It doesn’t matter if you are state legislator or an alderman, a journalist or a local leader. If you are in Ferguson, Mo., you won’t get any respect. You can be the uncle of a victim whose body was left to lie on the street for several hours and you will not be allowed to cover your young nephew. Not many would let dog lay uncovered for several hours. Young Black Michael Brown apparently got less consideration than a dog.
The streets burst into flames, but Gov. Jay Nixon couldn’t make a statement until five days after Michael Brown was massacred. We know Michael Brown’s name; we know how he was treated, but Chief Thomas Jackson refused to release the shooting officer’s name until he was forced to by an enterprising Internet hacking group. The officer was supposedly entitled to privacy, however briefly, but Michael did not deserve enough privacy to have his bloody body covered after he was massacred.
The police, armed with stun guns, pepper spray, SWAT teams and plastic bullets, were heavily armed to “contain” the protesting crowd. Who will contain the out-of-control so-called officers of the law? When is it all right to call a McDonald’s a site of trespassing, or to knock reporters around, fail to offer identification, and then get flippant about it?
Charles Dooley, the St. Louis County Executive, gave a facetious news conference where he suggested, “We sit down and talk about it.” Let’s talk about the shooter’s police file. Let’s talk about the fully armed and unreasonable police officers. The St. Louis mayor spoke of “protecting the innocent.” Who is innocent? Certainly not the police officer who shot Michael Brown. The unarmed folks chanting “no justice, no peace,” are certainly innocent.
With police officers clad in military gear and armed as fully as those who are fighting abroad, the governor said ‘Yesterday was yesterday.” He added, “I’m not looking backward, I’m looking forward.” In other words, he refuses to hold the officers accountable. “We want to get trust built,” says the governor. He seems to be totally clueless. How do you build trust when so-called officers of the law callously and lawlessly fire into peaceful crowds because they could? The governor needs to hold officers accountable before he calls for a “Kumbaya” moment.
What do we tell our young men? Michael Brown had his hands up and he was still shot multiple times. Many of us who have Black teens and young men in our lives. We counsel them to be non-combative, non-confrontational, even humble, so they won’t be shot. But police officers should be punished or even fired if they can’t share their badge information. What do they have to hide? There is absolutely no accountability, with police officers being afforded more protection than a murder victim.
During his August 14 press conference, the governor worked very hard to walk a tightrope as he maneuvered his way thorough a set of pointed questions. He talked about “healing,” about “conversation.” Here’s the conversation: A police officer killed Michael Brown while he had his hands up, in surrender mode. Witnesses say that even after Brown held his hands up, the police officers continued to shoot.
What do we tell our young men? Whether you are compliant or complaining, an elected official or a reporter, you can be harassed without consequence. There is little safety when you are confronted with out-of control “police.” Son, you can be killed anyway!
The federal government gave Ferguson, Mo. a grant to purchase dash cams to be installed in police cars. They purchased the cams but they haven’t installed them. Perhaps if they had, we would have more data about the massacre of Michael Brown.
African American communities have walked down this path many times before. We walked past it when Bull Connor used attack dogs to reinforce racial segregation. We walked this path for Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We can call the civil rights roll and the massacres we have experienced. James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Shewerner. Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Michael Brown. All these folks killed in different circumstances but apparently for the same reason– for being Black and male in America.
The outpouring of rage in Ferguson streets is not a riot, but an uprising. People are rising up against police brutality, rising up against the massacre of another young man. Rising up, so that hopefully another mother will not have to suffer again.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.