Michael Brown was killed because he was black.
He was killed because the police in his community, like those in many other communities across the nation, view citizens as the enemy, not as those whom they are sworn to “protect and serve.”
They view these citizens, particularly those who are poor and people of color, with suspicion and bias, and increasingly adopt militarized tactics and equipment to control and defeat this population. On a deeper level they continue a long American tradition of supporting injustice through the policing and suppression of disadvantaged groups and their supporters under the guise of maintaining order.
The truth, eloquently expressed by Greg Howard in Deadspin, is that America is not for Black People. Howard, who most often writes about sports, outlines the connections between the so-called wars on terror and drugs and the acquisition by police departments of military grade equipment, including automatic weapons, night vision devices and armored vehicles. Sadly, in Ferguson they neglected to provide the police with dashcams.
“The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.”
Brown was unarmed when a police officer shot him. He ran and was shot again, then he put his hands in the air and begged the officer not to shoot him. The officer refused, finishing Brown off with an unknown number of shots, described by the police chief as “more than a couple”.
Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown during the episode, reported that the officer pulled up in his car and told the young men to “get the fuck on the sidewalk.” The boys told him they were almost to their destination and kept walking. A few minutes later Brown was dead.
Ferguson police have not interviewed Johnson as of this writing and presented their own version of events, but a second witness has come forth to corroborate Johnson’s story. (CNN reporter Pamela Brown tweeted that he has been interviewed by federal investigators on Thursday.) What’s not in doubt is that the officer got out of the car and shot Michael Brown to death.
Howard points out that at the root of so much racism and violence in our society is an irrational fear of black people, particularly black men. Why, he asks, can whites walk around with assault rifles while a young black man is killed holding a bb gun in an Ohio Walmart? His last words to the police before they shot him were, “It’s not real.”
Black parents have to teach their children how to respond to police when stopped (because they will undoubtedly be stopped), because they know that the threat is real.
There is no justice in that, and no peace. Truthfully, the police are only carrying out the mission our society has tasked them with. They are the tip of the spear that is aimed at controlling blacks from an early age, and eases the path from school suspensions to prison cells.
Until we as a society can acknowledge not only the irrationality of these fears but also the injustice that underlies that fear, I fear we will make only halting progress. As a nation we need to acknowledge that this nation has perpetrated evil on a people since the first slaves arrived in Jamestown nearly 400 years ago. All else arises from that beginning and leads to hundreds of years of subsequent evil, from lynching to the destruction of black centers of commerce to redlining and segregation a clear and bloody trail leads right up to the killing of Michael Brown.
Until that day the ongoing condition of the descendants of those slaves, including a domestic army in their neighborhoods, puts the lie to the ideals we purport to live by.