Mike Brown’s Death Proves Racism Isn’t Over

In case you didn't know already, racism isn't over. | Photo Source: @The_Blackness48

Howard University students show their solidarity towards Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen who was killed by a police officer. | Photo Source: @The_Blackness48

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.

 

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.

IfTheyGunnedMeDown Dev

 

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.

 

 

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! 

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram.

 

I Struggle With Depression And I’m Sick Of Hiding It 

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  • Claire

    I am hispanic and trust me, I am very, very, VERY familiar with racism. It is unclear that this was a racial incident, though. If a police officer shoots down ANY person because of race, he/she deserves to be in jail for a very long time (For life would be ideal). Please keep in mind, though, Michael Brown’s hostility in the store security tape. When I look at him, I see a possibility that he did charge at the cop. Police officers are not trained to shoot at legs or arms, especially when they are moving. There is too great of a possibility that the bullet will miss, bounce off of something, and kill another person. If Michael charged, the police officer didn’t exactly have a choice, especially since he would have had only a few seconds to react. I think that it’s crazy how we assume so much when we know so little. Sure, this could definitely be a race issue, but we can’t forget that it could also be a cop trying to defend himself. How could have Darren Wilson known that Michael Brown was unarmed, after all?

    • Salema

      While I understand your viewpoint, self-defense went out the window a long time ago concerning Mike Brown vs. the cop. On his way DOWN to the ground, the officer shot him TWICE in the head. Officers are taught that the head as well as another area near the chest (I can’t remember, to be honest) are lethal shots. If he was on his way down, what possible threat could Mike Brown pose? Was he gonna crawl towards the cop and trip him? That is an excessive use of force, and Mike Brown was left in the street for hours. Why not call the ambulance immediately after? Those two facts alone are grounds for arrest. His life was no longer “at risk” yet he still shot to kill.

  • Clear Head

    I think to equally assume race was an issue is equally a bad thing. I think because have been “historically” treated badly by police they tend to be more disrespectful towards police (this happens with Hispanics too I live in a border town). I think it’s extremely distasteful to draw conclusions about what happened in this case until the trial and investigation are over. People are crying for the policeman’s arrest and indictment, but you can’t just say “we think he did something arrest him” we have a system in place that says you need to have a reason to arrest someone and right now they don’t have ‘verifiable’ and ‘concrete’ proof he did anything out of line. People need to step back and let the evidence come in because for all we know the kid played some part in his own death like Travon Martin did. I think the fact that now people assume whenever an unarmed black unarmed teen is shot that racism was directly involved, I think that it one in a multitude of issues such as education economic situation etc.

    • “People need to step back and let the evidence come in because for all we know the kid played some part in his own death like Travon Martin did.”

      Are you saying that Trayvon asked to be gunned down by a wannabe cop while he was walking through his own neighborhood? Wow.

    • Salema

      I personally believe race had something to do with it. But I don’t believe that the officer was an outright racist either. The issue is how the black population is portrayed and how people act based on these portrayals. A fear has been instilled in people of all cultures and races because of the images we are fed, such as ignorant, outlandish, and thuggish. The saddest part is that even people in the black community start to believe this as the main representation of black people. It no longer is just blatant racism, but a deep-seated, practically unconscious, irrational fear that we act on. This is what people need to acknowledge: there is a race problem that many aren’t even aware of. However, in the case of Mike Brown, the issue, in my opinion, is greater than this. There is an obvious power imbalance in law enforcement vs. the people. How a cop could shoot someone six times, including once in the head (a fatal shot, by the way), is beyond me. If the roles were reversed, black or white, the man would have been arrested, AT THE VERY LEAST. This man is still out free on paid suspension even after Mike Brown’s body was left out in the middle of the street for hours. There is a flaw in the system where the same police who are supposed to protect the people are abusing their power and doing the exact opposite. And this is not the only case! In fact, just the other day, an Al Jazeera journalist was threatened by an officer when he was breaking no law. Look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. Beyond that, military tactics are being used on citizens of our own country. If this problem isn’t dealt with soon, then I could only imagine what’s to be held in store for the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Concerning proof, I think a fatal shot to the head is concrete enough to arrest him. Could those five other shots not stop Mike Brown if he was running? I think not. However, I do agree that evidence should be collected. A jury representative of both sides of the case as well as an unbiased judge who hasn’t dealt with such a case before, and has no ties to the police force would make for the best trial. For now, let’s just see who has the upper hand: the people or the police.

  • Sale a

    Hey Ashley! I’m glad that you wrote this article and let your voice be heard without any qualms. However, I feel like your one of the few writers at Gurl, if any at all, who openly discusses these hot button issues. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish more writers would do the same. Whether their opinions are popular or not, it would be nice to see more of the writers at Gurl speak up and speak out. I hope someone sees this and becomes brave enough to speak on their own behalf, but if not, thank you Ashley for being a voice that us young folk can look up to, even when we don’t agree with you. Because someone who can articulate what they say and isn’t afraid to do so reaches people more than someone who doesn’t use their voice at all.

  • Emily

    Excellent piece. It really is a horrible thing, and I wish there was more I could do. As a white woman, I’m not sure what I can do except educate myself and attempt to educate others. I find it heartbreaking and disturbing that it happened and that the police brutality is only continuing. It’s disheartening that in so many years we seem to have come not very far at all. There definitely need to be more people of color in the police force, especially in the South.

  • Anna

    Michael Brown’s death is a disgusting tragedy, and it never should have happened. Even more tragic is that he’s just one of countless young black men murdered by the police. You are right; we haven’t progressed much as a country, and it’s pathetic.

    Ashley, are you familiar with ’60s folkie Phil Ochs? If you aren’t, he was a Jewish man from Texis who sang some brilliant anti-racist songs, and I think you’d like him, even if you aren’t into folk music. He was a political radical who was way ahead of his time.

    • Anna

      Sorry, make that “Texas,” not “Texis.”

  • Avalon Markus

    I completely agree on what you have said as a black person myself. I fear for my brothers every day that they walk out the door on the way to work. Where I live racism is very overt and there are clear divides. Racism must be dismantled, it infringes on the lives on people of color every day.
    R.I.P Mike Brown

  • Joanne Tosti-Vasey

    You go gurl!
    Excellent write-up.
    Until police look like the people they serve (and experience the lives of the people they serve), this type of police brutality will unfortunately continue. That means that more people of color, more women, and more LGBTQ people must be recruited and hired for law enforcement jobs.
    I hope many people read and see what you have written. Thanks