this is some seriously unfair with some uncomfortably racist undertones, it’ll continue to be swept under the rug; black lives will continue to be seen as worthless. Let’s not let that happen, shall we?
What are your thoughts about the Mike Brown shooting? Do you think it was racially motivated or that I’m out of my mind? Tell us in the comments!