In this moment of high drama when the nation’s attention is focused on Ferguson, it is important to remember something:
The entire saga of Michael Brown’s killing is simultaneously an individual tragedy and a window into the much larger injustice of ongoing white oppression. For the latter concern the particular outcome of the jury’s deliberations are less relevant, though of course the failure of the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson brings tremendous pain to those who have fought to see a trial happen.
Do any of us imagine that convicting Darren Wilson of murder would begin to address the larger injustice? The very system that we have been asking to create justice in this instance is the agent of injustice across the nation, as schools, police, courts and prisons carry out the implementation of what writer Michelle Alexander so aptly calls The New Jim Crow.
Real justice on a societal level doesn’t come from courts, it comes from struggle against the system of injustice. Because cultural systems of oppression (like our own) often become part of the government, those struggles are often labeled as illegal..
Remember that slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were all perfectly legal. In their time they were all defended by the police and courts. Legal victories came after slave revolts, the Underground Railroad, boycotts, sit-ins, marches and other forms of protest and rebellion.
Like the protesters of the civil rights era, those in Ferguson today face fear and suspicion out of proportion with their demands. They would like to see the police kill fewer of their children. What was the response? Police snipers and tear gas greeted the first protesters. Now guns are flying off the shelves as whites arm themselves against the menace of “black mobs” gathering to protest, and the KKK promises the use of lethal force against them.
Fear of African Americans by the rest of society is an old tradition in the U.S., and with good reason. It is fear based on knowing that African Americans in this country have never received their due in any way. A country directly founded on slavery and its defense has never moved to make things right.
The protesters’ concerns are real. Black men are disproportionately affected by all levels of contact with police from traffic stops to being shot and killed. This is a real and incontrovertible fact. Efforts to shift the conversation to an individual level at best arise from misguided ignorance and at worst from direct efforts to maintain the status quo of racial domination in this nation.
Killing African Americans isn’t anything new in the U.S. From the beginning the greatest threat to them has been white perceptions skewed by a system of racial domination.
The real hope of justice lies in the protesters, not the courts. Their efforts, if sustained long enough, have the potential to push reality into the faces of the rest of the nation. Right now they are demonized as dangerous radicals or dismissed as simply looking for an excuse to loot. If they can keep going though, just as in the civil rights era of the ‘50s and ‘60s, perceptions and public opinion can change.
Despite what authorities would have us believe, governments (including courts) follow in the footsteps of the people. Justice for Michael Brown is important.
Justice for all African Americans is vital, not only to them but to the entire nation. This is a talk that has been put off for far too long.