Over this past weekend, something happened in Ferguson, Missouri that has been happening around this country. It was something atrocious, horrifying, and worst of all, mundane. On Saturday afternoon, a Black man named Michael Brown was killed by the police. He was unarmed, and complying with their orders. In the first two days after it happened, White media lied about his grieving community, police lied in attempting to justify their murder, and the mayor of Ferguson threatened to arrest anyone who shows up to protest. The police in Ferguson showed up to community vigils with military hardware. We still don’t know the name of the police officer who fired 10 shots into an unarmed man. This is what the news in neighboring St. Louis had to say about it Monday:
#Ferguson mayor ” most business’s in area closed as is city hall except dept heads. Riots r indicative of much bigger problem.”
— leisa zigman ksdk (@leisazigman) August 11, 2014
The reporter of that quote, and the mayor of Ferguson, want you to believe that the “much bigger problem” here is the fault of the black people who rioted over Saturday night. They want you to believe that the community full of grief and anger at the unjustified, needless murder of one of their children is the problem. They are wrong.
There IS a much bigger problem in Ferguson, MO, and everywhere. The problem is that we do not value the lives of Black people. We, as a nation, have built our wealth on the suffering of Black people, all the while discounting their very humanity. We cannot, as a nation of ostensibly good people, let this continue. In 2012 alone, 313 Black men were killed by the police or vigilantes. That’s one every 28 Hours. That is too many, hundreds and a baker’s dozen too many.
This is an overwhelming problem, one with roots that reach into dark parts of our past, and show us how dark our present still is. It has to stop.
It is not the job of Black people to stop this problem. No amount of respectability, no Talk from parents to kids, no action taken by Black people is an answer to this problem, because the actions of Black people are NOT the problem. This is a problem of white supremacy, of White privilege, and White complacency.
Don’t believe me? I live in Ohio, a state with Open Carry rules that permit anyone who legally owns a handgun to carry it anywhere, as long as it is not concealed. And yet, in a Wal-Mart toy department, police officers killed a black man for holding a bb gun that he was going to purchase. His name was John Crawford. He was killed for allegedly doing something that is not only 100% legal (carrying a firearm in an Ohio Wal-mart), but something that White-lead Open Carry organizations do ALL THE TIME. How many of them have been shot, I wonder?
So now what?
There are some things we need to do now. Some of them are going to be simple, and probably some of them will not.
You can start by showing up. Communities across the country are observing a National Moment of Silence on Thursday. Show up. Stand together with your neighbors and know who is suffering.
Those are the easy things. What are the hard things?
Examine your own behavior. When you hear about a Black person beaten, abused, killed, look at your own reactions to it. Do you think, “what did s/he do? What was s/he wearing? Why was s/he in that neighborhood?” Ask yourself whether you would ask the same of any other victim. Learn to recognize the signs of institutional racism.
We have to protect every American life. We have to stop asking “what did they do to deserve that?” and start saying, “no one deserves to die for being Black in America.”
It’s time for us ALL to start having the talk: The police are not our friends. They exist to reinforce the status quo, and that status quo is state-sanctioned murder. This week, it has been three Black men. Chicago is still waiting for the police officer who shot Rekia Boyd to see trial. The officer who shot Oscar Grant was acquitted.
We have to stop accepting the premise that Black lives are worth less. We have to stop accepting the premise that ANY life is worth less than another.