On Monday 24th November, my Facebook feed reminded me that this was the day that a grand jury would decide on whether a policeman who shot a child dead will have to stand trial. Said plain like that, surely the outcome would be obvious; except, it’s not plain like that – the decision would be on whether a white policeman who shot a young black man in America will have to stand trial. Now, with those adjectives added, it gets all fuzzy.
Since the August 2014 shooting of Mike Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, I have read a plethora of articles and editorials on the saga, ranging from those written from a (both black and white) right wing, conservative perspective (read Fox News and Bill Cosby-like), a liberal perspective, a ‘new black’ (a la Pharrell Williams) perspective, a British perspective, an African-in-the-diaspora-perspective, an anti-US perspective, any angle that any argument came from, I read it. I viewed the situation from what I conjured up to be that of Mike Brown. And after reading all those pages of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, I viewed the situation from his angle. Of course my opinions and feelings about the events (note the plural) were not just formed and shaped by those of others. I viewed the situation from the angle of a mother of a little black boy who was picking up some of the snippets (we are news junkies in our house), and from the angle of a daughter of a man who when he moved to this country from the Caribbean in the early 1990-s, as a respected member of that community had to endure meaningless police stop and searches as a middle aged, working father and provider. I viewed the situation with memories of riots in London in 2012 after the shooting of a young black man by police. I viewed the situation from that of what I presume to be a well-adjusted member of 21st century society.
From all these angles, the whole sorry tale can only but stir up mixed emotions. I doubt that few of us, if we were to be honest, can firmly fix our feet in the camp of Mike Brown, or of Ferguson, or of Darren Wilson; except for the families involved of course. Because it really isn’t all black and white. Very few situations are. Despite all the fuzziness though these things are clear to me:
As black people, it seems that we are wholly judged by the thuggish elements in our society. And without a shadow of a doubt, these thugs aggravate each and every one of us ‘non-thugs’; and by the way, in case no one noticed, we ‘non-thugs’ are in the majority. Though all social groups have these elements amongst them, rarely are these the benchmark by which the rest of the group is judged – not the triads for the Chinese, not the mafia for Italians, and not the cartels for Colombians.
This judgment can then lead one to believe that a young black man in America cannot deviate from the straight and narrow as he traverses through teenage angst, because he is then automatically a thug who deserves to be killed. He has no right to mature into a man, expand his worldview, and see his potential. I wonder what would have become of many uber-productive black men in my inner and outer circles, and those of others, if they had happened across a Darren Wilson in their teenage years. None of us know what Mike Brown was like or what his potential was to be, but you know, perhaps he should have had the opportunity to grow into himself and achieve his potential, whatever that would have been. As stories abound of rape allegations on college campuses across the states, when have we heard of a young white man, even with his identity known, to be judged by or worse killed for his abhorrent behavior?
Darren Wilson’s descriptives of Mike Brown: ‘it looks like a demon’, and ‘he made like a grunting’ and ‘he was coming at me’ and ‘I felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan’ demonstrate that ingrained judgment against black men in particular – that they are anything other than human and so must be put down. Not by a mace or a stun gun (that he didn’t like to carry), not by a shot to the leg, but to be put down by a shot to the head. ‘They all kill each other anyway, so what the heck’ (my adaption of ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s comments). Of course in any community, you are more likely to be killed by a member of your own community. As the stats reportedly show however, white policemen in America are more likely to kill a black man than a man of any other race.
Mike Brown was a child. Trayvon Martin was a child. No matter how ‘big and black’ he was, whether he was legally a child or not, Mike Brown was a child. Surely that means something. And whenever a child dies, especially in a violent way, and whether at the hands of the ‘law’ or not, that warrants some sort of justice, something more than a dismissal by a grand jury. Looters aside, this is what most people from all backgrounds are protesting about – the lack of justice. I want to think that most parents, of any color or creed, get that.
Civic apathy in the black community, in any community, will land you nowhere but straight into a mess, if not immediately, then eventually. Ferguson, with a majority black community, is run by a majority white police force, and a majority white local government. Of course there are lots of intertwined reasons for why this set-up has come about. Whilst I do not support the notion of assigning the cause of all ills in the African-American community to slavery (or of Africa to colonialism), there are some far reaching consequences of slavery that we fail to acknowledge and in so doing cannot rectify. Two of these are our real struggles with taking on responsibility, and a lack of self-confidence. Voting and pushing for change requires these 2 community traits – it’s about saying, listen we are the majority here, let’s shape our community, and let’s have faith that we can choose the right people to lead us to that change. Responsibility and confidence must be regained. To achieve that, we have to exercise these characteristics over and over again, so that generations down the line can fight the battle in a different way to what we are seeing now. Then at least, our children can move on and deal with more pressing issues. We owe that much to our fore-bearers.